Coolest Ever? The 1987 Nissan Judo Concept Was WAY Ahead Of Its Time!

Is this the coolest AWD concept car of all time?

The 1987 Nissan Judo concept. Images: Nissan

The Nissan Judo concept debuted at the 1987 Tokyo Motor show; a full two years before the Toyota RAV4 concept debuted.

People tend to forget how adventurous Nissan used to be, and the 1987 Nissan Judo concept is a prime example. It’s entirely possible that the idea for the RAV4 (one of Toyota’s best-selling vehicles) came from the 1987 Nissan Judo concept. Up until that point, a crossover was not a “thing.” This little concept represented off-road-minded thinking, wrapped in a car-like package – way before the RAV4 and CR-V.

The Nissan Judo was 157-inches long, 66-inches wide, and 62-inches tall, dimensions that are a few less than the first-generation Toyota RAV4 two-door. This concept used Nissan’s Advanced Total Traction Engineering System for All-Terrain (ATTESA) all-wheel-drive system. Basically, a full-time AWD using viscous coupling permanently feeding the rear axle torque. Updated versions of this system were used on rally cars and the Nissan Skyline of that era.

The interior is fairly simple, but the purple fabric inserts are a bit much.

The Judo used a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that made 210 horsepower, making 195 lbs-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission was connected to the ATTESA system. The whole mechanical system was automatic with no center transfer case or locker. If you examine the wheels, you’ll see a six-lug setup. That comes from their pickup trucks, which is to say, the Judo has some Hardbody/Pathfinder axles.

The Nissan Judo concept transformed

The Judo’s top slides back too. This does two things: it opens the roof like a T-top/Targa-top, and it makes room for an additional two passengers. There is a tiny bench seat back there. Perhaps one could say, this vehicle may have influenced the successful Toyota RAV4, and the unsuccessful, two-passenger Suzuki X-90.

Check out the butterfly-style cargo hold behind the cockpit!

Aside from its burly rally car stance, the Nissan Judo had a slick packaging trick or two up its sleeve. Check out that spare tire. This setup is for quick tire changes on the trail. It lowered with a pully, and there was a double storage compartment just north of the spare tire location. There was also a winch hidden behind the front bumper – which is mighty cool.

This is one of those concepts that has me asking, “What if?” Would you drive one of these? I know I would!

Speaking of old Nissan’s off-road…

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.