• Copyright 1999,
    New Jersey Online ©

    Revolutionary 1999 Isuzu SUV Attracts Attention
    By Bob Hill
    DriveTime Editor, The Oregonian

    _____Of the vehicles that manufacturers make available for test drives, some are mainstream, others are luxurious and some turn out to be downright sporty and fun.

    _____Only rarely does something come along that is difficult to describe, much less categorize. These creations, which seem a bit outrageous at the moment, often serve as a precursor to the next hot trend of the auto industry.

    _____Enter the Isuzu VehiCROSS, just now making its way into the United States.

    _____Isuzu builds each VehiCROSS (or VX, as it's known in the auto industry) with a combination of automated and hand assembly, so production only totals about 200 units a month. Its price—more than $29,000—also serves to limit VX's appeal somewhat, particularly among younger buyers who are the most likely to want such a stylized vehicle.

    _____Right now, the VX only comes in three colors—silver, black and a white version with Isuzu's Ironman Triathlon sponsorship decals. With only one interior color combination, you'd better like black with red inserts on the front seats, door panels and steering wheel.

    _____Standard equipment for this four-passenger SUV includes Recaro bucket seats and a nice size rear seat, but getting back there and out again is a tight squeeze. To minimize cost, Isuzu used the dashboard from the previous generation Rodeo, and it seems old-fashioned compared to the rest of the VX.

    _____In overall size, the VX fits between Isuzu's larger Trooper and smaller Rodeo. Only available as a two-door with a side-swinging rear hatch, the VX's wheelbase measures 91.8 inches—nearly two inches shorter than the Jeep Wrangler. However, the VX measures more than 10 inches longer and weighs 900 pounds more than the Jeep.

    _____For the VX's trademark—its controversial styling—descriptions range from the world's largest cross-training running shoe to a Hot Wheels toy on steroids. During the week-long test drive, it was great fun just to watch and hear the reactions.

    _____VehiCROSS styling abandons the conventional look of current SUVs for a techno-design the company says points to the new millennium. Isuzu used zinc-plated steel for the body and wrapped its lower section end-to-end with a black, scratch- and chip-resistant polypropylene skirt with extreme bulges over the fenders and rocker panels.

    _____Adding to the purposeful effect, Allen-head screws hold the material in place and also secure an aircraft-style gas filler opening. Four horizontal "ribs" are molded into the door panels.

    _____The rounded nose features unusual headlight lenses that stretch across the hood and fenders, plus a grille opening with vertical insets that give the effect of a snake baring its fangs. The top of the hood carries a matte-black finish to reduce glare.

    _____Because of the VX's short wheelbase, and because it would compromise the departure angle in off-road driving, Isuzu engineers ruled out an undermounted spare. If stored inside, the tire would eat up valuable space. Mounting outside would detract from the VX's futuristic looks. In the end, Isuzu came up with a design that places the spare inside the tailgate, accessible via a pop-out panel from the inboard side.

    _____You have to be on your toes when driving the VX in city traffic. While front visibility is very good, extra-wide center roof pillars and a narrow rear window limits the view to the rear. Thank goodness for the VX's oversize exterior mirrors.

    _____Powered by a 215-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, the VX boasts several technical innovations, including Isuzu's Torque-On-Demand (TOD) 4-wheel drive system. TOD, also carried on the Trooper, senses driving conditions and automatically adjusts the torque balance between the front and rear wheels depending on road conditions. The system will adjust from 100 percent rear drive to 50:50 4wd, with any ratio in between, in as quickly as 20 milliseconds.

    _____The VX employs four-wheel disc brakes and P245/70R16 tires on aluminum five-spoke wheels. The only transmission choice is a 4-speed automatic with lock-up and overdrive. You engage 4wd through a traditional floor-mounted transfer case.

    _____Isuzu placed a serious off-road chassis under the VX. The proven front double wishbone torsion bar and rear four-link coil suspension is augmented by 6061-T8 extruded aluminum shock absorbers that incorporate expansion chambers. This design separates oil from gas and delivers greater damping efficiencies by eliminating the aeration and cavitation that normally occur in conventional gas/oil shock-absorber design.

    _____The VX rates as an extremely agile vehicle and displays minimal body roll in hard cornering. With its short wheelbase, the turning circle is only 34 feet. The V-6 reacts instantly, with plenty of low-end torque.

    _____Give credit to Isuzu for stepping forward with the VehiCROSS as a demonstration of its sports-utility design capabilities. It's a real image-maker for the corporation.