It was off the market way too soon.
Mini SUVs with body on frame construction are nearly extinct. The overseas-only Suzuki Jimny, which was recently redesigned, is one of our favorite types of forbidden fruit. In the US, SUVs are mainly limited to larger vehicles, such as the Toyota 4Runner, Land Cruiser, and Cadillac Escalade. But some Japanese automakers have remained dedicated to the small SUV in the tradition of the original Willys Jeep from WWII, but again, this is a dying breed. Aside from the Jimny and Vitara, there was another small SUV that may have eluded many Americans.
Meet the Daihatsu Rocky, built from 1989 until 2002 by the brand that became a part of Toyota in 2016.
Daihatsu is one of the oldest Japanese internal combustion engine manufacturers. It didn’t really get into building actual road cars all that much, and most of them were quite forgettable. For example, does anyone remember the Charade? Didn’t think so. It was a typical Japanese econobox sold in the US from 1987 until 1992, the year when Daihatsu ended production for all US-spec models.
The Daihatsu Rocky went on sale in the US in 1988 and, like the Charade, lasted here until ’92. It’s kind of a shame it was over so fast because the Rocky is a basic SUV with 4WD and just enough power to get the job done.
Under its hood was a 1.6-liter inline-four with a whopping 94 hp. Two gearboxes were offered: a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic. Fortunately, the one we found for sale on Craigslist is the former. The Rocky was available solely as a three-door SUV, and it was something of a trailblazer. The ‘90s was a time of cheap gasoline in the US and the SUV craze was therefore in full swing. Japanese automakers, in particular, profited big time from this SUV popularity. Even GM began selling a rebadged version of the Suzuki Vitara at Chevy dealerships, the Geo Tracker.
The time before crossovers arrived was great, and off-road enthusiasts had a lot to choose from. Jeep even offered a redesigned Wrangler, the YJ generation, as a replacement for the even more old school CJ-7. The Daihatsu Rocky was a direct competitor to the Wrangler YJ.
Sadly, the Rocky was dropped in the US before it could achieve greater things. It’s really a shame because Daihatsu continued to upgrade it with facelifts until it was discontinued entirely from all markets in 2002. For anyone who missed out on a Rocky, well, here’s a second chance. This 1992 Daihatsu Rocky is up for sale on Craigslist Los Angeles for a bargain price of $3,900. The biggest downside is that it has 133,000 miles on its clock, but considering it is 27 years old that’s to be expected.
Even with all of those miles it looks to be in remarkably great overall shape. The cloth seats don’t appear to have any rips or tears and the dashboard is flawless with zero cracks. Other features include a removable hardtop, front tow bar, air conditioning, power door locks and windows, and a CD player (hey, it was the 90s). For anyone looking for a cheap Japanese-built 4x4 from the 90s, look no further.