This one took me by surprise. You learn something every day when you’re out hunting for CCs, but I wasn’t mentally prepared for this. I lived in several countries – including Thailand, where Isuzu are still very much in the SUV game – but I confess that this one really had me stumped. Well, it figures: Isuzu only ever inflicted the VehiCross upon two markets: Japan and the United States. Not Thailand, Isuzu’s last stronghold, and definitely nowhere near Europe.
So for many of you, rare though it may be, this may be a familiar sight. But let me assure you that for those of us who did not encounter them when new, it’s a bit of a shock. It looks like it was left out in the sun too long, and then dipped into a vat of black tar. Most unusual.
And there’s that Kardashianesque rear end, to boot. It looks like a Vasarely print. Or like those faraway stellar objects that are optically distorted by gravitational lensing. Apparently, the back window was so impossible to see out of that Isuzu had to equip it with a rear camera – then a very high-tech solution only found on a few very expensive cars. But this was just an Isuzu.
The concept had been shown at the 1993 Tokyo Motor Show and proved rather popular with the crowd, so Isuzu went ahead and put it into production. The 1993 concept sat on a jacked up third-gen Gemini platform, but the production model went for the SWB Bighorn/Trooper chassis instead. It also was (and has remained) known in Japanese as the “Vee-Cross” – not quite sure what went on with the name there. But the final product was very close to the concept, chassis aside, and domestic sales started in April 1997.
Unusually for an Isuzu, there was only one engine available and it was not a Diesel. JDM cars were fitted with an all-alloy 3.2 litre DOHC V6 producing 215hp and mated with a 4-speed auto – no manual was available. American versions were gifted with a 3.5 litre variant of the same engine, good for 230hp.
It’s fair to say that Isuzu never expected to sell too many of these, but the VehiCross still had trouble reaching its intended audience, who preferred the more explicitely luxurious Range Rovers or Jeeps, or a far more capable and less costly domestic SUV. Wrapping things in leather, Recaro seats and Momo steering wheels are all well and good, but in the end, it’s still and will always remain an Isuzu.
As a result, instead of shifting about 2-3000 per month, Isuzu found that they could hardly break the 200 mark. In early 1999, the VehiCross discreetly left the JDM range and took the next boat to America, where it also failed to make an impact, though it did a little better there than it did at home. Fewer than 1800 of these peculiar vehicles were registered in Japan, whereas over 4000 were sold on the other side of the Pacific.
Isuzu apparently had plans to develop a drop-top version dubbed VX-02 (ah, such an evocative alphanumeric… almost poetic… weren’t the ‘90s great?), as well as a LWB four-door logically named VX-4, but thought better of it and switched to the Axiom instead. Automotive history has its ups and downs, its odds and ends, its ugly sides. This vehicle definitely has some of the ugliest sides ever. And the front and back are even worse. All in all, being unaware of the VehiCross’s existence served me well for many years. Now I have to know such a thing exists. The completist in me appreciates that, but sometimes ignorance really is bliss.
In Motion Classic: 1999 – ’01 Isuzu VehiCROSS – What’s In A Name?, by Joseph Dennis