Hey Amigo: Isuzu's Little 4x4 Was Peak '90s Off-Roader
While there’s no doubt we are currently living in an age of unprecedented crossover and SUV popularity, this certainly isn’t the first time the American market has clamored for small, “adventurous” and “active” vehicles.
Back in the 1990s there was a short-lived but popular segment of SUVs that were trying to be smaller, more affordable and more fuel efficient versions of the Jeep. The Suzuki Samurai was one of these, as were the Suzuki Sidekick, and its cousin the Geo Tracker.
There was another one that also came from a brand that no longer sells cars in America—the Isuzu Amigo, which originally debuted in 1989.
While called the Isuzu Amigo in North America, it had many different names and was sold under many different badges depending on which country you were in—including Vauxhall and Opel in Europe and the Isuzu MU in its home Japan market.
Also in Japan, it was sold as the Honda Jazz—one of several vehicle partnerships between Honda and Isuzu that resulted in some rather unusual badge engineered products.
The first generation Amigo came standard with 2WD and 2.3L four-cylinder engine, though 4WD and a larger 2.6L four-cylinder were common upgrades. Initially a five-speed manual was the only transmission, with an optional automatic coming later.
It came with a removable soft top (and a hard top in some markets) and with its open air capability and distinct flared styling, and it became a popular choice for those looking for a sporty, smaller 4x4.
In 1994 stopped selling the Amigo in the United States, as its larger four-door counterpart the Isuzu Rodeo continued to be one the brand's most popular models, competing against the Jeep Cherokee, Toyota 4Runner and others.
For 1998 a redesigned second generation Isuzu Rodeo hit the market, and with it came the return of the two-door Amigo after a four-year hiatus.
Among the changes for the second generation model were the addition of a V6 engine option and improvements like a beefier rear axle and underbody skid plates. In 2001, the Amigo was renamed the Rodeo Sport to better connect to its larger sibling.
Surprisingly, production for the second generation Amigo/Rodeo Sport lasted all the way until 2004—a time when two-door SUVs not named Jeep Wrangler had all but disappeared from the market.
The Isuzu brand itself would leave the US entirely in 2009, although it continues to operate a successful commercial truck business both in America and around the world.
Despite the fact that Amigo came from a relatively small Japanese brand that lacked the large following and reputation that Toyota and Nissan, it was still a popular and easily recognized vehicle on the road.
More importantly as we look back at it over 30 years later, it's one that certainly deserves a spot among the 4x4s that defined the 1990s.