The Isuzu Amigo – We Miss you Buddy. More, Cheap off-road Awesomeness

The Isuzu Amigo went on sale in the U.S. in 1990

The three-door Isuzu Amigo, along with the five-door Rodeo came tto to the United States in 1990 as a 1991 model. Initially, the base S model offered next to nothing other than cloth seats. It was like farm equipment, remarkably barren. Only a few S models were sold. The XS model was much more popular in the states. It came with alloy wheels, tilt steering wheel with power steering. Popular options included air-conditioning along with an AM/FM (with cassette) stereo system.

It was also known as the Isuzu MU and Honda Jazz in Japan. The Vauxhall/Opel Frontera Sport in Europe and the Holden Frontera Sport in Australia.

The Amigo (like its bigger brother, the five-door Rodeo) was built with a rigid frame with eight crossmembers. All models came standard with underside armor as well. The front suspension had independent lower and upper arms and it had a solid (Dana 44) rear axle.

Here’s a remarkably clean first generation model for sale in Chicago for $10,500. That’s WAY too pricey, but the immaculate condition and low miles is compelling.


Initially, the came with three engine choices. The absolute base engine was a 96 horsepower 2.3-liter four-cylinder that made 103 lb-ft of torque. It’s believed that most of these units were rear-drive only. The better, and more popular choice was a SOHC 2.6-liter four-cylinder engine that made 120 horsepower and 146 lbs-feet of torque. A General Motors’ sourced 3.1-liter V6 was available that made the same 120 hp as the 2.3-liter, but it made 165 lb-ft of torque.

A five speed manual transmission and rear-drive came standard. A manual-locking front-hubs 4×4 setup was available. At its introduction, there were very few additional options. Later, the base model 2.3 I4 was dropped and a four-speed automatic transmission became optional.

The 1991 Isuzu Amigo four-cylinder had a 3,219 lbs curb-weight and a maximum payload of 981 lbs. The V6 was several hundred pounds heavier, which lowered the overall hauling numbers a bit.

It was unique

Two things stood out when this new truck first came to our shores. It looked unique, especially compared to the Suzuki Sidekick/Samurai, Jeep Wrangler and Daihatsu Rocky. Some felt it looked very masculine with its blistered fenders and huge tires.

It also had unique dimensions. It was 168.1-inches long, 70.1-inches wide and it had a 91.7-inch wheelbase. Longer than most of its competitors. An early 90s Jeep Wrangler was 153-inches long, 72-inches wide and had a wheelbase of 93.4-inches.

The second generation came to the U.S. after a three-year hiatus. It was an altogether better driving vehicle, but it looks mellowed from the trophy-truck look of the original.

Second Generation:

The Isuzu Amigo stopped its U.S. sales in 1995 and came back in 1998 after a three-year hiatus. While it looked similar to the original Amigo, it was all-new from the ground up.

All powertrains were updated, this started with a 130 hp fuel-injected
2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that made 144 lb-ft of torque. A new 3.2-liter GM-sourced V6 made 205 hp and 214 lb-ft of torque. Shift-on-the fly 4×4 systems were now available and a hardtop option made its way to the upper level trims.

It never sold like it should have

The North American Isuzu Amigo and Rodeo were built at the Subaru Isuzu Automotive, Inc. assembly plant in Lafayette, Indiana. Production ended for the Amigo in 2004 in the United States. It was never that popular despite being extremely competent off-road and being reasonably priced.

Isuzu stopped selling passenger vehicles in the United States in 2008 and totally withdrew from the US market. While some of their engines and tech still work hand-in-hand with GM vehicles world-wide, there is no trace of Isuzu in the U.S. market. This is a shame, they built solid trucks that were priced right.

Many blame GM’s influence and management for Isuzu’s failure in this market.

Today, Isuzu Amigos and Rodeos are as cheap as chips. They are popular with folks who want something fun to modify that’s not a Jeep. The four-cylinder engines are known to be extremely rugged and they are better driving vehicles than many of their competitors.

I found a few good looking examples that ran from $1,500 to about $10,000 for clean, low-mileage examples. Locally, I spotted a first generation four-cylinder 4×4 that was remarkably clean with 87,000 for about $3,500 several months back.

Looking for a project, I nearly pulled the trigger – but I got a Suzuki Samurai instead.

Oh, what could have been…

Among other things, Isuzu had a brilliant ad-campaign in the late 80s and early 90s. “Isuzu Joe” is still revered by many enthusiasts. One of my favorites is below:

Isuzu was (and still is) one of my favorites and I lament their departure from our market. It didn’t help that GM watered down the product line here and that they simply couldn’t match other Japanese automakers’ nationwide dealership network.

I owned an Isuzu Trooper and loved it.

All of their SUVs still make great project ideas and in many ways, they were ahead of their time. In the future, we will spotlight the forward-thinking, yet bizarre-looking, Isuzu Vehicross. (which is based on the Amigo).

Easily amused by anything with four wheels, Nathan Adlen reviews vehicles from the cheapest to the most prestigious. Wrecking yards, dealer lots, garages, racetracks, professional automotive testing and automotive journalism - Nathan has experienced a wide range of the automotive spectrum. Brought up in the California car culture and educated in theater, childhood education, film, journalism and history, Nathan now lives with his family in Denver, CO. His words, good humor and video are enjoyed worldwide.