With the price of gas low and the classic three-box sedan seemingly beginning its slow ride into the sunset, SUVs and Crossovers are once again king. But with each passing year, there seems to be less and less utility in Sport Utility Vehicles. The vast majority of them seem to be little more than tall station wagons, or worse, minivans in disguise. In fact, beyond the Toyota Land Cruiser, Jeep Wrangler, Chevy Suburban, and maybe a handful of others, most SUVs and Crossovers today are built on car platforms, and the only thing separating them from the other cars on the lot is a hatchback and a taller ride height.
So while the marketplace gets crowded with new models every year, the one thing disappearing from dealer lots faster than sedans are true SUVs: The rugged, go-anywhere vehicles that are based on solid truck frames, and can tackle the suburban jungle as easily as the actual jungle. And believe it or not, it really wasn’t that long ago when there were a lot to choose from
We took a look back at some of the most formidable names in 4×4 history and came up with a short list of 8 SUVs that deserve to make a comeback, if anything to counteract the unexciting crop of SUVs and Crossovers available today.
1. Ford Bronco
Not only is the Bronco one of the most popular nameplates in off-roading history, it’s also one that would thrill most gearheads if it ever made a comeback. Over a 30 year production run, Bronco grew in size, but always stayed true to its rugged 4×4 roots. It became so successful in the ’80s, in fact, that Ford introduced a smaller model, the Ranger pickup-based Bronco II to compete with Chevy’s S-10 Blazer. The Bronco II begat the Explorer in 1990, and after declining sales (and some seriously bad PR), the Bronco was discontinued after 1996.
After torturing fans with an impressive Bronco concept in 2004, a new Bronco has been rumored on and off for years. But now, there’s a chance for a revival – with Ford likely to revive the Ranger pickup, a new Bronco to take on the hot-selling Jeep Wrangler wouldn’t be too big of a leap.
2. Land Rover Defender
Source: Land Rover
The Defender is a direct descendent of the original Land Rover of 1948, and while it’s still on sale, production is ending in December, after 67 years. Frankly, we’re not ready to see it go. The Defender has been largely unchanged since 1990, and with global emissions and safety standards getting stricter by the year, Britain’s favorite off-roader will soon be a thing of the past. An all-new Defender is on the way for 2018, but no matter how good it is, there’s no way it can truly fill the tracks left by one of the most iconic vehicles ever made.
3. Chevy K5 Blazer
Not to be outdone by the Bronco, Chevy unveiled the Blazer in 1969, and it went on to became one of the most iconic off-roaders in history. We’re not looking for a revival of the soccer mom-friendly S10 Blazer, or the yawn-inducing ’02-’09 TrailBlazer, but the hardcore K5, with its heavy-duty suspension, available 6.2 liter Detroit Diesel V8, and removable hardtop. The K5 was so capable, in fact, that the US Army used them in the ’80s to augment their aging Jeep fleet before the Humvee came along. If Ford takes a leap and reintroduces the Bronco, could an off-road ready Blazer be far behind it?
4. Dodge Ramcharger
The Ramcharger was Dodge’s answer to the Bronco and Blazer, and was sold stateside from ’74 to ’94. With a bulletproof frame sourced from the Dodge Ram 1500, and powered by the unkillable 318 or 360 V8s, Ramchargers weren’t only one of the toughest 4x4s money could buy, but their well-appointed interiors put them a step above its competitors too. Dodge’s big two door SUV was so popular in Central and South America, in fact, that an updated model (based on the ’94 Ram) was sold south of the border until 2001. Compared to the Ramcharger, Dodge’s current unibody Durango looks like a Caravan. We can’t help but think of a re-imagined Ramcharger with the 707 horsepower SRT Trackhawk package…
5. GMC Typhoon
Source: General Motors
While GM’s S-10 based Blazer and Jimmy weren’t exactly designed to take the same levels of punishment as the K5, they still had their moments. Their brightest spot is undoubtedly the GMC Typhoon, a two-door SUV that could outgun the Nissan 300ZX Turbo, Corvette, and Ferrari 348ts. Sharing its drivetrain with the GMC Syclone truck, the Typhoon was powered by a 4.3 liter turbocharged V6 that delivered 280 horsepower to all four wheels – though many felt that GM was purposely underrating its horsepower numbers. Just over 4,600 were produced between 1992-’93, making the Typhoon one of the rarest performance vehicles of the decade. With Jeep’s Grand Cherokee SRT currently the best-selling performance car in FCA’s lineup, we’d love to see GM battle back with a 21st century Typhoon.
6. Suzuki Samurai
In its nine years on sale in the U.S., the Suzuki Samurai got no respect. It was considered a “girl’s car” compared to burlier 4x4s, Consumer Reports demanded it be taken of the roads (which Suzuki sued over, and CR later settled out of court), and it never sold in the numbers Suzuki hoped for. But 20 years later, the Samurai has achieved a strong cult following. If they survived rust-free – and that’s a big if, unfortunately – the subcompact, nimble Samurai can still tackle just about any terrain you throw at it. Safety requirements be damned, today’s SUV market needs a go-anywhere machine that’s as dirt cheap and no-frills as the Samurai was.
7. Toyota FJ
The recent Toyota FJ Cruiser was a nice aesthetic tribute to the original Land Cruiser, but it was a little lackluster in terms of ruggedness and durability. The classic J60 Land Cruiser is up there with the Land Rover and Jeep CJ in the holy trinity of off-roaders. It was produced largely unchanged from 1960 to 1984, and it’s become so legendary in the years since that well-kitted examples now change hands for over $100,000. We’d love to see Toyota get a little adventurous and bring a workhorse LC back to its lineup to sell alongside the current super-sized model. They still sell the ’80s era 70 Series in Australia, that’s a good enough starting point for us.
8. Volkswagen Type 181 “The Thing”
The Volkswagen Beetle might not come to mind when you think off-roader, but it certainly was one of the most rugged vehicles ever built. Air-cooled, dirt cheap, and with few moving parts, the beauty of the Beetle was that it could be transformed into nearly anything – like The Thing. Developed for the West German army in 1968 (and built using VW’s slightly larger Karmann-Ghia floorpan), the Type 181 was dubbed The Thing when it was introduced in the U.S. market, and sold there between 1972 and ’75. Known for its bizarre parts-bin aesthetic and bulletproof reliability, we’d be happy to see any major automaker try their hand at building a cheap, fun, no-frills off-roader with half the personality of The Thing.