The 90s was a fantastic decade to be in if you’ve got a weak spot for funky box-shaped offroad vehicles such as the Land Rover Defender, Toyota Land Cruiser, or Mercedes Benz G-class. But hidden beneath these iconic cars is a vehicle that without a doubt has enough merit to claim its spot on the list, that car is the 1991 Isuzu Trooper.
Isuzu Motors Ltd. is a Japanese automobile company founded in 1934 that preliminary produces commercial vehicles and diesel engines. Isuzu did experiment with regular passenger cars but never found any real success with them. But Isuzu was confident that their experience with producing some of the market’s best diesel engines and commercial trucks could harness that skill and channel it into the form of an SUV, and so they did.
Isuzu knew that making an SUV with off-road capabilities wouldn’t be easy. They were competing with manufacturers which had decades of experience, alas, they were also fighting a losing battle with their passenger cars as sales were diminishing rapidly. Still, they were given the green light, and the Isuzu Trooper entered the world in 1981.
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 took the world by surprise, turns out it was just as capable as the brand leaders, and while it may not have had all the luxuries, it did come at a fraction of the price of its rivals.
The Trooper’s square-edged chassis design quickly became a selling point for this utilitarian-looking vehicle. The large square glass windows and elevated suspension made this compact SUV stand out from the crowd, especially in the U.S. markets with large cars such as the Ford F150 and Chevrolet Suburban.
The Isuzu Trooper came either as a 3-door or 5-door wagon and for some markets was even available in a 7-seat configuration (Not in the U.S.)
In terms of luxury, the earliest models did not offer much, you had the basics such as a stereo, optional A/C, and electric windows. But the second generation was a little bit more generous, offering things such as heated seats, climate control, higher quality material, and safety as well as a far superior ride.
Almost like a mountain-climbing professional, the Isuzu Trooper could almost travel to any destination whatever the obstacles. Despite weighing in at 3,700 lbs. and being severely underpowered in comparison to some of its competition the First-gen still did good, despite the odds.
Throughout the first generation’s lifetime, there was a variety of engines and transmissions available.
1949 cc G200Z I4 (82 HP, SOHC)
2255 cc 4ZD1 I4 (110 HP, SOHC)
2559 cc 4ZE1 I4 (120 HP, SOHC)
2837 cc LH7/LL2 V6 (135 HP OVH)
2238 cc C223 I4 (58 HP OHV)
2238 cc C223T turbo I4 (68 HP OHV)
2771 cc 4JB1 I4 (85 HP OHV)
2771 cc 4JB1-T turbo I4 (110 HP OHV)
4-speed Isuzu MSG manual
5-speed Isuzu MSG manual
5-speed Isuzu MUA5C manual
4-speed Aisin Warner automatic
4-speed GM 4L30-E transmission automatic
The 1981 Trooper wasn’t great. It was without a question underpowered, even for its time. It could not compete with the competition as it offered far superior quality, handling, and luxury. Yet, somehow people looked past the less than adequate performance. The Trooper captured the consumer with its authentic 80s style and the Trooper’s go-anywhere capabilities.
Over the years Isuzu refined the Trooper further, they corrected things that did not work, and improved things which needed more work, and by the time the second-generation Isuzu Trooper rolled out in 1991 they were even more confident in their product.
The 2-gen 1991 Isuzu Trooper was the result of a decade’s work of trial and error. This time Isuzu made the Trooper more powerful with five new engine choices ranging from 3.0L-3.5L with three petrol V6 engines and two I4 Turbodiesel engines.
3.2 L 6VD1 SOHC V6 (185 HP SOHC)
3.2 L 6VD1 DOHC V6 (205 HP DOHC)
3.5 L 6VE1 DOHC V6 (230HP DOHC)
3.0 L 4JX1 turbo I4 (157 HP HEUI)
3.1 L 4JG2 turbo I4 (135 HP)
But the engines were not the only thing they had improved on. This time they had upped the Trooper’s off-road capability with their new off-roading tech which could shift into 4WD mode from 2WD on the go. It also came fitted with the so-called Grade Logic system which automatically down-shifted into the proper gear during steep slopes so that the limited-slip differential could do its job. To top it off, they supplied the 1991 Trooper with all-new independent front suspension which helped provide grip and comfort during rough terrain.
It was a huge success. The Trooper had climbed to the peak of the mountain and was now in the center as one of the most rugged and utilitarian off-road SUVs on the market. And all this while still managing to implement a variety of creature comforts compared to the first generation.
Another way of understanding just how good the Isuzu Trooper was is to just look at some of the other automobile brands which at the time did not have a great off-road SUV. Isuzu entered in several partnerships with automakers such as Chevrolet, Holden, Subaru, Honda, and Opel and shared their Trooper design with them so that they could sell re-badged versions of the Trooper. Not everyone could afford a Land Rover or Jeep, or 4Runner, but they could afford the Trooper.
All good things come to an end, and by the late 90s the Isuzu Trooper had lost popularity, sales plummeted and in 2002 got replaced by the Isuzu Axiom.
The Isuzu Trooper also took part in Motorsport believe it or not. It finished on the podium in several safari races and ended up winning the Australian Safari in both 1992 and 1993. In 1994 it managed to take first place in its class in the Pharaoh’s Rally and also took home a class victory in the 1994 Paris-Dakar Rally.
Due to the first-generation Troopers’ classic 80s looks and authentic drivability, these will set you back somewhere around $7,500 to $25,000 depending on condition, model year, and mileage. These are now considered classics and since the supply only will go down prices are likely to keep increasing with time.
The second generation is a completely different story. These ones can be had for as low as $1,000 but can fetch up to $10,000 for a pristine example. However, it is most common to find examples within the $2,500 and $6,000 range. And at that price point offers great value for money.
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