(first posted 9/17/2014) The thing about cars that were considered very ugly when new is that they often tend to mellow with age, like the perpetually-maligned Pontiac Aztek; it doesn’t really look so bad anymore. It was just a bit too far ahead of its time, and had a few unfortunate details, like its beak. But it hardly stands out anymore, and has actually become hip, especially since Breaking Bad. But the Vehicross? After some fifteen years is it looking a bit less out there?
The Vehicross is one of those rare concept vehicles that actually got built with very few changes. How odd is that? Well, maybe a bit too odd. We’re all used to seeing the fantasies of designers at car shows, but if a concept really does make it to production, it’s usually pretty heavily watered down. It was shown at the 1993 Tokyo Motor Show.
It’s the kind of concept that was pretty common at the time, a futuristic update on the Jeep, essentially, with its 2+2 seating, high ground clearance, and very short overhangs. How many futuristic CJ concepts did Jeep show us over the decades? Well, it turns out Jeep buyers are a pretty conservative bunch, and like their changes very incrementally.
AGuyinVancouver posted this one at the Cohort. It’s hard to say which angle when looking at the Vehicross is the worst, but its rear end is clearly a contender. This spare tire cover looks more like some very strange butt cancer.
The front looks almost good in comparison. The best side is the underside, though, which featured a shortened frame and running gear from the Trooper, including its V6 engine. Its on-road AWD system was computer-controlled (“TOD”) with 12 sensors to determine which wheel had the best grip; pretty standard stuff nowadays. And its off-street creds were considerable, with locking-differential and low-ratio making the most of its considerable ground clearance and very good approach angles.
Some 5,958 were ever built, of which 4,153 were sold in the US between 1999 and 2001. Will they become collectible classics someday?
Related reading: CC 2001 Pontiac Aztek: A Face Only A Mother Could Love
Has it mellowed with time? – YES
Will it be collectible someday? I would argue yes, likely the most collectible Isuzu that the company ever sold in the USA.
Though I was never crazy about it, maybe the Impulse (Piazza) will become the most collectible Isuzu. Does anyone else remember it? If not, then you might be right, PD.
The 1968-1972 117 coupes will no doubt be the most collectable Isuzus of all time. Notable distinctions include being largely hand-built, exterior design by Giugiaro, and the first Japanese car ever with electronic fuel injection (1970-on).
Ultra-modern when new; could pass as a fresh design today. That said, it was held back by a very dated looking interior with awful two-toning and strange door panels. If the interior was on the same level as the exterior (like what the Axiom received), I think they would have sold many more than they did.
They got bad press for being based on the Chevette platform (I think). So ride and handling and maybe NVH too weren’t that great.
It looks like you meant for this post to appear on the comment immediately above this one, because the VehiCROSS wasn’t based on Chevette underpinnings.
However, the first-generation Piazza/Impulse was indeed based on the Chevette.
There is a guy locally (West Linn, Oregon)who drives a modified Vehicross, it is lifted and painted with flames. Doesn’t sound good on paper but with the crazy bodywork, it actually looks pretty cool. Definitely eye-catching!
In my opinion it hasn’t aged well at all, certainly not like wine-more like old cheese.
I still don’t like the Aztek either.
The reason these don’t look so bad today is because of how poorly styled many new vehicles are nowadays.
Well, not an unfair statement, but really, the modern vehicles are styled in the current fashion. And fashion is always changing for change’s sake. Clothes are not the only item of fashion, and we know how much styles change with clothes, so why not as well with any other item?
Now, does one have to admire or like a new fashion trend? Heavens, no.
But that does not make it any less relevant, any less desirable to someone else. And apparently, based on sales, the current design language used in the automotive world pleases enough folks to keep the profits rolling in.
And style will change. Quickly. And often. That’s the inherent nature of it all.
What may be a fairer assessment of the design of the Vehicross is that it mirrors a lot of trends in use today. This does not equate with a 1950s interpretation of what a 2000 car would look like, as that was just a vision of a future that never happened. This simply aged into the present.
These things, while unique, always looked to me like it got into a fight and received one major fat lip!
I do like SOME of the styling, just not the blobby cladding. I’ll take a yellow Aztek over this, please…
I like the design. They failed because they were really expensive, not particularly useful, and somewhat uncomfortable to drive. There’s a guy in my neighborhood with two of them and a friend that visits in another. Not sure why I’ve never photographed them.
Looking at the front really reminds me of the new Jeep Cherokee.
I remember I had a matchbox or hot wheels one of these when I was little. I didn’t even know they were real production cars until I saw one on the road some years later. I’ve probably seen less than 10 in my life.
They really don’t look that bad today. Just all that black cladding makes it look like its floating on air.
The floating is no doubt a side effect of the replacement (Toyota?) wheels; they originally came with chrome 18 inch alloys.
I don’t know, I still get the floating look from the standard wheels. There’s just so much black plastic cladding.
Toyota called, they want their wheels back.
(I know they’re different, but they look too similar not to comment)
I should have waited just a couple minutes lol! See above…
When it came out, I thought the Rav-4 was one of the most jarringly, butt-ugly nadirs of the automotive industry, and indeed, I still dislike the first generation. But then this thing? Oh, the inhumanity! This is truly an aesthetic low. Nevermind the hideous Aztek with that ridiculous tent sticking out of the back! I once saw a Vehicross in yellow, and it was truly the most obnoxious vehicle I have ever laid eyes on. It hasn’t mellowed with age as much as it has become dated. Both this car and the 1rst generation Rav-4s look extremely dated now; obtuse, aesthetically offensive, malproportioned designs that I sure won’t miss!
Haha, I really laid into this thing six years ago when this article first ran!
I haven’t actually seen a Vehicross in the flesh since. I still think they’re ugly, but my appreciation for quirky mongrel SUVs has grown tremendously over the last half decade. I hated the Aztek, but ended up with a Honda Element that has that silly tent extension in the back. I now think an Aztek would be way cool in an ironic hipster kind of way.
Was there a version without the cladding?
Never heard of this Vehi(cle)cross(dresser) before. It’s as ugly as a Renault Megane Scenic RX4.
Whenever I see one of those I’m immediately reminded of the Aztek and how it really doesn’t look so bad, relatively.
I love these, definitely one of a kind design. Last one I saw was in LA a few years ago. As far as I know, they were not sold in Canada, but perhaps can be imported used. They came in some crazy bright colours too.
After admitting I liked yesterday’s TR7, it should come as no surprise that I’ve always like these, too. With the original wheels/tires instead of these silly big ones. I remember seeing a silver one in the showroom, and have liked them ever since.
The Vehicross was a bold move, almost like a life sized Hot Wheels car and it deserves to be a collectible.
CC effect – drove past a faded red one of these doing the school run this morning. Still ugly, but not offensively so, and a lot more interesting to look at than the endless RAV-4s, Outlanders etc that swarm around here.
I have always liked these, I understand they are not everyone cup of tea, but I could never understand the hate. They always reminded me of the movie Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone for some reason.
No worse than the Juke.
Much better than the Juke, I would say. This looks like it was penned by an actual stylist and it can back up its aggressive look offroad. The Juke is a bug-eyed blob of cheese with no redeeming design, truck, or car qualities.
Incidentally, “Juke” means cockroach in Hebrew. They do sell them in Israel under the original name and people (usually cougars/would be MILFs who think they’re cool) DO buy them. Someone must have a sense of humor.
To me, this has gone from “nice-idea-but(t)-ugly” to “Oh well, no uglier than anything else”. But I still don’t like the Aztek.
Nope, it still looks like a giant roller-skate.
The Aztek really doesn’t look so bad anymore? I beg to differ!
The Subaru Tribeca was ugly, too. So what did Subaru do? They cribbed the front end off the Chrysler Town and Country minivan. Now it’s anonymous, but that doesn’t matter any more since Subaru has decided to kill it off.
The generic late-90s-GM-truck dash makes it look even less like a factory job than first glance would suggest.
I heard these are incredibly hard to see out of. The Isuzu part for me is a turn off. The Toyota FJ gives me the same off-road imagery and is just as far out in the looks department but the Toyota brand and heritage angle make it the real deal rather than just an interesting design exercise. The added utility from the 4-doors helps too. Not sure about the Vehicross but the FJ is already a classic.
Agreed – the irony with both these vehicles is that they’re functionally the best off -readers from their respective manufacturers, but saddled with inefficient space utilization and poor visibility. The FJ not quite as bad but could have been so much better; the VehiCross just an odd choice of design parameters, especially as the Amigo was technically so similar, but not offered with the more advanced 4wd system.
I’ve always kinda liked them. The lower body plastic tends to fade to a dreary gray, though. The featured example looks like the plastic has been Armor-Alled or otherwise treated to within an inch of its life to maintain the blackness.
I’m a huge Isuzu fan (Trooper, SpaceCab, iMark diesel)…but no, these are still hideous…
I truly WANTED to like these when they came out. 2 door SUVs were always the sporty ones of the bunch so an ULTRA sporty one should be even cooler, right? Well….this was a lot more spendy than the contemporary Amigo/Rodeo Sport yet didn’t offer a removeable roof, had that fugly spare tire ‘ass tumor’, and cost a lot more to boot. The idea was there, for sure. It tried hard to meld some sports car with the offroaders that Isuzu was known for…yet something is lost in the translation. Admittedly, I like a more chiseled, hard edged look to my 4x4s. The Wrangler has always looked just like a MACHINE. Its all steel, and gnarly tires, rollcage. The cloth top is the only departure. This on the other hand looks more organic. Like some kind of space alien fetus or something. It comes off looking a lot like one of those cheap-O radio control cars you can get at bottom feeder department stores. The ones that are no name brands, the body styles are poorly conceived non existent vehicles since the maker wont pony up to license the design from a real automaker.
I saw one of these other day, actually — I forget where, but parked someplace in the area. Things looking a little dusty and weathered tend to normalize them, however over the top they originally look.
I say yes because other SUVs have moved closer to its look and away from upright box shapes. It still looks like it should be driving on the moon though especially in silver. Still a respectable move to put a concept into production, still fairly limited appeal.
Another guilty admission – I love these things, and would absolutely own one. When my Mom was picking up her new Mustang GT in the winter of 2000, the dealer had one in the showroom and ever since then I’ve really wanted one.
Downside is the interior room, which is right on par with a Mustang – aka not much. That said, though, they sure do look cool!
I’ve always liked these. No, they don’t work from every angle, but overall I always thought the space-alien-meets-offroader theme turned out surprisingly well. They do work much better with any other wheel design than this doubled-three spoke oddity though.
A co-worker had one; he got it used sometime around 2003 to replace a mid 90’s Trooper. He had just graduated college, and the Vehicross was basically his dream car, so he was quite happy with it. For all I know he might still have the thing. I *think* his was black? The black ones did make the cladding less noticeable.
One of the more amusing lines I read about this car when it came out was “what you’d get if an SUV was styled by Nike.”
These probably hold the record for the longest time on the lot for any new vehicles, a friend of mine worked at a Lincoln-Mercury, Hyunday, Mitsubishi, Isuzu dealer when these were new, the had a 1999 on the lot for about a year,then they got their 2000, then they got one of those crazy yellow ones, then they got a 2001, mind you the 1999 one was still on the lot gathering dust and cobwebs. I think when they finally dropped their pants, grabbed their ankles and found a sucker……er buyer for the oldest VehiCross rotting on the lot, it had been in inventory for something like 700 plus days, they threw a party.
I don’t know when they got rid of the other 2, or if they ever did.
That has to be due to the absurd price they were asking, more than the comparative merits (or lack thereof) of the vehicle. I think the Axiom had a similar problem, though it wasn’t *as* pricey.
They were way too expensive, combined with being way too ugly, 2 door SUV’s as a whole were already starting to die out, and then you combine it with a fading Japanese brand, bam, virtually sale proof. I think they cut a couple of birthday cakes for the VehiCrosses they had on the lot.
By the way, I’d suggest that the VehiCross is a styling masterpiece compared to the Suzuki X90 …. that was bad when introduced and has not gotten better with age.
Six years after my earlier comment, my first reaction is still the same: so much better than an X90. As to the original question, I’m not sure if the Vehicross has mellowed with age, but I have. I kinda like it now. Which I’ll never say about the X90.
I always thought these were kind of cool – especially those two fangs in the front grill!
But would I have bought one? Never.
I see elements of the Vehicross’ design in a new compact SUV called the Ford EcoSport – it’s made in India and sold in Europe and other markets.
At the hospital I used to work at, someone wanted to decorate a staff restroom with a futuristic car theme. This was in the 90’s and one of the concept cars displayed was the Isuzu that became the Vehicross. That restroom stayed the same until at least 2005 when I left, maybe it’s still there. I thought it was funny that one of the “futuristic” cars went into production and quickly out of production and that restroom still had it as a future car for years after. I wonder how many hospital staff realized that.
Count me in with the styling hasn’t mellowed so much as recent CUV styling has become as stupid looking and contrived as it camp. At least it has two doors and can off road worth a damn though, so it is better than a current CUV.
I’ll come out and say that I definitely liked the Isuzu Vehicross when it was new, and I still do. I’d suggest that it may look better in some colors than others. Oh, and I liked the almost customized interior and still do. Being a low volume vehicle they seemed a little pricey at the time. They were and are a vehicle to drive when you don’t want to drive something just like everybody else is driving.
Your nobody if “they” aren’t talking about you. And the public always gets it wrong. Those that move the market are buying up near mint ironman edition with let’s say 3,700 miles like mine has. 18 years old and still in the 3,000 mile range. The big shots will announce when collectible and dollar value? We love to hear the public say …. I should of bought one? Well … you can for higher pricing soon to come.
The vehicross is just incredible. Buy low, sell high. And with that.. goodnight Irene cause that’s all she wrote.
Cool, so of course CC-in-scale has built one.
Love your work Peter! Great colour choice. Thanks for sharing!
Made with cheap ceramic body dies. We’re often told that it isn’t possible to do short runs of interesting cars, but Isuzu showed you can. They never intended to make many and they sold them all, eventually. Don’t know if it was a profitable experiment though.
I thought they were amazing looking cars. Not many companies with the nerve to put something so off-the-wall out there. They were too expensive to be a great success, but then with a short production run I suppose they had to be.
There is one of these in my neighbourhood. It is in regular use, often towing a small enclosed trailer. It seems to be in good shape, but the cladding does look gray, not black. It is an interesting addition to the street.
It was parked on the street, so I was able to grab a photo.
There was a yellow one sitting in front of a house near work for years. I kind of liked it, and they kept it a long time, so I guess they did too. It was replaced by a Charger R/T, and then a Challenger R/T, and recently a Dodge Ram 1500 4X4. I still see it once in a while and it still appears to be in good shape. I think someone close by the original owner must have bought it, as I always see it in the same general area.