Quick! Name a passenger car company that looked to be on the path to stardom in ‘80s and ‘90s, only to shrivel down to little more than its commercial vehicle arm due to managerial incompetence and lousy timing. If you picked Isuzu, you get a gold star. If you picked another company you, er, don’t. (What were you expecting? This isn't public school!) Anyway, after a series of modest successes like the I-Mark, Impulse, Stylus, Trooper, and Rodeo, the Japanese company set out to create a stylish, segment-busting halo model. They wound up creating a rare and radical SUV called the VehiCROSS.
First shown as a concept at the 1993 Tokyo Motor Show (The nation’s biannual automotive coming out party that usually has more wild and cheeky concept vehicles than a pachinko parlor has balls.), the VehiCROSS entered production for the Japanese market beginning with the 1997 model year, maintaining much of the futuristic, enclosed moon buggy-ish styling of the prototype. The production model used lots of existing Isuzu hardware, including the Rodeo’s dashboard and the chassis of the never-sold-here two-door version of the second generation Trooper. U.S. models were fitted with the Trooper’s 3.5L DOHC V6 – generating 215hp and 230 lb./ft of torque – and 4-speed automatic transmission. It also came standard with off-roading goodies like the BorgWarner-built Torque on Demand 4-wheel-drive system and shock absorbers with remote heat expansion chambers, the latter commonly found on motocross bikes. Wheels were 16-inchers on the ‘99s, and 18-inchers for the last two years. The interior featured such niceties as two-tone leather upholstery, air-conditioning, and an in-dash six-disc CD changer. Every VehiCROSS came with unpainted black plastic lower body cladding and a matte black decal on the hood, but eight exterior colors were offered in the U.S., including exactly one(!) pearl white example.
Considering how scarce these things are (4,153 ever made it over here) and pricey they were when new (near-as-makes-no-difference $30k), it’s rather surprising to discover how much a VehiCROSS is worth today. Values start below $7,000 for high-mileage examples, while low-mileage ones in rarer colors have been known to approach $10,000. Common problems include a menagerie of transmission woes, power window failures, and worn seat covers, but let’s face it: Occasional mechanical gremlins are a small price to pay to get the kind of stares normally reserved for the owners of Lamborghinis and their ilk.