Remembering Isuzu: America’s Long-Lost Maker of Weird SUVs
Many moons ago, in a time known as the aughts, an automaker produced strange and unique SUVs for the American market. Hailing from Japan, this brand competed with the likes of Toyota and Mitsubishi to provide capable, memorable utility vehicles. It may have stopped making SUVs for these shores. But its name endures in memory: Isuzu.
Kelley Blue Book lists the Isuzu SUVs throughout the years. Here are a few of the highlights.
Isuzu Ascender was a re-badged Trailblazer
This family-sized SUV came to be in the mid-2000s as a partnership between Isuzu and General Motors. Underneath its sheet metal, the Ascender is an identical clone to that generation’s Chevrolet Trailblazer and GMC Envoy. Aside from Isuzu branding and body pieces, the Ascender was a typical American SUV. Its seven-seat configuration made it one of the largest Isuzu models offered in the U.S.
Isuzu Axiom was an angular aughts SUV
The Axiom was a genuine product of the aughts. Its distinctive styling used sharp, straight lines and square angles – a departure from the flowing curves typical to the late-90s auto industry. At the time, the Isuzu Axiom was one of the more eye-catching SUVs on the market.
Isuzu Rodeo/Rodeo Sport offered a classic 90s package
A staple of the 90s and aughts, the Isuzu Rodeo was a reasonably standard SUV. It competed against popular models like the Jeep Cherokee, Honda Passport, and Toyota 4Runner. However, the Rodeo Sport took things in a weirder direction. The two-door SUV picked up where the Amigo left off to compete against the vaunted Jeep Wrangler with its available removable soft top.
Isuzu Amigo was a Jeep Wrangler alternative
There once was a time when drivers could go beyond Jeep and Ford to get a convertible SUV. One of the many such options in the 90s was the Isuzu Amigo. The small, nimble Amigo offered capability and fun to those who didn’t want to spring for a Wrangler.
Isuzu Trooper was an SUV all-rounder
The boxy Trooper had more than a cool name – it offered a compelling mix of comfort and capability. A spacious cabin paired with a sturdy V6 and available four-wheel drive made the Trooper a great all-rounder. It has recently gained popularity as a platform among the overlanding enthusiast community.
Isuzu Vehicross was the weirdest of them all
The crown jewel of weird Isuzu SUVs, the Vehicross features striking looks that are still unique today. Unlike competitors, it’s a sleek design. But underneath the Vehicross is a capable off-roader. Massive ground clearance, standard four-wheel drive with low range, and off-road tires provide outstanding all-terrain performance. Still, it’s pretty strange to behold.
Will Isuzu SUVs come back to the U.S.?
Isuzu may no longer sell new models in the U.S., but its legacy lives on in the import market. The brand’s Japanese domestic market “kei” trucks have become social media darlings, and enthusiasts have flocked to them. Meanwhile, the enormously popular overlanding trend has kept models like the Isuzu Trooper and Isuzu Rodeo relevant.
We may never see new Isuzu models in the U.S. again. If that remains the case, we can still fondly remember an era when Isuzu occupied its unique place in the industry. Cheers to you, Isuzu.