Isuzu VehiCROSS Research

The Car Connection Isuzu VehiCROSS Overview

The Isuzu VehiCross is a compact two-door sport-utility vehicle sold in small numbers from 1999 through 2001. The highly distinctive vehicle was intended as a showcase for Isuzu's four-wheel-drive prowess, and its short wheelbase and large wheels plus an advanced 4WD system gave it prodigious off-road capabilities.

Its styling was essentially the same as a concept car of the same name shown at the 1993 Tokyo Motor Show. While all VehiCross models came with two doors and a tailgate, concepts for a convertible version and a four-door were shown at the 2000 Los Angeles Auto Show but never went into production. There were, however, a number of special-edition VehiCross models, including official IronMan Triathlon models to reflect Isuzu's multi-year sponsorship of the sport and, in 2001, just 120 Foxfire editions with Recaro leather seats and a special brown-maroon paint color

The design of the VehiCross can charitably be described as "aggressive," with two vertical teeth in a mouth-like opening at the front, swept-back teardrop-shaped headlights, and a flat-black panel on the hood. The lower halves of the body sides were covered in grey plastic cladding that arched up over the wheel wells, covering very large wheels, and the body had extremely short front and rear overhangs, with a length of less than 14 feet and ground clearance of 8.5 inches The tailgate swelled out to cover a full-size spare wheel, which was so large that the rear window arched up over the bulge. The 1999 VehiCross had 16-inch polished wheels, but 2000 and 2001 models switched to 18-inch chrome wheels.

The Isuzu VehiCross was built on a modified version of the Isuzu Trooper chassis, itself based on a pickup truck frame. Its engine was a 215-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 paired with a four-speed automatic transmission. Power was delivered to all four wheels through a Borg Warner "Torque on Demand" four-wheel-drive system, which redirected power to wheels with most traction based on input from a dozen sensors that detected wheel spin.

Its traction on slippery or wet roads was considered exceptional, and it was nimble on pavement and tenacious off-road. It remains one of the only passenger vehicles to be built with a component more familiar to off-road motorcycle racers: monotube shocks with external heat-expansion chambers. Acceleration from 0 to 60 mph took about 9 seconds, blazingly fast for SUVs of the day. All that capability came with a cost, however: Fuel economy was mediocre, at 15 mpg combined (13 mpg city, 17 mpg highway). Rear visibility was also atrocious, but that didn't matter to buyers who wanted them.

Only 4,150 VehiCross models were sold in the U.S. during its three model years, with an additional 1,800 sold in Japan. They are already considered collectible for their unusual styling, their off-road capabilities, and their rarity. They may also benefit from appearances in two futuristic movies, Mission to Mars and Babylon AD 2008.

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