6. Toyota Land Cruiser FJ 40
The car that made the Land Cruiser nameplate world-famous entered the automotive market in 1960 as a purely utilitarian short-wheelbase off-roader. During the production run, which lasted until 1984 and until 2001 in Brazil, the J40 had dozens of iterations. Because some of them were particularly valuable due to unmatched off-road performance, it gathered cult status among mud-loving enthusiasts.
One of them is the FJ40, a version with a 3.8L inline six engine. However, the ultimate version was the 2FJ40 with the power coming from a 4.2L inline six. Also, the J40 had a few memorable diesel versions with the biggest one being the 2H 4.0L straight six. The J40 series was available in two or four-wheel drive. It also came with two or four doors or even as a pickup. But it was the two-door four-wheel drive model that is the most desirable one.
However, all versions can provide drivers with endless fun, especially since the J40 Land Cruiser is easy to modify and customize. The J40 provides phenomenal off-road performance and experience. But be sure to find a four-wheel drive model to squeeze the most out of this car, even though they come with a higher price tag. Once you sit behind the wheel of a Land Cruiser, there won’t be any mountains and creeks you can’t conquer in this legendary Japanese vehicle.
7. Suzuki Samurai
The Suzuki Car Company stopped selling cars in America following a string of models that weren’t successful or particularly good. But during the 1980s it was one of the bestselling Japanese brands in America. The reason was simple. Suzuki cars were affordable, dependable and simple. And along with their lineup of small hatchbacks, Suzuki sold the Samurai, a compact off-roader with a small price but big potential.
They sold the Samurai in the States from 1985 to 1989. However, a harsh Consumer Reports article interrupted its career because it stated the Samurai was a small death trap on wheels. The article explained that this little SUV was prone to rollovers, which had been the cause of many accidents, some even with fatal outcomes. But Suzuki sued Consumer Reports claiming that wasn’t true.
The case dragged on for 10 years, eventually settling out of court. Some independent reports proved the little Samurai was a bit unstable, but not as catastrophically as Consumer Reports claimed. Unfortunately, they did a lot of damage, so Suzuki withdrew the Samurai from the market, even though they continued to sell it in rest of the world.
8. Isuzu Trooper
In 1981, the Isuzu Trooper was the perfect car for the time. It was a relatively spacious, great-handling off-road SUV with dependable mechanics. Also, it had an attractive design and lots of character, which was something Japanese cars often lacked. The Trooper was a capable off-road vehicle but still retained a certain level of on-road highway manners.
These features made it equally at home on dirt roads, as well as on the interstate. But, their U.S. competitors all had V8s and bigger engines, so the Isuzu 2.8-liter V6 didn’t sound like much. But it was enough for all purposes and off-road driving. From today’s perspective, the Trooper looks a little boxy. But that’s how the SUVs from the 80s all looked.
Also, one of key characteristics of this model is its impeccable build quality. This means that there are a fair number of survivors on the road today. And lastly, the Trooper has earned a cult status among classic SUV fans.
9. Nissan Patrol
Today, most U.S. customers recognize the Nissan Patrol as the Armada as a big, heavy luxury SUV in two-wheel drive configuration. But long ago, the Patrol was a serious off-road vehicle they intended for heavy duty use with mechanics to cope with tough terrain. Nissan designed the Patrol as a competitor to the FJ 40 Land Cruiser.
However, the Patrol matured by the early 80’s into a modern SUV with global appeal. Nissan redesigned its chassis and engines, as well as the interior and introduced the third generation Patrol in 1980. It was a boxy SUV with lots of interior room, tough mechanical components and undeniable off-road capabilities.
10. Suzuki Escudo/Sidekick/Vitara
In the late 1980s, the Suzuki Motor Company needed something to make buyers forget the Samurai scandal. They wanted to regain the position they lost on the compact SUV market. So, the answer was the new and modern model they called the Sidekick or Vitara. It was Suzuki’s global project to introduce a more on-road oriented model to appeal to the younger crowd. But, it was safer with updated equipment, making it more usable than the small, problematic Samurai.
They introduced the first generation Sidekick or Vitara in 1988. And it immediately met universal praise from car buyers and the motoring press. It was the right model for the times with cool looks, nice options, long and short wheelbase versions and an optional open top. It could be a family SUV, as well as a fun vehicle for weekend trips.
Under the hood were several gasoline engines. Although they were all relatively small in displacement and power, they were enough to help the compact Sidekick perform similar to or better than its competitors. The production of the first generation lasted from 1988 to 1998 and the replacement model was the Chevrolet Tracker.
Did you find your favorite in this list of 10 classic and rare Japanese off-road SUVs? Whether you like to go off-roading or prefer to stick to the pavement, there is one here for you.