The dream of the 1990s is alive in SUVs

February 26, 2019

SUV showrooms today might not look much like they did 20 years ago, but the rugged names that tempt consumers with outdoorsy aspirations are surprisingly familiar.

Automakers from Jeep to Honda to Land Rover have spent the last few years reviving discontinued SUV names we thought were written off for good. They're now playing catch-up with nameplates such as the Ford Explorer and Nissan Pathfinder that have stood for decades.

The latest arrivals are the 2019 Chevrolet Blazer and 2019 Honda Passport, which their makers reincarnated in distinctly different ways.  

Here's a walk down memory lane—or perhaps it's a dusty trek down memory trail—and a look into what names are likely to return. 

The class of 2019 and 2020

2019 Chevrolet Blazer

2019 Chevrolet Blazer

Chevrolet Blazer

Died: 2005

Reincarnated: 2019

What's similar? The bowtie badge up front... and that's about it.

What's different? Unlike its trucky predecessor that eventually begat the Chevy Tahoe, the new Blazer is what happens nine months after a Camaro and a minivan fall in love.  

2019 Honda Passport

2019 Honda Passport

Honda Passport

Died: 2002

Reincarnated: 2019

What's similar? Like its predecessor, the 2019 Passport has five seats and sits higher off the ground than anything else in the Honda lineup.

What's different? Well, a lot. The original Passport was a rebadged Isuzu with a separate frame and a solid rear axle, while the 2019 model is a Pilot crossover with half a foot lopped off its tail end. 

2020 Lincoln Aviator

2020 Lincoln Aviator

Lincoln Aviator

Died: 2005

Reincarnated: 2020 

What's similar? Aviators past and present are fancied-up Ford Explorers with dressier trim inside and out.

What's different? Conceptually, not a lot. However, Lincoln looks to have tried a lot harder with the new Aviator than they did in 2002 when they slapped a shrunken Navigator grille on a subpar Explorer and called it a day.  

Recent arrivals

2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

Died: 2012

Reincarnated: 2018

What's similar? Half of its name. 

What's different? Everything. The original Eclipse was a fast and furious (with the optional turbo) sporty two-door. The Eclipse Cross is neither sporty nor a coupe, and is instead a small crossover SUV with edgy styling. 

2018 Land Rover Discovery

2018 Land Rover Discovery

Land Rover Discovery

Died: 2004 (in the U.S.)

Reincarnated: 2017

What's similar? Seven seats and more off-road capability than most buyers will ever need. 

What's different? The Discovery name never went away in most markets, but Land Rover renamed the third-generation model LR3 in 2005 and kept that going with LR4 in 2010. Land Rover got Disco fever again when the latest model arrived here for 2017, and while it's far sleeker, it's a clear heir to the Discovery throne.

2019 Jeep Cherokee

2019 Jeep Cherokee

Jeep Cherokee

Died: 2001 (in the U.S.)

Reincarnated: 2014

What's similar? A seven-slot grille and excellent off-roadability—at least in the right trim. 

What's different? The iconic old Cherokee looks like the box the alien-like current model came in. Truthfully, Jeep never cut the Cherokee name overseas, but in the U.S. the automaker dropped it in favor for the strong-selling, but not terribly good, Liberty for the 2002 model year.  

1991 Jeep Grand Wagoneer

1991 Jeep Grand Wagoneer

The revivalists

Over the next few years, the Ford Bronco, Jeep Grand Wagoneer, and Land Rover Defender will return to showrooms. Ford hasn't sold a Bronco since 1996, but has committed to offering a new off-roader in the vein of the original.

The Grand Wagoneer made a short-lived reappearance as a wood-paneled Grand Cherokee trim level in 1993 after the classic body was dropped in 1991. It returns as a body-on-frame SUV positioned above the Grand Cherokee as Detroit's most serious Range Rover rival.

And the retro-all-the-time Land Rover Defender had a short history in the U.S. from 1993 to 1997. Used models cost well more than new ones did, though it remains to be seen if Land Rover can keep the Defender's chunky looks and rugged personality in the face of global safety and emissions standards. 

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