I recently had the chance to drive a 2001 Isuzu VehiCROSS, which is a sport utility vehicle that is absolutely bizarre. The primary reason it’s bizarre is its styling: The VehiCROSS is a 2-door SUV with massive wheels, weird curves, horns on the headlight and gray plastic cladding that rings the entire vehicle. No one will ever make another vehicle like the VehiCROSS. Fortunately.
Actually, I say "fortunately," but I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the VehiCROSS — and for virtually all weird, rare cars. So when I was out in California a few weeks ago, I jumped at the chance to review the 2001 Isuzu VehiCROSS you see above — not just because it’s a VehiCROSS, but because it’s the last VehiCROSS ever made.
Yes, that’s right: I’ve now driven the last Isuzu VehiCROSS ever manufactured. The final one ever given to our world. I borrowed it from a viewer in Castaic, California, just north of Los Angeles, who previously owned a Dodge Dakota Convertible. Not surprisingly, we got along well.
Anyway, we know it’s the last VehiCROSS ever manufactured because the owner of this car has a letter from Isuzu with the VIN certifying it as such. The letter also refers to the VehiCROSS as Isuzu’s "halo product" designed to show off the brand’s capabilities as a manufacturer of sport-utility vehicles, which seems a little less believable.
I say this because the VehiCROSS is, well, weird. There’s the styling, for one. But how about the fact that the spare tire is hidden inside the rear tailgate? Which then curves in a bizarre manner to accommodate it? The headlights have horns on them. I wasn’t making that up. Also, the rear seat is inaccessible, there’s a "TAILGATE" button on the key fob that has no actual purpose, and Isuzu insisted on calling it the "VehiCROSS" with "CROSS" capitalized.
All of these things would’ve been really weird at the time — especially considering the original price of around $32,000, which made the VehiCROSS double the price of a Jeep Wrangler and thousands more than a Ford Explorer. With this in mind, it’s no surprise the VehiCROSS lasted only three years, it’s no surprise most people don’t remember it, and it’s no surprise it wasn’t renewed for a second generation. And yet…
Come on, just look at it! It may be weird, but it’s also endearing — and it’s especially endearing considering you can pick one of these up for like $6,500 in nice shape. There aren’t many other eye-catching SUVs you can say that about. There are also the off-roading capabilities: The owner told me he off-roads his VehiCROSS and he can usually hang with Jeeps; the VehiCROSS has 4-wheel drive with low range and a relatively powerful 215-horsepower V6, along with reasonably good approach and departure angles.
As for the rest of the driving experience, it’s also endearing. Though I always assumed the VehiCROSS was sort of a weird, oddly shaped cutesy SUV that was more of a bizarre marketing gimmick than anything, it actually drives like a surprisingly substantial vehicle, feeling more like a Toyota 4Runner or Nissan Xterra than a Ford Escape or Mazda CX-5. The VehiCROSS isn’t fast and it doesn’t handle well, but it’s nice and robust. Sure, there’s no rear visibility, but you don’t have to worry about seeing other drivers, because they’re already seeing you. And staring.
In the end, I can see why the VehiCROSS didn’t sell: It was impractical, expensive and oddly styled, and you generally can’t combine all three of those things into one and have a successful vehicle. But I’m sure you can also see why I like it: It’s just weird, and weird is fun, especially in today’s world of lookalike crossovers and family SUVs. Buy a VehiCROSS and stand out — for better or worse. Find an Isuzu VehiCROSS for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.