Special SectionChris Walton

Few vehicles we’ve driven have elicited as many double takes as does the new Isuzu VehiCross. In fact, even fewer vehicles motivate people to follow us into parking lots to ask questions - this one did both.

Inspired by the widely heralded ’97 Tokyo Motor Show concept vehicle of the same name, the VehiCross was adored by high-ranking Isuzu executives and the press alike, and soon went into limited production for the Japanese market. Isuzu’s innovative and abbreviated concept-to-production process allowed it to be one of the freshest and most innovative designs ever to be introduced, especially in such a short time.

Isuzu Based on a two-door Trooper platform, its unique body panels are the result of industry-first ceramic stamping dies that allow faster development and a less expensive alternative to traditional cast-iron dies. These dies, however, also wear out faster and will ultimately determine the VehiCross’s life span. When it’s determined they’re out of spec, that’s it - run over. We’re curious about the quality potential of the last run, however. The unpainted lower body panels are made of chip- and scratch-resistant recyclable polypropylene that give it unquestionable durability in the brush. Beneath the unconventional skin lives more unique hardware.

A 3.5-liter/215-horsepower DOHC 24-valve V-6, complete with variable intake system, one-coil-per-cylinder ignition, and aggressive 19-degree valve angles, makes the VehiCross one peppy sport/ute. Its trick inlet plumbing allows both low-rpm torque for off-road hill climbing, as well as high-end horsepower for highway quickness.

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Look-at-me Gen-X styling

Torque-on-Demand 4WD system

Outstanding Recaro seats
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Huge C-pillar blindspots

"Ironman" image a little hokey

Noisy engine at high rpm

For the "Ironman" image and abilities of the VehiCross, the engineers looked to rally racing and motorcycle suspension systems. With their remote reservoirs and high-grade aluminum construction, these production-car-unique shock absorbers exhibit better resistance to performance-diminishing oil foaming. Coupled with Isuzu’s proven suspension setup, they endow the VehiCross with predictable performance both on- and off-road without sacrificing quality in either arena. It’s as capable and fun in the dirt as the most nimble of SUVs and rides very well to boot!

Based on our first instrumented experience with the innovative VehiCross, we have little doubt that the limited run of about 5000 U.S.-bound units over the next two years (20 percent Ironman editions) will be an unqualified success with the Gen-X audience they’re seeking.


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