The 1990s were a decade of recovery from the recession of the previous decade. Things were picking up and automakers were starting to explore new markets and the idea of what should be in driveways was changing. Not only were companies getting inventive but they were expanding into other countries as well, offering some new and exciting tech and machines to the world.
Some of these innovations and ideas changed the landscape and progressed the world into the new millennia. The risky Viper that was sold at a loss at first but became a monster in Chrysler's corner and the Toyota RAV4 popularizing the crossover that would rule the roads over a decade later. There are many examples of the sort of revolution to come out of the 90s—not all good, not all bad either—and some so bad the companies refuse to even acknowledge their existence or the events that happened that are directly linked to their cars. I'm sure Ford would love to forget about O.J. Simpson's Bronco chase. (You think they'll offer the new one in white?)
Just as a quick note, I don't necessarily dislike the SUVs on this list. The Typhoon defines what it means to be a “Sport” utility vehicle with high emphasis on Sport. The Ford Explorer is a legend in the automotive world and the Escalade promoted the idea of a Luxury SUV along with the Lincoln Navigator. Lastly, the VehiCROSS may have not been particularly popular in the day (or maybe even now) but I absolutely love this wicked unique SUV and would own one in an instant if I had a place to put it.
Before I get too carried away, I hope you enjoy this list of 25 1990s SUVs that automakers would rather forget.
Coming in either a two-door hardtop or a five-door model was popular in the 90s. The Land Rover Freelander was sold as a more rough-and-tough option in the ever-growing compact SUV market. These were sold at a price that was a little more than the competition but with the promise of better off-road capability. What the public got was a smaller Land Rover that may be better than some of the competition, but it's the expensive parts and the crummy diesel engine that left a sour mark on Land Rover's name. Since then, Land Rover swapped out the old Rover diesel motors for Ford Duratorq diesel motors in its second generation till it was discontinued in 2014.
This is one of those strange situations where it wasn't something wrong with the car but the events surrounding it. When the early Ford Explorers were plagued with rollover accidents, it was not due to a fault in design (as Firestone claimed) but due to a fault in the SUV's tires. The tread cracked and eventually separated from the tire, causing 271 lives to be lost and hundreds of injuries in accidents. Ford then cut ties with Firestone, who had been their supplier since Henry Ford made a deal with Harvey Firestone over 100 years ago.
The Rocky isn't a bad rig overall and it fit the 90s aesthetic, as far as compact SUVs go. It was versatile, could be had as a convertible, and had that go-anywhere roughness. This roughness was also its downfall, though, as the handling wasn't very good if it wasn't in the dirt. The steering was tough and according to one review, it felt like there was gravel in the power-steering pump. While it did well enough elsewhere, here in the States, Daihatsu failed to break into a market already littered with these little rigs. If Daihatsu tries to make another go at it in the US, they're going to make sure no one knew they tried here before and failed.
This could count for the whole Geo lineup (Geo being nothing more than a badge to put on GM's rebadged cars). Other cars in their lineup included the Prism (which was a Toyota Corolla), the Storm (based off of the Isuzu Impulse), and the Tracker (which was a rebadged Suzuki Sidekick). Geo didn't make it out of the 90s and have since slowly been brushed under the rug into an obscure manufacturer that newer generations don't remember. The Tracker was produced until 2004 and no form of it has raised its head since.
Doesn't this show up in just about every negative car list? This elephant in the room has been universally criticized for its strange design by just about anyone making a list like this. Beyond this, the car's ratings drop due to poor interior quality and just overall average build materials for Fiat—take that as you will, the car isn't exciting in any way and is just barely good enough for someone to haul their family around in. The funky looks are the only thing to keep the Multipla on anyone's list, and hopefully Fiat's mind when they design more cars.
The second Land Rover on this list, the Discovery 2 wasn't bad at doing what it needed to off the road. In the long term, however, the head gaskets went bad quickly on the 4.0-liter motor that was installed on the Discovery 2 from 1999 to 2002. The front driveshaft also had a tendency to break, taking out some of the transmission housing with it. These two problems alone are as huge as they are wicked expensive. The Discovery 2 had a refresh with a new motor in 2003 and the model continues today, though I'm sure Land Rover would rather none of the things that I have mentioned ever happened.
The Samurai enjoyed decent sales until a review done by Consumer Reports deemed it unsafe. Then, Suzuki tried suing Consumer Reports in a dispute that was finally settled out of court in 2004. It was because of this bad review that the sales of the Samurai decreased drastically until it was discontinued. The Samurai itself isn't bad; it's a capable offroader from what I've seen and could do its job about as good as any other. But I'm sure that Suzuki would really like to avoid this kind of thing happening next time.
I mentioned in the introduction that the Escalade really helped introduce the luxury SUV segment. The first generation only lasted a couple of years until the refresh in 2002, when it didn't look like much more than a redone Tahoe. I feel that was the big issue with these, that they look too much like a Tahoe and were virtually indistinguishable from a distance. Since then, Cadillac has changed the look with huge taillights and a big chrome grill so now the Escalade looks way different than its Chevrolet counterpart.
Another one of those cars seen on many negative lists, the X90 gets its hate for how wildly abstract it is. It's not fast, it doesn't handle well, and there isn't much room for anything. The Vitara based X90 isn't very good for the offroading, either, as the 4WD was an option. Looking at it, I can't even really say it belongs on this list for a purpose more than something to go on about; then again, the X90 doesn't belong on any other list. It's not a sporty compact coupe, but it's not a sports utility vehicle either; it just is.
An Isuzu Trooper was rebadged and sold as an Acura for the latter half of the 90s. Problems arose after Consumer Reports published a review of the 1996 model year that was rated very poorly for a tendency to roll over during testing. Isuzu tried suing Consumer Reports for falsifying reports but they lost the legal battle and ended up having to pay out. This move severely hurt Isuzu, with an estimated loss of over $200 million, a loss I'm sure they'd rather forget.
This Isuzu comes with no disguises but a really strange look. Sold in Japan in 1997, then in the US in 1999, the VehiCROSS didn't really catch on in either country and only 5,958 were made over the four year period. Even a 1998 Paris-Dakar Rally class win under its belt did nothing to further promote the VehiCROSS. I feel like the strange SUV was too far forward-looking in a segment that was becoming outdated by the late-90s. This could possibly be the last two-door SUV that is just getting noticed now, but Isuzu most likely regrets that they didn't make it earlier in the 90s—or that they made it at all.
This two-door Ford Explorer rebadge definitely didn't catch on nearly as well as the base Explorer. With nothing more than different badging and a grille that suppose to make it look more like the Ranger-based Mazda pickups of the time, the Navajo just didn't sell well compared to its now-famous sister. A severe lack of advertising is what plagued the Navajo, which was discontinued in the heart of the 90s. Though Mazda now sells the CX-7 and CX-9 SUVs, it's often forgotten that they started with a little, rebadged flop and I think they prefer it that way.
The Land Rover Defender 2 was sold in Japan, just not under the Land Rover name. Rather, it was sold as a Honda. The Honda Crossroad is widely unknown and for good reason, as it defies anything we could see Honda coming out with. The only weird fact that saves the Crossroad is that it was the only Honda-badged anything to have a V8. The Ministry of Transportation forced Honda to recall the Crossroad due to a faulty locking mechanism that could potentially open the door while driving. The Crossroad was discontinued in 1998 when Rover was bought out by BMW and thank goodness, because the Crossroad is perhaps the most un-Honda thing ever.
The Chevy Blazer is a beloved classic, though it gained some infamy when it was changed onto the S10 platform. It worked well enough, as it seems when reading reviews about it, but the biggest skirmish against the Blazer is the crash test rating, which may have rated highly, at three stars, for the front driver's side but one star on the front passenger side. This was corrected when production continued in the early 2000s. Even though the Blazer continued production, I don't think Chevrolet wants to remember the Blazer for its safety factor.
Released for the 2000 model year in 1999, the ¾-ton Ford Excursion is the biggest SUV to be mass produced. It's because of its massive size that it was a bit of an unpopular option, as Ford had already sold the Expedition, which was based off the ½-ton F-150 platform. The Excursion was also the only Detroit SUV that I can think of to use a V10. Sales started off well, with over 50,000 made in 2000. As gas prices rose, however, the hulking Excursion became less popular until it was discontinued in 2005, with Time Magazine labeling it as one of the 50 worst cars of all time.
There may be only 48 “Rambo-Lambo”s made to be imported into the United States but this truck still doesn't make much sense to sell anywhere. The Lamborghini LM002 was a very strange thing to come out of the company known for tractors and supercars. The pick-up was the insane idea to take a military-prototype named the Cheetah, put in some comfort amenities like a leather interior and real wood trim, then throw in the powerful Countach V12 (you know, for good measure.) The Lamborghini is much appreciated for its strange timing and just, overall, excessive nature. There is no need for this thing, yet it exists! Only now, more than twenty years later, is Lamborghini building another vehicle that is taller than the Aventador and it doesn't have a crazy V12 in it either.
Barely making this list, as the X5 was released in December of 1999, the BMW SUV took to the roads and quickly attracted attention for both good and bad reasons. Good reviews came from the amount of comfort and the ride quality the X5 offered; on the other hand, well, the ride quality comes from the X5's self-leveling suspension which, according to a one-year review by MotorTrend, seemed prone to breaking and causing the car to pitch one way or lean another. Other problems come from an overall lack of reliability from bits of the interior breaking or needing to be replaced due to recalls. The X5 may be a different, more dependable machine now, but it sure didn't start that way.
This popular car from Russia hasn't seen a major update since the late 1970s and that's not a bad thing. It's perfect for those who just want a basic 4x4 to tour the countryside with. But it's the city where the Lada is a little rough around the edges. Over time, it has been reported by RAC Drive out of the UK that the car is prone to rust, and what old car isn't? It's the overall build quality of the car they talk about that raises problems, though, including the flimsy dashboard having the ability to pop off altogether! The old Niva looks to be finally getting a retirement as Lada displayed a new concept, looking like a new production Niva may be coming sooner than we think, and with that, we say, "Goodbye, old friend."
The Terios is still sold as such today but when it first came out, it seemed like the compact SUV didn't stand a chance. A little 83-hp motor powered the little 4x4 Terios for the streets, and just the streets. The manual for the Terios states that the car can be extremely dangerous, even life-threatening, if the vehicle is driven inappropriately. Of course, the word “Inappropriately” could mean an array of things, from the Moose Test to driving on dirt roads, but either way, that includes any sort of real rugged, off-road fun in something that has both 4x4 and a differential lock.
This little Bronco II was based on the little Ranger platform and sold well, along with earning MotorWeek's good graces. It quickly fell to much embarrassment, though, as an SUV that takes itself too seriously to be called anything close to the legendary Bronco. The Bronco II is not high in the looks department and the sort of off-road capability you'd expect from such a title is overstated. The Bronco II may have been made for a majority of the 80s into the early 90s, but it's quickly overshadowed and forgotten by the true Bronco and its fanbase. Recently, Ford has spoken of a new Bronco and rumor has it that the new one will also be based on the Ranger, with nothing of the Bronco II mentioned in the reveal.
I'll go on record to say that the Typhoon will, no doubt, be an extremely collectible truck if it isn't already. This SUV, as well as its truck sister, are well known and loved for the type of crazy muscle-truck power they put down through all four wheels. The Turbo-V6 Jimmy would only be produced for two years, spawning less than 5,000 units. Since then, GM has stayed out of the performance SUV market, except for the Trailblazer SS they had in the 2000s—but that was no Typhoon. The Typhoon was risky and was perhaps the last of a generation when specialty GM vehicles could be sold in low numbers without having to justify why they were built.
Dodge was the last to jump onto the two-door, off-roader bandwagon after both the Blazer and Bronco had already been in production since the 1960s. The Ramcharger was sold in America in the early 1970s all the way up through 1994, when it was discontinued due to the sharp decline in sales that the Bronco was also discontinued by. On top of that, the Ram from which the Ramcharger was based had been redesigned and re-released in 1994, leaving the Ramcharger outdated. Ram hasn't shown interest in any SUV larger than a Durango and I don't see them releasing anything resembling a Ramcharger anytime soon.
Wood paneling used to be cool. You could find it on a Buick Roadmaster, AMC Eagles, and the Jeep Wagoneer all the way up until it was discontinued and replaced with the Grand Cherokee. For one year only, in 1993, there was a top-of-the-line Cherokee that paid homage to its predecessor by offering a wood paneling decal and plastic body moldings on your Grand Cherokee Limited. It only was produced in limited numbers and was priced higher than the Limited trim line. After this, Jeep never put wood grain on another car again, as they knew that it was a fad of the time and didn't look good on anything new. Too bad Chrysler didn't realize this, too.
When GM Canada changed its mind and didn't go through with the Asuna brand, they sold the Sunrunner under the Pontiac name. They thought a name change was going to hide the fact that it was a rebadged Geo—which, in turn, is a rebadged Suzuki. These little rigs are about as bad as the Sidekick (which isn't bad at all). All that's really bad about them is the bad cover-up that Pontiac would sadly be discontinued over (see the Toyota Voltz).
Probably the lousiest two-door convertible SUV ever built, the Sportage was from the Korean-company that was just starting to try to dig its heels into the US market and wasn't as mainstream as it is today. I understand that there are people who adore these little things, and so I may be biased but from my point of view, but the original Sportage was forgetful as it blended in with the crowd too much to be really noticeable. And even though the Sportage nameplate is still around, nothing about what I've said has changed.
Sources: Jalopnik, Consumer Reports, Car And Driver, and CarBuzz