Home Cars 30 Obscure SUV Models Drivers Forgot Existed
Cars

30 Obscure SUV Models Drivers Forgot Existed

Cameron EittreimJune 21, 2021

Over the years, the sport utility vehicle has transformed itself from a truck-like beast to the gas-efficient crossover vehicles we see dominating the road today. Today’s SUVs are a direct descendant of the original Jeep and Chevrolet models, but there are also several forgotten SUV models that helped pave the way for the cars of today.

It wasn’t always easy, of course, and many SUVs failed to gain a significant market share. We looked back at 30 obscure SUVs from past decades. Read on as we take a look at these forgotten relics of a different era in automotive design.

Photo Credit: GM

30: Pontiac Aztek

At the dawn of the new millennium, the first SUV boom hit. The Pontiac Aztek was a concept car from that era. GM thought it could target a new group of buyers who were “outdoorsy.” However, its design was highly polarizing and buyers weren’t going for it.

Photo Credit: GM

Even a tie-in with hit TV show ‘Dark Angel’ didn’t do anything to bolster sales. Yes, even Jessica Alba couldn’t help this lackluster Pontiac. Surprisingly, the Aztek experienced a resurgence thanks to a hit TV show called ‘Breaking Bad.’ All of a sudden, the Aztek was back in style and the resale value of these things has soured ever since.

Photo Credit: Ford Motor Corp

29: Mercury Mariner

Ford has tried to save the Mercury brand from extinction time and time again. The Mariner was targeted toward young working women who wanted something capable and luxurious. While the Mariner was based on the Ford Escape, it had its own unique set of features.

Photo Credit: Ford Motor Corp

A lot of aspects of the Mariner were borrowed from the larger Lincoln Navigator, but you still couldn’t hide the fact that it was an Escape. Ford also offered a fully-loaded Escape that was thousands less than the Mariner, which didn’t help its sales.

Photo Credit: Honda Motor Corp

28: Acura SLX

The original Acura SUV didn’t have any Honda engineering at all; it was an Isuzu Trooper with Acura badges. Honda had a partnership with Isuzu during the q990s and the two companies shared a couple models. The SLX didn’t have anything to differentiate it from the Trooper other than an Acura badge and a higher price tag.

Photo Credit: Honda Motor Corp

It was somewhat capable off-road thanks to the Trooper underpinnings. As far as luxury, the SLX did not deliver. The rough ride and questionable safety ratings didn’t do anything to entice buyers into Acura showrooms and the model was quickly discontinued.

Photo Credit: GM

27: GMC Jimmy Diamond Edition

The GMC Jimmy was sold in various body styles over its lifespan and finished its run as a Chevy Blazer clone. But there was a special edition of the car that was known as the “Diamond Edition” and it was truly a diamond in the rough. Although the standard Jimmy was dated, the Diamond Edition was a step above.

Photo Credit: Car gurus

A diamond-studded interior was just the tip of the iceberg. The exterior was also upgraded with fender flares and off-road lighting. A dark paint scheme with silver accents added to the look as well as a new set of alloy wheels. The Diamond Edition of the Jimmy was extremely rare and finding one is a real treat, especially with low mileage.

Photo Credit: GM

26: Isuzu Ascender

By the early 2000s, the SUV industry was a hot segment of the automotive industry. The Ascender was a clone of the Chevrolet Trailblazer and GMC Envoy. Isuzu didn’t have any new models on the market and the brand needed one, thus GM loaned the company a platform in exchange for the design of the Colorado/Canyon models.

Photo Credit: GM

There was nothing to differentiate the Ascender from other models aside from its large chrome grille. The retail price for the Ascender was a tad bit less than a comparable TrailBlazer, but that didn’t help sales. Isuzu folded in America shortly after the Ascender was discontinued from the market.

Photo Credit: Isuzu

25: Isuzu Rodeo

The Isuzu brand was the only automotive company in the 1990s that sold nothing but SUV and pickup truck models. By the mid-1990s the Rodeo and Trooper were dominating the market. The Isuzu Rodeo was one of the best-selling SUVs on the market for a long period.

Photo Credit: Isuzu

But Isuzu got comfortable with their position and stopped innovating. By the 2000s the Rodeo was outdated. The Rodeo is still popular among enthusiasts for its body on frame design, which is more than durable enough off-road. Still, modern SUV buyers tend to forget how much of a role Isuzu played in the popularity of the original SUV craze.

Photo Credit: Car Gurus

24: Honda Passport

The original Honda Passport was nothing more than a badge-engineered Isuzu Rodeo, but thanks to the Honda name, sales were phenomenal from the gate. Honda eventually replaced the Passport with the original Honda Pilot but has since revived the nameplate.

Photo Credit: Car Gurus

Although the original Passport was a carbon copy of the Rodeo, the SUV had a lot of perks. The Honda badge got it a lot of credibility and the larger dealership network meant servicing one was easier than a Rodeo. Nowadays, you can find a clean Honda Passport a lot easier than you can find a used Rodeo.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

23: Lincoln Aviator

Ford has no problem badge engineering a car many times over. That’s just what the blue oval did with the Aviator. Although most of the body was shared with the Ford Explorer, the Aviator had some pretty unique features. The 32-valve 4.6 L V8 that came standard in the Aviator was the same engine that Ford used in the Mustang Mach-1 performance car.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Enthusiasts tend to forget about the Aviator, but the SUV does have a cult-like following of loyal owners. The Aviator was in every sense of the word a miniature Lincoln Navigator, boasting a fair amount of luxury and refinement for its time.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

22: GMC Yukon GT

The two-door SUVs of the 1970s and 1980s were an early incarnation of what was to come for the automotive business. Between the Ford Bronco and Dodge Ram Charger, there were plenty of different models to choose from. But by the ’90s, consumer tastes had changed and the GM full-size SUV trio had the Tahoe and the Yukon to choose from. These two models didn’t have the removable top of yesteryear and styling was less extreme.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The Yukon GT was a special edition of the Yukon two-door that had body-colored bumpers and a special set of wheels. Although performance wasn’t much better than the standard version, this was more of an appearance package than anything. The value of these monstrous two-door SUV models has grown tremendously in the last decade as they became collector’s items.

Photo Credit: Hiconsumption

21: Land Rover Defender 90

The Land Rover Defender 90 was a fairly popular two-door SUV during the 1990s but the model wasn’t sold in America. However, as time has gone on, thousands of these Defender 90 models have appeared on American roads. Land Rover was working on changing its reputation during this period and the Defender 90 had a lot of unique features.

Photo Credit: Hiconsumption

Only true enthusiasts will remember the Defender 90 as it exhibited some of the best traits Land Rover had to offer. The styling was great and the functionality was what you’d expect out of something in this price range. Plus, the Defender 90 had the removable top that so many enthusiasts desire in the Jeep community.

Photo Credit: Fort Hilm Projectors

20: 1996 Jeep Wrangler TJ

Introduced in 1996, the TJ was the first of the “modern” Wrangler models that we have today. The model had a lot of new features like a coil-spring suspension, which translated to a smoother ride. The interesting thing about the Wrangler TJ was the fact that it was one of the last Jeeps to utilize AMC-derived parts.

Photo Credit: Fort Hilm Projectors

The Wrangler TJ ended up being one of the most popular Wrangler models of all time from a sales standpoint. Unfortunately, drivers tend to forget about the original 1996 model and go for the newer editions of the Jeep. Few SUV models have managed to become as iconic as the Wrangler did and the original 1996 TJ was a step above the rest.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

19: Jeep Cherokee XJ

The same goes for the original Cherokee XJ, which is highly coveted among enthusiasts. Modern drivers have forgotten that this was the SUV that changed everything and set the SUV industry in motion. The Cherokee was a lot smaller in size than the full-size offerings that were on the market at the time, and it offered better fuel efficiency. With that said, the Cherokee was also the last-ditch effort by AMC to save the company, and the car that influenced Chrysler’s purchase of AMC.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The Cherokee is an iconic piece of off-roading heritage, but modern drivers have forgotten about this gem. Instead of moving toward the crossover craze that has swept through the automotive industry, but the Cherokee XJ is still a capable vehicle. If you can find one with a low mileage you’ll be in for something that’s both roomy and well-appointed for its period.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

18: 1995 Toyota RAV4 Two-Door

The Toyota RAV4 changed the game in the automotive industry, introducing the world to the compact SUV that was refined. Before the RAV4, there was the Geo Tracker, but the Toyota offering was different. It incorporated luxury and a car-like ride drivers went crazy for, on top of modern styling. The two-door offered a removable top, almost going hand in hand to create a tiny version of the popular 4Runner.

Photo Credit: JD Buy and Sell

Drivers tend to forget that at one time Toyota offered a two-door variant of the RAV4, one that included a removable top, no less. The two-door RAV4 has become a sort of collector’s item and is not easy to find. The hardtop model was discontinued in 1999. If you want a capable compact UTE that you can have fun with, the two-door RAV4 is a rarity worth seeking out.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

17: Mitsubishi Montero

Another SUV that got forgotten in the mix is the Mitsubishi Montero. The Montero was a Mitsubishi SUV offering for most of the 1980s and ’90s and was quite capable. The large, upright body and high ground clearance of the Montero made it universally accepted by enthusiasts and soccer moms alike. By the turn of the decade, the brand tried to position the Montero as more of a luxury SUV and sales tanked.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The original Montero was also available in a two-door version, which has become a likable choice amount enthusiasts. The styling of the SUV was something that makes it timeless and still popular today. Ordinary drivers have forgotten the Montero and moved onto crossover models, but the Montero was at one time one of the most popular UTES on the road.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

16: Dodge Raider

The Dodge Raider was created in a partnership between Chrysler and Mitsubishi motors, the fruits of which brought us the Dodge Stealth as well. If the Raider looks familiar, that’s because it was a two-door Mitsubishi Montero. The SUV didn’t sell very well and the nameplate was quickly scrapped in favor of the company purchasing AMC and the Jeep Wrangler line.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Still, the Raider has garnered a loyal following among enthusiasts for its capable off-road demeanor and easy work on the design. Dodge fans are quick to point out that this wasn’t an American-made SUV, but its off-road capability cannot be denied. Recently, interest has begun to spark in the Raider as full-fledged SUV models become harder to come by.

Photo Credit: CAR ID

15: Third Generation Toyota 4Runner

Driving a Toyota nowadays is almost like a status symbol, but back in the 1990s, a Toyota was an affordable automobile. The 4Runner has always been one of the most capable models on the road when it comes to reliability and design. The durability of the 4Runner makes it the first choice for enthusiasts who want something easy to modify and fun to drive.

Photo Credit: CAR ID

The third generation of the 4Runner which was sold throughout the 1990s is one of the best examples of the truck. The engine is very reliable and the maintenance is seemingly carefree if you can get one that was well maintained over its life. The main problem with the 4Runners of this generation comes in the form of frame rusting, so keep an eye out for that.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

14: Isuzu Trooper

The Isuzu brand in America was among the most popular vehicle makers of the 1990s. As the SUV boom kicked off, the Trooper was at the forefront in popularity. Isuzu’s 1990s models are both luxurious and very capable off-road which has made them a focal point for collectors. The very rare two-door models have a shorter wheelbase and are a lot easier to take off-road, but the four-door is still a great choice as well.

Photo Credit: Bring a Trailer

The Trooper was marred by the bad press that surrounded the vehicle over roll-over accidents. If you are willing to accept the fact that they can tip over, the Trooper is an excellent used SUV. The resale value on them has remained fairly low because they aren’t on most drivers’ radar.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

13: Isuzu VehiCROSS

By the start of the 2000s, Isuzu was on the decline and the company needed a way to garner interest. The VehiCROSS was developed to drive consumers into showrooms to see other models. It was never meant to be the hallmark of the Isuzu brand, which is why the SUV seems more like a concept than anything.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

However, there are some cool features about the VehiCROSS. The VehiCROSS was way ahead of its time design-wise, and you’ll often see SUV models that mimic it in today’s market. A loyal fanbase has followed the VehiCROSS since its launch but nowadays most modern drivers don’t even know what one is if they see it in public.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

12: Pontiac Sunrunner

In America, the first SUV to grace a Pontiac badge was the Torrent, but in Canada it was the Pontiac Sunrunner. While this was a Geo Tracker with a different front clip, the Sunrunner does have the distinction of being a genuine Pontiac. If you’ve ever dreamed about having a two-door Pontiac SUV with a soft top, the Sunrunner may be the choice for you.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Thanks to Suzuki underpinnings, the Sunrunner was amazingly capable off-road. Parts for the Sunrunner and Geo Tracker are affordable and repairs can be done by knowledgeable home mechanics. The Sunrunner will go down as one of the most unique SUV models to bear a Pontiac badge and is still drivable today.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

11: Land Rover Discovery 2

The Land Rover Discovery 2 is a nightmare to own because from a maintenance standpoint, drivers just couldn’t keep it running. But when the Discovery 2 is in operation, it holds the title as one of the most capable off-road models ever made. Resale values for these things have plummeted to almost a giveaway. And if you don’t mind doing some maintenance the Discovery 2 of the 1990s is a great deal.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Modern SUV buyers have forgotten the Discovery 2 but this was the original luxury SUV. Released before Lincoln had the Navigator and Cadillac had the Escalade, the Discovery 2 was large and in charge with a luxuriously appointed interior and a go-anywhere design that still holds today.

Photo Credit: Isuzu

10: Isuzu Amigo

The two-door Isuzu of the 1990s has become a forgotten relic of a better time. In the 1990s everything was about having fun and going to the beach, which is why topless SUV models were so appealing. Isuzu had hoped that it could capture lightning in a bottle with the Amigo but instead sales quickly faltered.

Photo Credit: Isuzu

With competition from Suzuki in the Sidekick and Geo Tracker and the newly-minted Toyota RAV4 soft top, the aged Amigo just couldn’t hold its own. Isuzu later released the Rodeo Sport, which tried to address a lot of the issues that drivers had with the Amigo. Nevertheless, the Amigo is a relic of the 1990s SUV craze.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

9: GMC Typhoon

GM was on a performance kick in the early 1990s and performance trucks and SUVs were a hot commodity. The Typhoon was a unique offering and at the time, the fastest production car in the world until its title was taken. The styling was extremely clean and no-frills, with some unique colors to choose from and a turbocharged engine.

Photo Credit: Bring a Trailer

The Typhoon sold like hotcakes and the valuation of these things is still extremely high today. Although the average driver has forgotten about the Typhoon there is still a loyal fanbase that enjoys driving these things. Few SUV models were as iconic in as short a period as the Typhoon was, although they now seem obscure.

Photo Credit: Land Rover

8: Land Rover Freelander

Land Rover sales slipped to all-time lows in the ’90s, and the brand needed an infusion of sales. Thus a small SUV was developed to capitalize on the compact SUV craze that was taking over the market at the time. The Freelander was considered a failure for the brand as sales were far less than expected.

Photo Credit: Land Rover

From an off-road standpoint, the Freelander wasn’t very capable and that didn’t do anything to help its reputation. Land Rover would go on to redesign the Freelander but it was too late and the compact SUV just wasn’t selling. Still, if you can find a Freelander with low mileage, it may be a unique trophy item.

Photo Credit: Land Rover

7: Land Rover LR2

The redesign of the Freelander was the LR2 and Land Rover looked to address some of the complaints of the original model. The design was a bit more upscale with a nicer interior and new exterior colors. Sadly the general design of the LR2 was still very much like the Freelander and consumers weren’t going for it.

Photo Credit: Land Rover

The LR2 is slightly tougher to come across than the Freelander and the 2009 model is highly desirable. With the beautiful paint jobs, the LR2 wasn’t bad to look at, but from a capability standpoint, it didn’t hold a candle to the competition. Land Rover had many failures and the LR2 is sadly one of the apparent ones.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

6: Daihatsu Rocky

Perhaps one of the rarest models on this list, the Rocky was a compact UTE sold for a couple of years. The design of the Rocky is very similar to the likes of the Sidekick and the Samurai, but the smaller dealership network hurt the Rocky. Very few of these were sold and most drivers have forgotten about the Rocky unless they see one.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Finding a Rocky is even tougher as the places where these were sold are generally those that have the worst weather. If you can get your hands on a Rocky, it’s one of the best compact SUV models. There was a removable top and a high ground clearance, which made it a pleasure to drive and work on.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

5: Suzuki Samurai

The original Suzuki Samurai became iconic in the SUV world for its stellar design and top-notch reliability. While the SUV had a fairly simplistic design enthusiasts enjoyed the ease of reliability and parts availability. You could also put a lift on the Samurai without much fuss and the removable top was cheap to replace.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Rapper Easy-E famously drove a tricked-out Samurai and these were very popular. You’ll still come across the Samurai from time to time, but the price is high. The average driver probably doesn’t remember this capable off-road cruiser yet for the off-road enthusiast, you can’t go wrong.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

4: Mercury Mountaineer

The Mountaineer was released to capitalize on the popularity of the Ford Explorer and it was basically the same. The interesting thing about the Mountaineer is that it offered the capable 5.0L V8 engine. You might say that the Mountaineer was the Navigator before the Navigator was released.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

As time went on, Ford put less and less effort into the Mountaineer until the brand was phased out altogether. The Mountaineer is often forgotten by enthusiasts but the SUV was one of the most notable ones of the 1990s. The Ford Explorer underpinnings proved to be quite capable at going off-roading and the luxury-appointed interior was a nice touch.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

3: Mazda Navajo

A more obscure Ford offering than the Mercury Mountaineer was the Mazda Navajo. The dark grill and flush taillights were the only things that differentiated the two apart. The Navajo also didn’t come in a four-door version; only a two-door was available.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Almost no one remembers the Navajo and finding one is quite rare to say the least. Surprisingly, the Navajo won its fair share of awards from the automotive press, even garnering the Motor Trend Truck of the Year title. Mazda also rebadged a Ford model a decade later in the form of the Mazda Tribute.

Photo Credit: Mazda

2: Mazda Tribute

Speaking of the Tribute, the compact Mazda was based on the Ford Escape and shared a lot of styling with the Mercury Mountaineer. This time around, Mazda did some engineering and the Mazda Tribute had a separate suspension from the Escape.

Photo Credit: Mazda

The Tribute managed to sell quite well until Mazda decided to shift its focus toward crossover SUV models. The Tribute is perhaps one of the best and most forgotten SUV models. The final versions of the SUV toward the end of 2010 were extremely well-made.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

1: Suzuki X-90

We’re not sure what Suzuki was thinking with the release of the X-90. The two-door SUV was more like a car than anything, there was no trunk space, and it wasn’t solid off-road. Coming from the same carmaker that brought us the Samurai, this car was a bit of a shock.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The X-90 was one of the poorest-selling Suzukis on the market but today has become collectible. There are few X-90 models that are still on the road and you’ll seldom find one for sale anymore. The X-90 was a cool concept but a failed attempt at capturing a market segment that didn’t exist.

Advertisement
Please wait 5 sec.