New Car/Review

1999/2000 ISUZU VehiCROSS IRONMAN

By Tom Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 28,900
Price As Tested                                    $ 30,389
Engine Type              DOHC 24-valve 3.5 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
Engine Size                                 213 cid/3494 cc
Horsepower                                   215 @ 5400 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               230 @ 3000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                   91.8"/70.5"/162.6"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3952 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  22.5 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                            P245/70R16 mud/snow
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                   Front-engine/four-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                      Four-passenger/three-door
Domestic Content                                 10 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
city/highway/average                            15/19/16          
0-60 MPH                                        9.0 seconds
1/4 (E.T.)                          18.0 seconds @ 80.0 mph
Top-speed                                           110 mph

* Sequential multi-point fuel injection    

Once in a while, a manufacturer's "Concept Car" display at a show draws an unusual amount of attention. This is true of Isuzu's VehiCROSS, an "unusual" looking SUV unveiled at the 1997 Tokyo Auto Show where it received rave reviews.

Based on the stubby two- door Isuzu Trooper, it was futuristic enough as well as affordable enough to see limited production worldwide. This week we test one and are told by the folks at Isuzu it will remain unchanged as a 2000 model.

OUTSIDE -VehiCROSS looks like no other SUV on the road today. It is short and stubby, with a sleek, slicked-back profile and a pair of snake-eye headlights that extend into the hood line while its grille contains what looks like a set of painted fangs hanging from the top. The unpainted lower half of the body is made of a scratch and dent- resistant polymer material, seemingly held in place by exposed Allen screws spaced at various intervals around the body. The fuel filler cap looks like it belongs on an airplane. Washboard ribbing on the doors give it a "tough" look, while a bulge on the rear door contains a spare tire within the door itself. As a co-sponsor of an Ironman competition, Isuzu gave us its Ironman edition VehiCROSS. It wears special graphics, a wing-style roof rack and unique interior embossing. Polished 16-inch alloy wheels and mud and snow tires are standard.

INSIDE -A pair of Recaro bucket seats are both supportive and comfortable. Covered in black and red leather, their heavy bolstering means that drivers and passengers won't slip away during heavy cornering and off-road maneuvers. The door trim has retro, faux carbon fiber inserts, but the dashboard and shifter don't match its spectacular exterior and appear to have been lifted directly from the Rodeo. It holds four adults, but climbing in the back seat is hard and once back there, things get tight. It is well equipped with standard items, among which are air conditioning, power windows, outside mirrors and door locks, intermittent wipers, tilt steering and an AM/FM/cassette stereo.

ON THE ROAD -A 3.5 liter V6 engine provides power for VehiCROSS. It uses double overhead camshafts, 24 valves, a variable intake system, electronic fuel injection and coil-on-plug ignition. It produces 215 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque, though VehiCROSS's nearly 4000-pound curb weight saps mostly of its zoomy potential. A four-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox available, and it features a winter mode to reduce wheelspin on icy roads. Also standard is Isuzu's Torque-On-Demand four-wheel drive system which senses impending wheel slip and automatically sends power to the front wheels, up to 50 percent if needed. This system requires no driver input, but if a particularly sticky off-road situation arises, VehiCROSS also offers a driver- selectable Four-Low mode for extra torque. During around-town normal driving, VehiCROSS is in two-wheel drive, however.

BEHIND THE WHEEL -VehiCROSS rides on a full-length truck-type ladder frame and uses double wishbone independent front suspension with a solid rear axle. Like many of today's SUVs, there are torsion bars up front while the solid rear axle rides on coil springs, and is located by long radius arms and a lateral link. Unique to the industry, however, is the use of sophisticated aluminum shock absorbers with separate expansion reservoirs. This type of shock is used on many cross-country motocross motorcycles, and the goal is to separate the oil and gas inside the shock to eliminate foaming or cavitation. This system gives better rebound and damping, especially when the VehiCROSS is taken off-road where multiple bouncing and unusually long shock travel would wreak havoc inside a conventional unit. Heavy sway bars both front and rear give VehiCROSS the ability to stay flat and poised during hard cornering. The ride is firm but well-damped. Sharp, accurate steering gives good on-center feel, while four-wheel disc brakes and an anti-lock braking system (ABS) provide nearly fade-less, positive braking power.

SAFETY -Dual airbags, ABS and side-impact beams are standard.

OPTIONS -Ironman Edition: $995.

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