Kailua-Kona, Hawaii ó Another concept vehicle
turned production? Weíve seen the Porsche Boxster and VWís Concept
One spawn production versions. But with all the attention and
variety of offerings in the SUV market, it would be easy to overlook
Isuzuís 1993 showstopper, the VehiCROSS.
The VehiCROSS is based neither on the similar-size Amigo nor the
Rodeo, but instead on the Japanese-only two-door Trooper. Isuzuís
VehiCROSS is truly a limited-production crossover vehicle that
delivers the best of two worlds ó sports car driving precision and
four-wheel-drive athletics. Usually one precludes the other, but
Isuzu put its money where its mouth was and pulled it off quite
Secret's in the
Because an SUVís primary purpose is to provide the capability of
at least occasional off-roading, ride quality and handling was
expected, at best, to be a compromise. Isuzuís solution is to
incorporate a double-wishbone/torsion-bar front-suspension design
for better high-speed cornering and straight-line driving, yet
without compromising wheel travel needed for off-road performance.
In the rear, a four-link live axle with coil springs is used. At all
four corners are disc brakes and (for the first time in a production
vehicle) aerospace-grade extruded aluminum shock absorbers with
attached expansion chambers. This shock design eliminates aeration
and cavitation ó a mixing of oil and air within the shock absorber
that could cause failure of shock-absorbing action ó while providing
better shock cooling during high-performance driving.
The result of all this suspension engineering is a unique vehicle
that combines a comfortable ride and stable handling with minimal
body roll and excellent steering feedback.
But Isuzu didnít stop there. At the heart of any SUV is the
transfer case. Providing power to the front wheels, in addition to
the rears, has always been the selling point of off-road vehicles.
How well that is accomplished often determines the success, or
failure, of the vehicle. To that end, Isuzu teamed up with
transmission expert Borg-Warner to develop and co-patent a
Torque-On-Demand or "TOD" system. Rather than a viscous coupling
unit, as is used by most other full-time 4WD systems, Isuzu opted
instead for an electromagnetic/mechanical system (similar to what
Jeep employed on the new Grand Cherokee).
"What ABS is to stopping, torque-on-demand is to going,"
commented Bob Reilly, senior vice president and general manager of
light vehicles for American Isuzu.
Torque to the front wheels is controlled by a stand-alone
computer. Data input is fed into the unit from 12 input sensors,
including ones that monitor front and rear axle speed, throttle
position, brake and ABS use. TOD compares the inputs to a
preprogrammed "map" in the computerís database and then varies the
voltage sent to an electromagnetic clutch pack in the transfer case.
The change in voltage varies the strength of the magnetic coupling,
which in turn varies the amount of torque sent to the front wheels.
By reacting to more than just wheel slippage, the map data enables
TOD to predict coupling requirements and make changes accordingly,
as often as every 20 milliseconds. TOD operates at all times, unless
low range is selected. Then the front wheels are locked in direct,
bypassing the electronic system.
Power is supplied by an equally impressive 3.5-liter dual
overhead-cam aluminum V-6, producing 215 horsepower. This updated
engine uses a variable intake system ó a technology used in the past
by some pretty exotic performance cars, including the ZR-1 Corvette
and Taurus SHO V-6.
Below 3600 rpm, an electric solenoid closes a valve in the intake
manifold and creates a longer path for the incoming air to travel
before reaching the combustion chambers. This long port improves
engine efficiency at low and intermediate speeds. Above 3600 rpm,
the solenoid turns off, opening the valve and effectively creating a
shorter intake port needed for optimal airflow and torque at higher
This powerplant also incorporates the latest technology in valve
train friction reduction, crankcase strengthening and vibration
reduction. It also comes with direct-ignition 100,000-mile
platinum-tipped spark plugs.
All of this mechanical wizardry sits under the most exotic
bodywork ever to cover a production SUV. Like the Boxster and New
Beetle, the VehiCROSS strayed very little from the
aggressive-looking, compact, two-door concept vehicle on which it is
based. Matte-finished polypropylene lower-body extensions, along
with front and rear bumpers, surround the futuristic-looking,
aerodynamic steel body of the VehiCROSS.
Other features include a matte-finished panel inset in the hood
to reduce glare, roof rack, an aircraft-type fuel filler door, and a
side-hinged tailgate that carries the spare tire securely
The show-car theme continues inside, where we find red-and-black
leather Recaro bucket seats. Renowned for their comfort, the seats
are accompanied by techno-looking carbon fiber trim on the door
panels and instrument faces.
Curiously, the dash is the stock Rodeo unit. And that may be a
blessing in disguise ó no gee-whiz gimmicks
and flashing lights. Standard equipment includes power windows,
mirrors, door locks and CD player. The back seat is roomy and
comfortable but getting there requires the usual contortions
required in two-door SUV's - it's a pain.
But it's the
driving experience that pulls all the design and engineering
elements together. The VehiCROSS is truck based and some of ride
motions are still there, but are tamed by the double wishbone front
end and high dollar shocks. Body lean in the corners is minimal and
lives up to Isuzu's claim of sports car refinement. Engine
performance is certainly adequate and road noise is absolutely
minimal ó surprising in an SUV. Visibility
is a problem, however. The wide C pillar and small rear window, a
result of the slick spare tire storage makes backing up a two-person
operation. Japanese buyers are treated to a rear view camera and
dash mounted monitor, but unfortunately the Feds won't allow it
Isuzu plans to export only 200 units per month to the
US, a mere drops in the bucket by anyone's count. The purpose is, of
course, to showcase Isuzu's engineering and design prowess. But such
limited production would not be possible if not for their newly
developed ceramic stamping dies. At a fraction of the cost of
traditional steel dies, Isuzu has opened the door to low volume
production without losing a ton of money. They hope.
VehiCROSS, which goes on sale in March of next year as a 1999 model,
will list for $28,900 plus $495 for shipping. It comes fully loaded
and will be available in silver, black, or in the optional Ironma