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The Daihatsu Rocky Is a Cool SUV Everyone Has Forgotten

Here’s something you may not have realized: Daihatsu briefly sold cars in North America. It was really, very, excessively brief. I think only a few models years from 1988 to 1991 or so. But it happened — and then, ever so quickly, they were gone. Our Chris O’Neill covered Daihatsu’s subcompact car, the Charade, after he encountered one on the street. I’ve decided to cover the other Daihatsu: the Rocky.

The Rocky was Daihatsu’s SUV, and it was intended to compete directly with vehicles like the Suzuki Samurai and the Sidekick, the Geo Tracker, and even the Jeep Wrangler, in the burgeoning early 1990s market for utilitarian 2-door SUVs (think Ford Bronco II, Chevrolet K5 Blazer, and many others). Called the “Rugger” and “FourTrak” in other markets (and also sold in luxury guise as the Bertone Freeclimber), the Rocky wasn’t really a standout when it was on sale, but it’s become much cooler in the ensuing years, as tough, little SUVs have become harder to come by.

You might be wondering: Daihatsu built a tough, little SUV? Indeed they did, as the Rocky was a body-on-frame, rear-wheel drive SUV with available four-wheel drive — and a square, solid body that was really designed for off-roading. It may not have been able to go as far as a Jeep Wrangler or a Land Rover, but it was also a lot cheaper, and notably reliable — at least, back then.

One thing it wasn’t, however, was fast. The Rocky was sold only with a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder, and it made just 94 horsepower and 94 lb-ft of torque. A 5-speed manual was the only available transmission, truly inconceivable in today’s world, and the Rocky had a reputation for being noisy and uncomfortable — an unfortunate byproduct of its 4WD design.

Unfortunately, the Rocky’s life in North America ended when the Daihatsu brand closed up shop in 1991 or so, but it lived on overseas through 1998, at which point it was replaced with the Daihatsu Terios — a small SUV that’s still on the market today, albeit now in its third generation.

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  1. My wife and I had a Rocky for 15 years. Great little primitive car. Great in the snow !  Died from a blown head gasket burst the radiator and water in the oil. 

  2. Doug wrote about a Daihatsu Rocky! I still have mine. My dad bought it new in 1990, then it became my brother’s first car then mine. It hasn’t moved in a few years but I still love that thing. 

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Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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