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2000 Isuzu VehiCross
Review by Robert Bowden

Quick Info Jumps
Good/Bad Stuff Comfort
Bottom Line Handling
Safety Parting Shots
Performance  
Isuzu VehiCross
Specifications
Style: compact sport utility

Engine: 3.5-liter V6

Transmission: four-speed automatic

Drivetrain: all-wheel drive (special Torque on Demand system)

Horsepower: 215 hp @ 5,400 rpm

Torque: 230 ft-lbs. @ 3,000 rpm

EPA mileage: 15 city/19 highway

Weight 3,955 lb.

Base price: $28,900

Price tested: $29,687

Good Stuff Bad Stuff
Futuristic styling
Major FUN
Recaro seats
Torque on Demand
Comfortable ride
Convenience features
Power
U-Haul-like rear visibility
Impossible entry/exit to rear seats
Fuel mileage
Lack of head room
First the Bottom Line

ET, forget calling home! Drive home! That's right. Drive in style.

We have just the vehicle for you, little buddy. Listen up, now. You'll fit right into any galaxy, pull up with pride to any celestial bar and grill, traverse moon terrain and leave lessers in your dust. Imagine it, ET. Imagine the perfect vehicle for you, little guy. All you need is about 30,000 Earth dollars (I understand your trade-in got messed up.)

ET, meet the Isuzu VehiCross.

I know, I know. Try to contain your excitement. And turn off that finger, will ya? Yes, it does look very futuristic, doesn't it? Like something from a Godzilla movie, the kind of vehicle 10 Japanese soldiers with helmets and plastic face shields jump out of just before a beastly blast of fiery exhalation turns them into toast.

So what's it gonna take to get you into the Isuzu VehiCross today, ET? Now don't go gettin' in any wheelin' and dealin' mindset. Isuzu expects to sell about 20 of these nationwide each month, and demand remains pretty good. That sticker price is the price. OK?

And, one more tip, don't read that Car Place guy's review, huh? He takes all the fun out of everything, and, hey, you don't want to mess up that little mind with details like rear visibility, entry and exit to the rear seats, miles per gallon, lack of utility, stuff like that. Forget those nigglies! Just look at this thing! It's a beauty, eh?

Go ahead. Sit in it, ET. Wrap those pointy little fingers around that leather steering wheel. Don't you look fine in that Recaro seat. Shoot, you'll be envy of the Milky Way in just a few moments. Just as soon as my sales manager irons out the details. No big deal. Step into the office over here ... watch out for the fake philodendron there .. atta boy ... you're as good as home ...


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Safety

The VehiCross has the expected dual air bags up front, but no side bags. It has three-point belt restraints, side-guard door beams and anti-lock brakes.

It also benefits on poor roads from the Torque on Demand system. This is essentially an on-demand all-wheel-drive system, with usual drive duties handled by the rear wheels on dry roads. If the road turns slippery, power is shifted fore-aft and becomes four-wheel-drive if needed.

The VehiCross rides on an Isuzu Trooper chassis and that fact might cause concern to some. The Trooper, of course, came under Consumer Reports' fire for alleged rollover tendencies, a claim Isuzu vigorously denies. Improved wheels on the Vehicross, however, will obviously make a difference and new tests must be performed before we know whether the Vehicross is in any way unstable during abrupt change of direction.

Under normal driving conditions during the week of testing, it was superb from both a comfort and handling perspective. At no time did it feel tipsy or insecure.


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Handling

There's not a lot of "utility" in this sport utility. It's not rated for towing, and its payload capacity is listed as 700 pounds. It has enough room for the groceries in the rear, but it's just a compact.

But it is comfortable.

And that can't be said for all sport utilities, compact or midsize. Indeed, its only real competitors are the Mercedes-Benz ML320 and Lexus RX-300. Both of those comfortable sport utes are based on car platforms.

It also has a tight 34-foot turning radius, unlike the Queen Mary-turnarounds characteristic of most sport utilities. Parallel parking, however, is extremely difficult because of the worst rear visibility seen in anything this side of a closed delivery van. There is just NO view of another object closer than about three miles behind the Vehicross. The only thing you'll see in the rear view mirror image of the rear window is an airplane.

The VehiCross handled potholes with aplomb and didn't pull left or right on irregular roads. It was tested briefly offroad and did fine.

Never did it feel tipsy.

Insufficient information is available to do a complete computer test of handling and performance characteristics.


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Performance

In television commercials, Isuzu touts the VehiCross speed -- and it feels like one of the quickest sport utes, particularly at this price level.

Isuzu appears to have taken a trick from Chrysler, gearing the VehiCross initially very low, so that launch is super quick. Indeed, the VehiCross feels as if it rears up under hard acceleration, lifting and rocketing away. Never did it seem to lack for power.

And power is a rare, rare commodity in compact sport utes. Most are underpowered, some almost dangerously so.

There are times when only quick acceleration can prevent an accident. Good luck in a lesser model.

VehiCross There's a terrific penalty for this performance, however. The 15 city/19 highway ratings are almost shameful. Yes, there are almost two tons to move around, but this is a compact vehicle. As always, performance and fuel efficiency are tradeoffs, compromised concerns.

In the VehiCross, the thing compromised almost entirely is fuel efficiency. You'll be opening the aircraft-style fuel filler door quite frequently (and it has to be unlocked with your key; there's no interior release lever).

But swift acceleration is part of what made this a terrifically fun vehicle to drive. Day after day, I preferred the VehiCross to two other testers, both comfortable cars with a lesser fun quotient.

The VehiCross is a hoot. A hoot to drive. A hoot for those seeing it passing by. A magnet when you park it.

Hard to put valule on that. But I value it highly. Why spend $30,000 on something that never puts a smile on your face? The VehiCross will do it daily.


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Comfort

It is here that dichotomy rears its ugly head.

The VehiCross excels in comfort considerations. It rides smoothly, the seats are equal to those in a $100,000 Porsche, and every needed convenience feature is standard, from cruise control to the super stereo system to air conditioning.

But there is also...
  1. No head room for front driver or passenger. Even a baseball cap is too thick. You'll bump the interior side roof rail.

  2. No rear visiblity. Just none. That tailgate-mounted spare tire intrudes so severely that a car (or a child!) directly behind you is invisible through the rear window. Isuzu knows this is horrible. This will not be the first they've heard of this. There's a solution. Get the spare tire off the door and create a horizontal tire holder in the center of the rear bumper. Put the license tag holder on the tailgate. Done. Solved.

  3. Entry to and exit from the rear seats is nearly impossible. Entry is supposed to be from the passenger side. Pull up on a lever on the side of the seat, fold the seat back forward and slide the whole seat forward. Whoa! There's not even enough room in the opening to insert a thin ankle. And ... the seat doesn't secure in the forward-most position. No. It sliiiiiides back.

Okay, step waaaay over. Oops. You'll bang your head, for sure. And the stretch is too severe, since the VehiCross is tall. So the only practical way to enter the rear seat is to first thrust your upper body through the top part of the opening, drop both hands to the rear floorboard and execute a deft forward somersault.

Clearly, this is the vehicle of choice to pick up those cheerleaders you'll take to the Friday night game. It is not, however, a good prom vehicle for two couples.

VehiCross Actually, we discovered the only really good way to enter the rear seats. First, open the tailgate and climb into the cargo area. Try to close the tailgate (preferably have a friend do this, as the door is huge and swings sideways out of reach). Now flip one of the split rear seats forward. It lands flat. Crawl over it and slide into the adjacent seat.

Once there, you'll have more footroom than found in some limosines. And absolutely no view out the side, since huge pillars block the view for yourself and the driver.

The two-tone interior -- leather is standard -- reminds slightly of only the Ford Mustang. Fake carbon fiber texture is used to add to the futuristic look, but there's something retro about this design, as well. Younger people absolutely loved this interior design. It does add to the "fun" factor associated with the VehiCross.

VehiCross The Recaro seats are beyond superb. I'd take them anywhere, in any vehicle. They are both comfortable and supportive. Usually, seats flunk in one consideration or the other. These would be at home in any sports car.


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Parting Shots

Why does the Isuzu VehiCross --- with all its itemized flaws --- rate three out of four James Deans?

Fair question.

Here's the answer: This thing is FUN.

There wasn't a single morning that I approached it that I didn't look forward to driving it. It didn't physically assault me on rough streets the way most sport utilities do (and the reason I dislike them so much). It didn't leave me exhausted from the mental and physical effort of controlling it, the way some sports cars do. It didn't bore my senses with bland styling, the way almost everything on wheels does today.

VehiCross It's a concept car brought to market. It's a dare taken. A bet called. A styling exercise that shows just how good the company that gives us the awful Amiga can be.

And yet ... it's Exhibit A for the prosecution argument that function doesn't always follow form. Chrysler's LH series is Exhibit B. Still...

I learned to live with the too-little head room to my left. I learned to use the outside rear view mirrors in most driving situations. I never rode in the back seat.

I loved the little touches Isuzu brought to this design and execution. Look carefully at the rear reflectors, for instance. Move your head back and forth. At the right angle, the reflectors form the Nuclear Warning Sign!

See that rear wing over the rear window. It helps create a wind flow that prevents road spray from swirling up onto the window, as is the case with most minivans and sport utilities.

From the driver's seat, look out over the front hood. The front of the vehicle is hidden, thanks to the sloped hood. But there are little raised ridges atop each front fender. Use them to determine the front of the car.

Check out the exquisite fit and finish. It's hand completed, you know. The engine and drivetrain are done on an assembly line and then the vehicle is passed to Isuzu's best workers to hand assemble the body and its parts. And the careful work shows. Even the Torx screws along the body-side panels are a neat touch.

Watch the dashboard display of the Torque on Demand system. It's just to the left of the tachometer. Most of the time, the green lights display only on the rear wheels. But stomp the VehiCross on a wet road and watch the front wheels engage. Neat.

Look at those headlights. They resemble jewels, roughly the size of the diamond Richard Burton gave Elizabeth Taylor back then. They're halogen and they light up the road ahead at night.

Listen to the 120 watt standard stereo system with its six speakers and 6-disc CD player. The VehiCross is quiet, too, even at highway speeds. Only tire noise slightly intrudes. But you won't have to shout to be heard by your passengers.

OK, Isuzu, you know your problems here, don't you? This thing needs a little work so it'll sell as well in America as it has in Japan. We're fussy here. Get that spare tire off the tailgate. Period. Design it under the cargo area, accessible through the bumper. Square up the roof a little, to improve head room for driver and passenger. Replace some of those huge side pillars with darkened glass. Give us a big rear window.

But keep the fun. Keep the engine. Keep the drivetrain. Keep the amenties as standard.

Did I say keep the fun?

'Nuff said.


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