The 90s didn’t just see the rise of JDM legends like the Skyline GT-R—it was also when several incredible off-roaders were built. A few, like the Toyota Celica GT4, Nissan Pulsar GTi-R, and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, were based on passenger cars. Others, like the Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution and Montero, and Toyota MegaCruiser, were SUVs. With the rise of Radwood, 90s SUVs are starting to be more appreciated, especially the odder ones, like the Pontiac Aztek. And the SUV that perhaps best exemplifies 90s-wackiness is the Isuzu Vehicross.
The Isuzu Vehicross story
The Isuzu Vehicross wasn’t a ‘design by committee’ SUV, Hagerty explains, unlike the Aztek. Isuzu designed it in deliberate opposition to the wave of nostalgia of the early 90s. Instead of looking back, Isuzu wanted the Vehicross to look forward. Initially, though, it was just a concept at the 1993 Tokyo Motor Show.
Then, as The Drive reports, around 1997 Isuzu wanted to compete in off-road races. So, the company turned the Vehicross into its “halo off-road racer” by producing road-going homologation models. And these were genuinely race-ready: according to The Drive, all an Isuzu Vehicross owner needed to add to go racing was some safety equipment.
That’s because, underneath the odd 2-door styling, the Isuzu Vehicross is a genuinely good SUV.
The Isuzu Vehicross’ off-road capability
The body-on-frame Isuzu Vehicross is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 developing 215 hp and 230 lb-ft. In comparison, the most powerful engine the contemporary Jeep Wrangler offered only made 190 hp. There was also an Isuzu Vehicross Ironman Edition, Road & Track reports, which added further upgrades. These included remote-reservoir shocks and a roof rack.
The Vehicross also has four-wheel drive with a low-range transfer case and an aluminum monotube suspension system. That was something only found on off-road motorcycles at the time, The Drive reports. It’s highly unusual even for an off-road SUV, Hagerty reports. The 4WD was also fairly advanced for its day, with multiple sensors able to distribute power almost like a modern all-wheel-drive system.
Autotrader reports a Vehicross is capable of keeping up with Jeep Wranglers on off-road trails. It came in 2nd place in Four Wheeler’s 2000 Off-Road SUV of the Year test, right behind the Chevy Tahoe Z71. And racing versions won in multiple classes at the 1998 Paris-Dakar and won the 1999 Australia Safari Rally outright.
Pricing and availability
Unfortunately, Isuzu didn’t make many Vehicross SUVs before pulling out of the US market. However, that wasn’t tied to the Consumer Reports scandal. The Isuzu Vehicross was never intended to be a high-volume seller.
Because Isuzu wanted to get the Vehicross ready quickly, it used ceramic tool dies instead of the usual steel ones. Although ceramic dies are much quicker and cheaper to prepare, they also don’t last nearly as long. Only 5,958 Vehicross SUVs were made from 1998-2001. Only 4,153 of those were for the US.
But, while the Vehicross is rare, it’s not particularly expensive. Several have sold on Bring a Trailer for under $10,000. The most expensive one sold on BaT was a modified, low-mileage Ironman Edition that went for $18,253 in March 2020.
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