Buy/Drive/Burn: Compact Japanese SUVs From 1991

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
buy drive burn compact japanese suvs from 1991

Last time on Buy/Drive/Burn, we considered three-door Japanese SUVs from 1989. In this edition, we move forward a couple years in history and down a size class. Up for grabs are compact SUVs with removable roofs, all of them Japanese.

Suzuki Samurai

The smallest of our trio was also the oldest. Suzuki started making their second generation Jimny in 1981, code named SJ30. The tiny truck wore about 13 different names depending on market, and was also sold as a Chevrolet, Holden, Santana, and Maruti. The first Samurais arrived in North America for the 1986 model year. Small revisions in 1988 upped comfort and livability factors, and late in 1991 the 1.3-liter engine was replaced by a new version which had fuel injection (TBI). A five-speed manual handled all 66 horsepower. Upcoming safety regulations killed the Samurai after the 1995 model year, though it remained on sale elsewhere through 1998. Samurai’s American market replacement was the Suzuki version of the Geo below.

Geo Tracker

Jointly developed between GM and Suzuki, production of the Geo Tracker began in Japan in 1989. Japanese production for the first two model years was an accommodation to the folks in Ingersoll, Ontario, who couldn’t get the new CAMI plant up and running on time. Our northern neighbours didn’t receive Geos, so the Tracker was called a Sunrunner and sold by Asuna, and later, Pontiac. Canada also called it the GMC Tracker. Through 1995, the 1.6-liter engine provided 80 horsepower distributed via five manual gears. The Suzuki Sidekick and Geo twins lasted through 1998 in their initial guise. Let’s just say things went way downhill from there.

Isuzu Amigo

The largest option of our trio, Isuzu’s Amigo made its way to North America as a 1990 model. The Amigo and Rodeo also had about 13 different names, like MU, MU Wizard, Chevrolet Frontera and Rodeo, and the Honda Jazz in Japan. The first couple of Amigo years were spartan: Options were limited to things like air conditioning, and whether owners wanted two or four seats. Rear-drive versions had a 2.3-liter engine, while the four-wheel drive version (today’s option) was blessed with a larger 2.6-liter inline-four. The five-speed manual wrangled 120 horsepower in that guise. A five-door Rodeo joined the Amigo for 1991, and North American examples were built at the Subaru-Isuzu plant in Lafayette, Indiana (learned something). Amigo took a nap after 1994, and the Rodeo soldiered on alone until 1998, when both models rejoined the fray for a second generation. Amigo became Rodeo Sport in 2001, and died with Rodeo after 2004.

Three Nineties SUVs that promise fun in the sun, which goes home with the Big Buy?

[Images: Geo, Suzuki, Isuzu]

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2 of 47 comments
  • DJ None DJ None on Jul 25, 2019

    Buy: the Amigo but it would have to be the 2nd gen one Drive: the Tracker ( i almost bought one as my first car a 5spd one) Burn: that horrible Samurai

  • Tankinbeans Tankinbeans on Jul 29, 2019

    Is it wrong to make the decision based on quoted power outputs over all else? They all have similar aesthetic attributes and seem to be on tipsy side. Buy: FWD Amigo Drive: Tracker Burn: Samurai. Wasn't this the guy that had a particular penchant for removing its passengers the easy way, rolling over?

  • Spamvw My '02 Jetta Wagon is starting to look a little rough. Some of the plastics are degrading, rust is starting. BUT, show me another 21 year old daily driver that looks perfect.
  • Syke Sorry, off-roading holds no interest for me. Besides, vehicles like these will normally get used in traffic where they can push around two-wheeled (motorized and not) vehicles with impunity.
  • V16 It's hard to believe that the 1980 Thunderbird was approved for production.The Edsel had more curb appeal.
  • Jimbo1126 (Turning pencil to eraser end...) Really, it's just GM. Been disappointed by their products too many times.
  • Golden2husky 78 Concept is pretty awesome to me -