Last Updated on September 20, 2022 by E. Lindgren
Some of the world’s sturdiest and most capable SUVs happen to come from Japanese automakers. Here is a list of some of the greatest JDM SUVs.
Automakers such as Toyota and Nissan quickly became known for creating some of the most durable and capable SUVs in the world. And today you can find these SUVs from anywhere in the desert of Sahara all the way to the icy cold North Pole.
Japanese SUVs started emerging on the international market during the early 80s, and by the 90s Toyota and Nissan had established themselves as the market leaders when it came to proficient SUVs.
The 80s through early 00s are often considered the golden years for Japanese SUVs, and unfortunately what began making these SUVs great started to subside during the 2000s, and some believe quirky features and quality were left on the table for higher profits.
Subaru is known to create some of the best all-wheel-drive cars, and the Forester is no exception. In fact, the first- and second-generation Forester was actually based on the Impreza platform that was used for their rally cars.
But unlike the Impreza, the Forester could easily fit an entire family while still having enough room left over for a bunch of luggage. Its robust design also made the Forester rank very high in safety.
All Subaru Forester’s are powered by a variation of a boxer-4 engine, with the entry-level being naturally aspirated and the higher trim level’s receiving a turbocharged version. Power ranges from around 120hp to 280hp in the top-trim.
The second-generation Forester was available in a rare JDM version known as the Forester STi which featured a majority of the parts from the Impreza WRX STi, including the engine and drivetrain.
Toyota Land Cruiser
Often considered one of the most durable and robust SUVs ever created, the Toyota Land Cruiser has been around ever since the 1950s.
During the 80s and 90s, the Toyota Land Cruiser was established as the go-to offroad SUV and became renowned for being able to orient through any environment. Thus, became very popular in rural landscapes such as Africa and Australia’s outback.
The Toyota Land Cruiser is powered by a variety of different engines. Perhaps most known for their high displacement I6 engines. But could also be had with a V6 along with a variety of turbo-diesels including a diesel I4, I5, I6, V6, and V8 engine. If you’re looking at one of these, the Inline-6 is the ones to go for.
Older Land Cruisers are becoming classics, and finding one in pristine condition will cost a pretty penny. Despite that, you still get your money’s worth, since many of these will likely outlive the modern cars sold today which makes it one of the best JDM SUVs if you think about it.
Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution
When most people look at the Mitsubishi Pajero, they might think its just some wanna-be offroad SUV, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Apart from being a great everyday SUV used by regular folks, the Mitsubishi Pajero had an ace up its sleeve. You see, the Mitsubishi Pajero was built with several purposes, one of them being offroad rallying.
Mitsubishi produced a special homologation car known as the Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution. This version featured a 3.5L V6 producing around 275 hp @6,500 RPM and featured a new body such as a hood scoop, largely widened fender flares, a rear spoiler along with skid plates and mud flaps.
4WD, and a front and rear Torsen differential came as standard. And to deal with bumps a multi-link double-wishbone independent suspension was fitted.
The Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution main competition was the Dakar Rally. And to date, the Mitsubishi Pajero is the car to hold the most Dakar Rally wins with 12 victories under its belt. From 1985 to 2007 the Pajero managed to get over 150 stage wins, with the second most stage wins going to Peugeot with a measly 78 victories in comparison.
Certainly, one of the most badass JDM SUVs to have ever been manufactured.
Toyota Hilux Surf / Toyota 4Runner
The Toyota 4Runner, or Hilux Surf as it was called in Japan was more or less a Toyota Hilux with a fiberglass shell over the bed, the later generations, however, have undergone major development and are now independent of the Toyota Hilux.
The early models, despite being regarded as unsafe due to their poor safety standards were mechanically indestructible as they remained more or less identical to the Toyota Hilux, which was highly regarded as one of the most reliable trucks in the world (perhaps you’ve seen the TopGear episode).
The Toyota 4Runner can be had either in a 2WD or 4WD layout and has often featured smaller economical engines such as turbocharged inline-4 diesel, and petrol engines. But all generations have always featured a larger V6 engine.
Much thanks to being based on the Toyota Hilux, the 4Runner has by default become notoriously well known for being incredibly reliable which makes it one of the best JDM SUVs ever produced.
The Isuzu Trooper was in production between 1981 and 2002 and at its release, a lot of journalists and business owners really questioned whether a cheap truck such as the Isuzu Trooper really could compete with the giants such as Toyota, Land Rover, and Nissan.
But the Trooper surprised everyone; it turned out to be just as capable as the brand leaders, and while it didn’t have all the amenities, it did come at a fraction of the price of its competitors.
On paper, the Isuzu Trooper might have looked like an underdog, but despite this, the Trooper, almost like a mountain-climbing professional just kept going when the competition ran to a halt.
By the time the second generation came out Isuzu had a decade’s work of trial and error and this time Isuzu leveled out the competition. The second generation came available with a variety of V6 engines producing between 185hp to 230hp. They also improved the 4WD system and out of nowhere, the Isuzu Trooper were considered the most rugged and utilitarian off-road SUV on the market.
If being an underdog and coming out on top despite all the odds is not badass, then what is?