5 Iconic 4x4s That Shaped the '90s
The ‘90s were extremely important for the 4x4 world. In fact, we dare say it was one of the best decades on record for out-of-the box, off-road capable vehicles.
Having said that, we’ve gathered five of the most impactful 4x4s to hit the market during the decade that brought you gems such as the Macarena and Beanie Babies. Enjoy.
1. Jeep Wrangler TJ
Jeep was on fire in the ‘90s with an assortment of off-road capable vehicles, the most notable being the 1997 Jeep Wrangler. Enthusiasts know it simply as the TJ. If you ask around for what that means, most will jokingly answer the “Total Jeep,” as it represents the core of what the Jeep brand is all about.
Fit with a multilink front and rear suspension, solid axles and a powerful 4.0L inline-six engine, the open-top Wrangler was unlike any other factory-offered 4x4. The TJ marked the return to the round headlight and a style that was largely improved from its predecessor. The aftermarket quickly took hold of the TJ, making it one of the most supported and customized platforms ever produced. (Check out our TJ Buyer's Guide.)
2. Jeep Cherokee ZJ
Maybe just as important, but not as impactful to the enthusiast market, was the launch of the Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ in 1993. It carried a first of many thing for the segment. It was the first Unitbody 4x4 of its kind to have a coil sprung multilink suspension front and rear, solid axles, a V-8 option, and an assortment of air bags. Compared to the other SUVs of the time, it was in a league of its own.
While the Grand Cherokee has evolved to a more citified vehicle today, its roots are firmly planted in the dirt. Sadly, the 1993 to 1998 ZJ was a victim of the Cash for Clunkers initiative. As a result, the used ZJ prices are now abnormally high and good pre-owned specimens are hard to come by. (These days, you're better off buying the more budget-friendly Cherokee, the XJ.)
3. Ford Super Duty
The year was 1999, and virtually all fullsize 4x4s were looking a little long in the tooth. Seeing a rising trend in demand for a more upscale truck, Ford changed the fullsize truck landscape forever with its Super Duty unveil.
These larger-than-life ¾- and 1-ton trucks were fit with luxurious interiors, loaded with convenience features typically reserved for cars of that time, and more importantly, they still had all of the right parts for a simple, yet rugged, truck. Using leaf springs front and rear to isolate the massive full-float axle set, it didn’t take any time for the aftermarket to adopt to the new chassis, and we saw the birth of one of the most popular and modified trucks of all time. (We have a Buyer's Guide for those interested in adding a Power Stroke diesel engine to their Super Duty.)
4. Toyota Tacoma
As one of the most dominate midsized truck players in North America, Toyota has been on a roll with its Tacoma since its launch in 1995. At the time, the platform may not have seemed overly radical, but it went on to prove out two long held Toyota stakes – reliability and high resale value. With a coilover strut front suspension and leaf-spring rear, the Toyota kept the truck simple and performance oriented.
The Tacoma remains to this day as a class leader in ground clearance and off-road aptitude. Aftermarket support is also another strong hold for the small truck. (Take a look at our review of the 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road.)
5. AM General Hummer
The year was 1992, and one of the top grossing box-office stars was none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was Arnold who would ultimately play an integral role in helping take the military’s HMMWV (High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle) to the civilian market. For years, the HMMWV had been used exclusively by the military, but with a little convincing from the Governator to AM General’s President, the military version was refined and introduced to the masses as the Hummer.
Originally produced by AM General, the Hummer was one of the most unique four-wheel drives to ever hit the US market. Fit with gear-driven portal hubs at each wheel and a fully independent suspension system, the Hummer offered an unmatched 16 inches of ground clearance at the differential. Despite the Hummer’s proven military background, the wide stance, unconventional interior layout and staggering price put them off to a slow start in the consumer market. Regardless of the take rate, the Hummer would go on to become synonymous with success, excess and off-road capability.