We’re starting to see more JDM cars in America as sought-after Skylines and kei cars from the ’90s are becoming import-legal. Everyone wants a Beat or a Pao or a Figaro, but c’mon, be creative! What about an off-roader that isn’t a jacked-up Mitsubishi Delica or Suzuki Jimny?
I propose to you: get down with the Toyota Cami. Or, technically, the Daihatsu Terios. The Terios is a compact SUV from the 1990s, first introduced in 1997. We’ve still got a year to go before it hits that all-important 25-year import rule, but if you want to be ahead of the inevitable Cami-craze, start sniffing around for an importer hookup right now!
OK obviously I’m kind of kidding, but kind of not completely. The Terios is an honest-to-goodness legit off-roader. Behind that tiny face is a 1.3-liter four-cylinder, powering the rear wheels or all four. The Terios has a solid rear axle, and it’s four-wheel drive, not all-wheel drive, so no fragile center diff here. The whole car is similar in concept to the Suzuki Sidekick or Geo Tracker, both of which were often confused as “soft-roaders” similar to the car-based CR-V or RAV4. And all of those cute utes, in their early iterations, seem kind of rugged and awesome today.
The Terios was too big to be a kei car, but Daihatsu did make a slimmer and shorter version called the “Terios Kid.” Obviously, the 1.3-liter engine was swapped out for a turbo 660cc unit to make the Kid satisfy kei displacement requirements. Still, the Terios Kid retained the solid rear axle and four-wheel drive setup of the full-sized Terios. The result was a pint-sized off-roader with articulation that must have rivaled that of a billy goat.
The Terios got a few names besides Toyota Cami. In Japan, the ‘Yota emblem was on the grille. Malaysia got a version of it, built and sold as the Perodua Kembara. Chinese brand Zoyte tried to sell a clone of it sometime in the early 2010s. Because it was sold under a few names, and it’s got that solid axle and four-wheel drive, there’s quite a bit of aftermarket support for the Terios and its relatives.
I mean, look at those tiny overhangs, I’m amazed at that superb approach and departure angle. This thing was made for scrambling up rocks!
As I said, they’re not quite ripe for importing just yet but from what I’ve seen on some Japanese auction sites, used Terioses can go for as little as $500 USD (before shipping) for a well-used model. A nicer Terios looks like it may touch around $3,000ish. This car was also sold in western Europe, so prices may be a bit more reasonable if you’re exporting from, say, the UK or Germany. These things are super cute, an unpretentious off-road vehicle, the likes of which we don’t really see anymore.
Anyways, it’s nearly eligible for importing next year. Part of me regrets writing this article, as I know y’all are going to bid up and elevate the value of these mini SUVs. Oh well, if it means I get to see one of these skittering between Escalades and Suburbans on American roads, I’ll be happy.