Home Cars Strange 1990s SUVs Most Drivers Have Never Heard Of

Strange 1990s SUVs Most Drivers Have Never Heard Of

Cameron Eittreim June 15, 2023

Amongst many other things, the 1990s were a time when the SUV came into mainstream acceptance. All of a sudden, it was chic to drive an oversized behemoth that guzzled gas. The SUV is a versatile kind of vehicle, and back in the 1990s, they were big business. The most obvious success stories to come out of this decade were the Ford Explorer and the Chevrolet Tahoe, as well as the Jeep Grand Cherokee. But there were also a few strange SUVs that you might not have ever seen.

We looked back at strange 1990s SUV models that most drivers have never heard of. These were not your average SUVs and nowadays they’ve gone on to become collector’s items. See if you’ve ever heard of them right here.

Photo Credit: Motorious

1996 Bentley Dominator

To the common driver, the Bentley Bentayga is referred to as the company’s first SUV. And that’s true in the fact that it is the first mass-produced SUV with a Bentley badge on it. But that’s not necessarily the full truth, as there was a Bentley SUV that was specially built in 1996. The Bentley Dominator was a custom-built model for Hassanal Bolkiah, the 29th Sultan of Brunei, who has a car collection spanning 7,000 vehicles (via RRSilver Spirit).

Photo Credit: Motorious

When you have that much money you can afford just about anything, and that’s the case with the Dominator. The SUV had most of its parts sourced from Land Rover with the exception of the Bentley 6.75-liter V-8. There are only six Dominators that were ever built and they’ve rarely come up for auction.

Why Haven't You Bought a Nissan Rasheen Yet? | The Drive
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1994-2000 Nissan Rasheen

The Nissan Pathfinder has long been one of the most revered SUV models in the auto world. But there was another model that was built in the 1990s too. The Rasheen was one of the first real crossover vehicles in the world. It was a wagon with an upright design that gave it an exceptionally high seating position (via Jalopnik).

Rare Rides: The 1995 Nissan Rasheen, a Boxy Off-road Wagon | The Truth About Cars
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It had a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine and an extremely strong 4WD system. The quality of the Rasheen wasn’t missed by the automotive world and consumers were quite pleased. The quirky-looking vehicle never made it over here to the US market. But still, this is perhaps one of the oddest-looking SUV models from the ’90s.

Photo Credit: Honda Motor Corp

1996-99 Acura SLX

Honda was the first Japanese automaker to attempt to bring a luxury brand to the US market and it was quite successful. The SLX was a rebadged Isuzu Trooper that was very capable off-road, but lackluster in the luxury department. The sales of the SLX were so low that the SUV was discontinued shortly after its launch (via Autoweek).

Photo Credit: Honda Motor Corp

You’ll seldom see an SLX in good condition anymore, and that’s because it just didn’t connect with consumers. The MDX was launched in the 2000s and it was more of a success for the brand. If you’ve ever wanted to drive a boxy Acura SUV, the SLX is probably the car for you if you can find one in decent shape.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

1995-97 Suzuki X-90

Suzuki was one of the most well-known automakers during the 1990s for SUV models. The Sidekick and the Geo Tracker twin were immensely popular, and the Samurai was before those two models. So naturally, Suzuki figured they’d go back to the well and try another topless SUV model, and that was the X-90 (via Car & Driver).

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This quirky-looking SUV model never sold very well and it was only a two-seater. The four-cylinder design of the SUV made it a reasonable choice for value-oriented consumers. The off-road system was quite capable at the time, but car shoppers just couldn’t get past the obscenely ugly styling of it.

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1997-2001 Isuzu Vehicross

By the end of the 1990s, the Isuzu brand was getting long in the tooth. All of their models had been on the market for quite a while. The company needed a way to try and refresh the brand and it was done with the Vehicross. What was originally a concept vehicle was put into production shortly after being revealed (via Car & Driver).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

There was truly nothing else from the decade that looked anything like it. But underneath the Vehicross was nothing more than an Isuzu Rodeo, and that meant that the platform and everything underneath was outdated. The Vehicross only sold about 6,000 units and is quite rare to find nowadays.

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1998-99 RAV4 Two-Door Convertible

This is probably one of the least-known vehicles on this list. The RAV4 Two-Door convertible was sold for two years. SUVs that had removable tops were all the rage in the 1990s, so it only makes sense that Toyota threw its hat into the race. Unfortunately, a two-door RAV4 wasn’t something people wanted (via KBB).

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The sales numbers for the RAV4 soft top were very slim and the model was discontinued by 1999. The next generation of the RAV4 didn’t have a removable top or a two-door model. Although the RAV4 was one of the most popular Toyota models from the decade, it didn’t do well in two-door form.

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1997-99 Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution

If you think that high-performance SUV models like the Durango SRT or the Trailblazer SS are a new trend, you’d be sorely mistaken. Mitsubishi was selling a high-performance SUV model in the 1990s that never made it to America. The Pajero Evolution was a high-performance SUV that had everything that a Lancer Evolution had. The styling itself was fairly modern for the period and quite radical for the Pajero (via Cars & Bids).

Photo Credit: Top Speed

The top-heavy SUV was a very capable off-road model because it was basically the Monteiro with more pep in its step. Recently it become legal to import the Pajero Evolution to America and there have been more of them on the road. The Pajero Evolution was no doubt a fun-to-drive off-road rig from the 1990s that no one knows about.

Photo Credit: Jalopnik

1989-1992 Bertone Freeclimber

Bertone, a company that was founded in partnership with BMW, and Daihatsu created a one-off SUV. The capable off-roader had a lot of potential and those who know about off-roading know about this beast of an SUV right here. The styling alone made it a capable choice to do just about anything off-road (via Driving Line).

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The drivetrain and the ground clearance were some of the best of any SUV model from the period. The BMW engineering underneath also gave it a very capable ride and handling that were almost unheard of for an SUV model. The Bertone Freeclimber is the secret sauce of the SUV world that we’re all missing.

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1993-98 Honda Crossroad

Although it doesn’t seem humanly possible that there was a time when Landrover sold a Honda-badged product. Perhaps one of the most unreliable Hondas of all-time the Crossroad was an oversized behemoth of an SUV. It was basically a first-generation Landrover Discovery with Honda badges all over it. There wasn’t much to differentiate the SUV from its Landrover cousin and consumers were not amused (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Autoweek

The Crossroad was discontinued after some time but Honda reused the nameplate in the 2000s as a crossover model. Needless to say, if you see a Honda Crossroad, you’re in for something special. Although the Crossroad never made it onto US soil as a production model.

Photo Credit: Jalopnik

1991-94 Mazda Navajo

Mazda and Ford have always had a chummy relationship, and that dates back to the Ford Courier. So when the company wanted to bring an SUV to the market Ford was happy to help out with the Explorer-based Navajo. The Navajo was only sold as a two-door model and it was only on the market for a few short years (via Autoweek).

Photo Credit: Jalopnik

The styling of the Navajo was different than the Explorer as it was more sports car focused. The suspension was also upgraded the Navajo offered a different riding experience than the Explorer. Overall, the Navajo was a failure for the brand and one of the strangest SUV models from the decade.

Photo Credit: Cars & Bids

1989-2003 Rayton-Fissore Laforza

The 1989-2003 Laforza went head-to-head with Range Rover. Offered with an Italian twist on styling the idea behind the Laforza was to attract high-end buyers who didn’t want a Range Rover. The SUV was a performance-oriented vehicle but it still offered a reasonable amount of versatility. Although the Laforza never caught on with consumers it was quite the rarity back then (via Jalopnik).

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Pretty much the entire vehicle was the same as the Range Rover other than the hideous front-end styling. The Laforza never sold very well at all, although it stayed on the market for quite some time. The 1990s had a lot of different SUV models that didn’t quite cut the mustard and the Laforza was one of them.

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1998-2001 Saleen XP8 Ford Explorer

Saleen is a company that builds a lot of high-end Ford models, but did you know that they built a high-performance Explorer? The second-generation Explorer was the first model that offered a V8 option, so it was a natural scapegoat for the team to work with. The finished product was the XP8 which was a fire-breathing beast of an SUV (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Bring a Trailer

The styling was a lot different than the regular Explorer model from the period. The interior was also revamped to reflect the increased performance appeal. The engine has a supercharger that packs 286 hp, and 333 lb-ft of torque. There are also 18-inch magnesium wheels which were standard equipment.

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1996-2006 Ssangyong Korando

Although it was never sold in the United States, the 1996-2006 Ssangyong Korando was a quirky SUV from the 1990s that used Mercedes engineering. The drivetrain and power plants were licensed by Mercedes-Benz and the styling was reminiscent of a Jeep CJ. The off-road capability of the rig was undeniable and it instantly became a hit (via Bring a Trailer).

Photo Credit: Bring a Trailer

The Korando never made it over to the US market due to stiff competition but the SUV was definitely a rarity. The gasoline I-4 and I-6 options were the only way to go and they offered capable performance. There are quite a few boxy SUVs from this era worth mentioning and the Korando is at the time of the list.

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1997 Toyota Kijang

Although the Toyota Landcruiser is known around the world there was another SUV model that made waves as well. The Kijang was an SUV that was sold overseas and it was based on the Hilux pickup truck. The styling of the Kijang was traditional Toyota for this era and it offered a reasonable amount of versatility for the price (via Car Throttle).

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There were diesel and gasoline options available for the engine and the 4WD system was one of the best. The Kijang wasn’t offered in America because of the popularity of the 4Runner model over here. But when you think about Toyota SUV design in the 1990s the Kijang was an innovator.

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1998-2002 Kia Sportage Convertible

When the Kia brand makes its way to the United States market the first two cars that were offered were the Sephia and the Sportage. The Sportage was a compact SUV that’s often overlooked but it offered a lot of value at the time. Even rarer is the Sportage Convertible which was sold until 2002 (via KBB).

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The convertible Sportage model offered a plethora of standard features and it had a full four-wheel drive system. The little SUV was capable and reasonably priced but it didn’t sell very well due to a small dealership network at the time. Nevertheless, the Sportage convertible is one of the most recent SUV models from the 1990s that most people don’t know about.

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