Chevy K5 Blazer
Chevy introduced the K5 Blazer back in 1969 and was the smallest SUV offering from the automaker’s C/K family of truck-based vehicles. The hardcore off-road machine was famous for its removable and convertible tops. Chevy designed the Blazer to compete against the Ford Bronco, which debuted three years earlier.
The Blazer named disappeared from the Chevy lineup in 1994 when the Tahoe took its place. Now, the automaker is introducing a new crossover with the Blazer nameplate. Similarities between the K5 Blazer and the 2019 Blazer end at sharing the same name. The new Blazer rides on GM’s Chi platform that underpins the GMC Acadia and Cadillac XT5. Gone is the rugged, off-road aesthetic that fans of the original Blazer fanz came to love.
In 1990, Ford introduced the two-door and four-door Explorer to replace its Bronco II. While the Explorer retained the body-on-frame platform that gave the truck its off-road agility, it also helped turn the SUV into a family vehicle. Just a few short years later, and Ford updated the Explorer for the 1995 model year. The company kept its off-road roots while refining comfort and drivability.
Ford Explorer (5th Gen)
The Explorer kept its pickup-truck underpinnings until 2011 when Ford gave the SUV a significant makeover. Ford moved the Explorer to its D4 platform that also underpinned the Taurus sedan and Ford Flex crossover. The Explorer went from a rear-wheel drive beast to a front-wheel-drive family vehicle.
In 1986, Nissan entered the SUV market with the Pathfinder. Based on its Hardbody Truck platform, the Pathfinder competed against the Chevy Blazer, Ford Bronco, and Jeep Cherokee. The Pathfinder’s original two-door body style and off-road toughness earned it a devoted fan base for those looking for something off-road capable that wasn’t from a domestic automaker.
Nissan Pathfinder (4th Gen)
Over the years, the Pathfinder has had a love-hate relationship with a body-on-frame design. While the first generation had such a platform, the second gen switched to unibody construction before changing back to body-on-frame in 2005. The current, fourth-generation Pathfinder is back to a unibody vehicle, riding on the same platform as the Nissan Murano and Maxima. The current, comfy crossover is a far departure from its off-road roots.
The Jeep Cherokee was a product of the 1970s when the automaker redesigned and reintroduced a two-door SUV. Previously, the two-door version was available as a Jeep Wagoneer trim from 1963 to 1967. The Jeep had serious off-road prowess with the automaker marketing the SUV as a sporty off-road offering. The Cherokee offered several trims, some of which are still in use today by the automaker. They include S, Chief, Golden Eagle, Golden Hawk, Limited, Classic, Sport, Pioneer, and Laredo.
Jeep Cherokee (5th Gen)
Technically, the Cherokee name never left the company. In America, Jeep named third and fourth generations the Liberty. In 2013, Jeep introduced a new crossover and gave it the Cherokee name. Again, the Cherokee is an example of a new product that only shares a name with its forbearer. The current Cherokee platform underpins the 200 sedan (no longer in production) and Chrysler Pacifica minivan. Neither of those scream off-road ready.
The Kia Sportage dates back to 1993 when Kia had an alliance with Ford and Mazda. Kia borrowed heavily from the Mazda Bongo – a cabover van and pickup truck from the Japanese automaker. The compact SUV sported a slew of four-cylinder engines, both automatic and manual transmissions, and offered rear-wheel drive.
Kia Sportage (2nd Gen)
Kia’s compact SUV didn’t last long. When Kia engineered the second-generation Sportage, the company based it off the Elantra sedan platform. The toned-down Sportage debuted in 2005, and ever since, Kia’s compact crossover has had a unibody design. This gives it car-like attributes with the space and stance of a traditional SUV.
Blink, and you’ll miss the first-generation Kia Sorento and its truck-based platform. It debuted in 2002 as a traditional truck-based body-on-frame SUV with rear wheel drive, various V6 and I4 engines, and a manual transmission.
Kia Sorento (2nd Gen)
Kia, likely seeing the trend toward comfortable crossovers, redesigned the Sorento for the 2010 model year with unibody construction. The new crossover helped usher in a new design language for the company.
Land Rover Range Rover
Land Rover is famous for its slew of SUVs and their off-road capability. They’re robust and far more capable than necessary for the average driver. Back in 1970, hardcore SUVs were body-on-frame, and the Range Rover was no different.
Land Rover Range Rover (4th Gen)
While the Land Rover Range Rover is still a formidable force on those dusty, off-road trails, the SUV has moved significantly upmarket since its introduction. It’s no longer the utilitarian, go-anywhere machine it once was. However, that doesn’t mean Land Rover compromised the Range Rover’s off-road capability with its unibody construction. It’s still plenty capable, taking drivers to the far reaches of the Earth in ultimate luxury.
Honda, thanks to a partnership with Isuzu, introduced the Passport in 1993 as a 1994 model. This was the automaker’s first entry into the growing SUV market in the U.S. While Honda was eager to throw its badge on the grille, the Passport was actually an Isuzu Rodeo, which was based on an Isuzu pickup truck. This gave the Passport a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout.
The Passport didn’t last long. In 2002, Honda introduced the Pilot, phasing out the Passport for the larger, three-row offering. Gone was the Passport’s body-on-frame construction. The new Pilot shared a platform with the Odyssey minivan.
Land Rover LR4
The Land Rover LR4 is an exciting specimen when you’re looking at body-on-frame SUVs that are now unibody crossovers. Land Rover uses something it calls an Integrated Body Frame platform. The company builds the engine compartment and passenger compartment together. Those two pieces are then paired with a standard ladder-frame chassis, which holds the suspension and gearbox. Typically, a body-on-frame design has all the mechanical components secured to the ladder frame, and then the body is lowered on the chassis.
Land Rover Discovery
A slight name change in the U.S. also means Land Rover’s Integrated Body Frame design is gone as well. The Discovery now has a typical unibody construction, but as you can see in the picture above, it does little to slow down the vehicle when it heads for some off-road fun.
You may not remember the SLX, but it was Acura’s first SUVs. The SLX was another rebadged Isuzu – thanks to the same partnerships that gave Honda the Passport. This time though, the Isuzu Trooper underpinned the SLX. Changes were minor between the base Trooper what Acura offered. The SLX only lasted three years – 1996-1999 – before Acura discontinued production.
Acura didn’t stay out of the crossover game for long. The company was back in it in 2001 with the MDX – a crossover based on the Honda’s mid-sized platform. While the SLX was a body-on-frame SUV with rear-wheel drive, the MDX shared underpinnings with the Accord and Odyssey.
The Lincoln Aviator is but a blip on the luxury automaker’s historical roadmap. Based on the Ford Explorer at the time, Lincoln sold the Aviator for just three years. The company discontinued production in 2005 due to underperforming sales.
In 2007, Lincoln received a new crossover, but it didn’t wear the Aviator nameplate. By the time Lincoln introduced the new crossover, the company had changed most of its product names to include an MK prefix. While the previous-generation Lincoln sported body-on-frame bones, the MKX shared Ford’s CD3 platform, which underpinned the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, and Lincoln Zephyr. However, Lincoln is re-introducing the Aviator nameplate soon with a new model that shares a new, rear-wheel-drive Explorer platform that's coming.
The Chevy TrailBlazer debuted as a separate model in 2002 after being an upscale trim level for the Blazer SUV starting in 1999. While sales of the Blazer and Trailblazer did overlap, the two rode on different platforms. While it did sport a body-on-frame platform, it was a far departure from the rough-and-tough SUVs that proceeded it by several years.
The TrailBalzer disappeared in 2009 at spending seven years on sale. It’s replacement, the Traverse, is a unibody crossover capable of seating eight. While it does have an all-wheel-drive system available, the Traverse is a front-wheel-drive vehicle at its core. This means it loses the ruggedness of the rear-wheel-drive TrailBlazer.
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