The Toyota 4Runner is a tremendously popular and capable off-road SUV, especially in TRD Pro trim. A good portion of that comes from its old-school design, which is also why it retains its value so well. However, that can be a bit of a problem for potential buyers. While reliable, the best off-roading 4Runners can be expensive, even used ones. But there is a potential solution: importable SUVs.
Normally, importing a vehicle requires modifying it to pass emissions, safety regulations, and so on. However, once it’s at least 25 years old, all that gets thrown out the window. Just buy it, ship it here, and pay for registration. There are quite a few highly-capable SUVs that were never sold in the US, but can now be freely owned. It’s a chance for buyers to own something truly special.
Toyota Land Cruiser (70- and 90-Series and diesels)
The current Toyota Land Cruiser, like the original FJ40, is fantastically reliable, and an accomplished off-roader. But you can already buy a Land Cruiser, old or new, in the US. Why deal with the hassle of importing one? Because the US didn’t get every Land Cruiser.
After the FJ40 ceased production, Toyota replaced it with the FJ60 and FJ70. But the US only got the 60-Series. The 70-Series, meanwhile, proved so popular, it’s still made in Australia. As Car and Driver described, the long-wheelbase wagon version of the 70-Series became a model in its own right, the Land Cruiser Prado. Available with 3- or 5-doors, the Prado eventually became the basis for the 90-Series. Which the US also didn’t get–we got the 80-Series.
In addition, except for the FJ40, the Land Cruiser was never available with a diesel in North America. Overseas, though, the 70-, 90-, and even 80-Series Land Cruisers could be ordered with diesels. That continues, as Carwow demonstrated, to this day.
The current Land Cruiser retails for almost $90k. But if you’re looking for a rugged, utilitarian off-roader, a classic 70-Series Land Cruiser or diesel 80-Series are significantly cheaper alternatives.
Land Rover Defender
Like the older Toyota Land Cruisers, the Land Rover Defender also has a somewhat complicated US import history.
From 1993-1997, Land Rover did sell the Defender legally in the US. However, the model debuted in 1990, and the 1997 stop date was due to safety regulations. While the post-1997 Defenders are still too new to import, the pre-1993 ones are old enough. In addition to getting the direct descendant of the original Land Rover, buying one overseas may actually save you money.
Over here, as owner Doug DeMuro explained, Defenders can cost close to $100,000. Across the Atlantic, they’re more like $34,000. And although not particularly quick—the Defender 90’s 4.0-liter V8 made 185 hp—they’re iconic off-roaders for a reason. This is one importable SUV that’s both a good utilitarian and financial choice.
Mitsubishi didn’t dominate rally racing just with the Lancer Evo. The company also competed—and won—several Paris-Dakar Rallies with race-prepped versions of the Pajero SUV.
Sold in the US as the Montero, the Pajero was available in both two- and four-door configurations. The two-door could even be ordered with a soft-top, like a CJ-7 Jeep. And as its US cousin evolved, so did it.
As Jalopnik described, there were features like an inclinometer and coil-spring suspension. Even the seats had their own suspension. And with Mitsubishi’s four-wheel drive system, these SUVs could go practically anywhere. The second-gen even had four-disc brakes—in the 90s, that was practically unheard-of on an SUV.
Today, the Pajero is ranked right up there with the Land Rover Defender and Toyota Land Cruiser for off-road utility. And if you’re willing to wait about 2 more years, the Pajero Evolution will be import-eligible. Think of it as the Lancer Evo SUV, Autotrader reports, and you’re not too far off. In the meantime, the Mitsubishi Pajero remains a desirable importable SUV.
Like the Defender, the Nissan Patrol was briefly sold in the US, from 1962-1969. Sold at Datsun dealers, the Patrol was actually the first vehicle to be badged a ‘Nissan’ in the US. After leaving in 1969, the Patrol actually returned in the form of the Nissan Armada. But while the Armada has had a somewhat rocky US history, the rest of the world has rather enjoyed the Patrol.
The earliest Patrols closely resembled the Land Cruisers and Willys Jeeps they were trying to compete with. As the Patrol evolved, it took further cues from the Land Cruiser, growing more civilized while never losing its off-road capability. The second-gen Patrol 60-Series was so popular in Australia, it was in production for 20 years.
Just like the Pajero, the Patrol was regularly run in the Paris-Dakar Rally. One, like the Patrol restored by Nissan engineers, even finished 9th overall in the 1987 race. And it was a diesel, too. That 1987-1997, the Y60, also comes recommended by HiConsumption. It was the first Patrol to come with coil-spring suspension, as well as sway bars front and rear, and power steering.
If a Land Cruiser or Defender seems too obvious of an answer, then look no further than the Nissan Patrol.
We in the US know the second-gen Suzuki Jimny by another name: Samurai. Although it’s one of the best examples of how dangerous old SUVs can be, the Samurai was a genuinely competent off-roader. Even today, it has a solid American fanbase. While still cheap, many have succumbed to rust or extensive modifications. But there’s always the importable SUV market.
As Jalopnik, Roadshow, and many other automotive reviewers have demonstrated, every generation of the Jimny is able to scamper over rocks and dirt like an overcaffeinated donkey. No Jimny engine could ever be described as ‘powerful’, though with the SUV weighing so little, that’s not as much an issue. And prices are quite reasonable, hovering around $8,000.
Although the current-gen Jimny is too new to import, HiConsumption noted that the Jimny was one of Suzuki’s most popular products. Just be careful about going too far past the first-gen SJ20 model. Made between 1977-1981, not only did it have all of 41 hp—which was actually an improvement over the early two-stroke engine—it was the first Jimny to have metal doors.
That is the danger with old, small SUVs like this. But seeing the look on a 4Runner driver’s face as your Jimny scampers past them may just be worth it. And that’s the beauty of an importable SUV like this.