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Isuzu VehiCROSS adds new meaning to SPORTS utility

By Barbara and Bill Schaffer

Barbara -- The Isuzu VehiCROSS was a real love/hate relationship for me. I loved the look of the VehiCROSS -- I hated the poor visibility out of the back and the sides of the back. I loved the way it handled -- I hated that I kept hitting head on the low roofline while entering the driverís seat. I loved the attention it got Ė but there were days when I hated the attention it got. But when the transport people came to pick it up I was saddened.

Bill -- After the public went wild about the Isuzu VehiCROSS concept vehicle at auto shows in 1993 and 1994, Takeshi Inoh, President of Isuzu Motors Ltd., enthusiastically approved the fast, limited production of the VehiCROSS. A special "Zip Team" was assembled to not only bring it to market as fast as possible, but to make it a superior product both on and off road.

The team faced a significant challenge because their objective was to build a vehicle that was equally good on and off road. Generally a good off-road vehicle does not handle as well on the highway, and visa versa.

The "Zip Team" used special aerospace-grade extruded aluminum front shocks absorbers with Isuzuís competition-proven front double wishbone torsion bar and rear four-link coil suspension with rally-type shocks. The result was a specially tuned suspension that facilitated high performance over broad variety of terrain.

Barbara -- The VehiCROSS reminds me of the lunar buggy. It is so ultra modern it looks as if it could have been designed for the moon. However, it is that very modern look of the exterior that gives it the poor visibility. The B-pillar is wide, the rear windows are small and the spare tire mounted in the rear door limited visibility to something like a gun slot in a bunker.

The interior of this lunar beauty compliments the exterior by using an extremely modern looking red and black interior. The seats are leather Recaro seats, like those used in some of the expensive sports cars. The door panels are trimmed with carbon fiber and red plastic.

Bill -- The body is unique because the lower portion is made of hardened unpainted polypropylene panels that resist scratches and chips during heavy off-road use. The upper body is made of zinc-plated steel that Iím told are stamped from ceramic molds, which only allow limited production.

The two-door VehiCROSS also has a unique cargo door that integrates the spare tire into the door. This keeps the spare clean and out of the way. Using a 17-inch alloy wheel for the spare minimizes the weight of the door.

Barbara -- Unlike the Lunar buggy, the VehiCROSS is loaded with standard features including air conditioning, cruise control, 6-disc in-dash CD player, keyless remote entry with anti-theft system, power windows and door locks and power outside mirrors with defoggers. Believe it or not, the amenities go on and all for the reasonable price of $28,900 price, plus a $695 delivery charge.

Bill -- The VehiCROSS is powered by Isuzuís 3.5-liter, dual-overhead cam V-6 engine delivering 215-hp and 230-lb.ft. of torque. The engine utilizes F1 racing technology to reduce the number of parts, lower the weight, decrease maintenance and improve durability.

The drive train joins Isuzuís smooth four-speed automatic transmission and the full-time Torque-On-Demand (TOD) system that automatically readjusts the amount of torque distributed to the front and rear axle every 20 milliseconds. Itís fun to watch the illuminated read-out on the dash that shows how much torque is being sent to the front axle. The net result is very good handling during all types of driving.

Barbara -- This little cutie was built for off-roading. In addition to the Polypropylene body cladding there are underbody skid plates that help keep the VehiCROSS from getting scratched and hung up during rough terrain during off-roading. Also for safety off and on road there are side-guard door beams, collapsible steering column and dual air bags help protect the driver and the occupants.

Bill -- The VehiCROSS is like the sports car of SUVs. I recorded 72 mph in our mailbox acceleration test that is run from where I pull onto the highway and accelerate to the first mailbox (about one-eighth mile). The stability of the VehiCROSS is very good, but I still was not comfortable going more than 46 mph around our 25-mph, 90-degree test corner. Itís just a little daunting going very fast around a corner sitting up higher and especially in a short wheel base vehicle. We averaged 18.4 mpg during the week we drove the VehiCROSS. The EPA rates it at 15 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway.

Barbara -- The VehiCROSS is not a vehicle that you could go incognito in, because it gets lots and lots of attentionÖsome good and some not so good. But itís cute, very cute and it was fun while it lasted!

Bill -- The Isuzu VehiCROSS is a blast to drive. It handles beautifully both on and off road. The TOD system keeps the power to the wheel as necessary, plus the driver still has the option of really getting down and dirty by shifting into low range when crawling is required. Inside itís very comfortable and there is even a lot of space for rear seat passengers. Of course like most two-doors with back seats, getting back to that spacious rear seat is not an easy job.

When you weigh the performance, handling, comfort and unique styling and compare it with the price tag, the VehiCROSS is a bargain even at $30,000.

Isuzu VehiCROSS
Standard Equipment:
4-Spd. Automatic transmission; Limited slip differential; anti-lock brakes; Power outside mirrors with defog; Air conditioning; Power windows and door locks; Leather Recaro bucket seats; Tilt wheel; 16-in. alloy wheels; 6-Disc CD changer; 120-Watt AM/FM/Cass. stereo; Keyless entry; Cruise control; Cargo net.
Base Price: $28,900
Options: Reversable cargo mat -- $92
Freight $695
Price as Tested--------- $29,687

EPA Size Spec. Purp
Weight 3,955 lb.
Wheelbase 91.8 in.
Length 162.6 in.
Width 70.5 in.
Height 66.9 in.
Fuel Capacity 22.5 gal.
Cargo Capacity 13.9 cu. ft.

Engine 3.5L DOHC V-6
Horsepower 215@5400
Torque 230@3000
Transmission 4-Spd. Auto
Drive Four wheel
Brakes Disc ABS
Tires 245/70R16

0 to 60 mph 8.8 sec.
Speed to mailbox 72 mph
Cornering comfort 46 mph
EPA economy rating 15/19 mpg
Our actual fuel econ 18.4 mpg

Maybe the Jeep Wrangler and Isuzu Amigo

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