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2000 Isuzu VehiCROSS

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SAN FRANCISCO:  Looking for a vehicle that's guaranteed to attract stares and own the road? Isuzu's VehiCROSS looks like a refugee from Disneyland's Toon Town, but it's a real, all-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle that was designed to drive as well on the street as it does off road.

Originally a concept car at the 1993 Tokyo Motor Show, the VehiCROSS won the Japanese Special Car of the Year award in 1997 when it arrived as a limited production product. Based on a short-wheelbase version of the Trooper sport utility, it goes in its own wild and wacky direction.

The lower body panels, made of hardened unpainted polypropylene, bulge like Stone Cold Steve Austin's biceps, highlighting the 16-inch alloy wheels with meaty mud-snow tires. The bulldog face stares at other motorists with ferocity.

Inside, the concept-car styling is relegated mostly to the doors, seats and steering wheel. The doors are decked out in red textured plastic with carbon-fiber-style armrest bulges. The four-spoke steering wheel comes nattily dressed in alternating sections of grippy red and black vinyl. The genuine Recaro sport seats, in red and black leather, are heavily bolstered and supportive. The space between the seats and doors is minimal, and the seatbelt tang can catch there.

The unique, freeform flow of the top half of the car includes a flagrantly thick side pillar and a nearly useless rear window. A half circle of spare tire obscures most of any car that travels behind. The full-sized spare tire stashed in the tailgate pops out in seconds if needed.

The VehiCROSS gets Isuzu's largest engine, a 3.5-liter, 24-valve, dual-overhead-cam V-6, good for 215 horsepower and a bounteous 230 lb.-ft. of torque. For maximum performance at both high and low engine speeds, a butterfly valve in the air intake opens above 3,600 rpm to let air take a more direct path. It shuts back down at lower rpm for greater torque. The 3.5 liter powerplant pulls the two-ton Isuzu lustily, earning fuel mileage of 15 city, 19 highway.

An electronic four-speed automatic is the only transmission choice. It provides "Power" and "Winter" settings for fun and safer starts on slippery winter roads (where appropriate).

The VehiCROSS was designed to be a good daily driver, and it offers a tall position to survey everything on the open road. The VehiCROSS will happily travel offroad too, with an automatic all-wheel-drive system called Torque-On-Demand (TOD). With TOD, the rear wheels are always engaged, but the fronts can handle up to 50 percent of the work as needed. A small dash display lights to show when traction has shifted forward, and roughly by how much. A limited slip differential delivers grip to the wheel with traction when the going gets slippery.

I sampled some offroading on a tiny undeveloped building site in Union City. As I drove the VehiCROSS over some heaps of dirt, the front hubs engaged, illuminating the little lights on the traction gauge. I discovered the truck's short turning radius, certainly welcome while attempting any serious offroading.

My "Victory White" tester was the "Ironman Edition," named after the Ironman Triathlon event. For $995, it adds bold exterior graphics, embossed front seats, custom floor mats and a wing style roof rack. The most obvious graphic is the huge hood decal, which brings out the truck's macho character.

As a limited issue model, the VehiCROSS includes pretty much everything: power mirrors with defoggers, power windows and locks, air conditioning, vanity mirrors, keyless remote, six-disk in-dash CD player with full AM/FM/cassette system and more. The bottom line is $30,389, including destination charges.

Like the Trooper, it's based on, the VehiCROSS is spacious and offers plenty of headroom. Rear seat passengers, however, must climb up and squeeze into the rear compartment; once there, limo-style legroom prevails, but the huge side pillars obscure much of the view.

Isuzu has made a name for itself as a leader in sport utility vehicles. The company doesn't even sell plain cars. The VehiCROSS is neither a car nor plain - it's the ultimate Isuzu, and it certainly isn't afraid to say, "Here I Am!" Are you?  By Steve Schaefer AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

Isuzu Home Page

Byline:  By Steve Schaefer AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Column Name:   "Disneyland's New Toon Town Car"
Topic:  The 2000 Isuzu VehiCROSS SUV
Word Count:   682
Photo Caption:  The 2000 Isuzu VehiCROSS Ironman SUV
Photo Credits:  Isuzu PR
Series #:   1999 - 66

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