Welcome to Future Classics, a new, semi-regular feature where we identify amazing and unappreciated cars from the late 90s, 2000s, and today that could be highly coveted by future generations. You may want to pick one of these up while you still can!
If I could single out one trait that I feel is sorely missing from modern cars, it would be "character." Today's automobiles are faster, safer, more fuel efficient and better made than at any previous time in history. But too many of them are lacking in character and originality.
That's why if I had to pick just one SUV or truck from the modern era destined for future classic status — one that doesn't rhyme with "Shmaptor" or "Blightning," anyway — I'd pick the Isuzu Vehicross. It oozes character in every conceivable way.
Let's check off all the ways the Vehicross is a unique snowflake in the most boring automotive landscape of all. A design that still seems futuristic today? Check. It comes from a much-beloved dead brand? Check. Sophisticated all-wheel-drive technology that makes it a highly-competent off roader? Check. General mechanical toughness? Check. Rarity? Check. Always designed to be a one-run niche vehicle? Check.
The Vehicross, or VehiCROSS if you're the kind of person who doesn't capitalize the "M" in "Mini", just hit a 20-year mark of sorts. The car began life as a concept at the 1993 Tokyo Auto Show, although it didn't hit production until 1997.
I remember seeing this thing back when it first debuted and thinking it was some kind of crazy electric car. I was wrong, but the car's spaceship-like looks are enough to convince anyone that it's far from ordinary, even today.
The Vehicross came out right as SUVs were starting to really hit their stride in terms of sales, the beginning of that kind of peak era that lasted until the early 2000s or so. I feel like it was a daring idea that took advantage of an exciting new segment.
It also came out back when people actually expected SUVs to be able to do off-road shit, before car companies realized that very few (if any) of their buyers were actually using them for that purpose. The Vehicross can hold its own when the pavement ends, baby.
Mounted on the Isuzu Trooper's chassis and packing a 3.5-liter V6 good for a still-healthy 215 horsepower and 230 lb-ft of torque, the Vehicross packs a rather advanced 4WD system. I'll let this 1999 article from Motor Trend break it down:
Under normal conditions, the system operates in rear-drive mode, but as conditions demand, torque is automatically transferred to the front axle to provide maximum grip. A display in the instrument cluster shows the driver how much torque is being routed to the front. One key difference between this and other automatic 4WD systems is that TOD uses a dedicated electronic control unit to oversee the process and draws upon input from 12 different input sensors. This collective input is continually compared to a preprogrammed 3D software map that determines how much torque to distribute to each axle, based on such parameters as vehicle speed, wheel speeds, and accelerator pedal angle, to monitor either actual or potential tire slippage. In this way, the system can actually begin correcting for traction loss before it's even occurred. For more demanding conditions, a low-range transfer case also is provided.
They also praised its lack of body roll and impressive handling that lacked the harsh ride of most SUVs. Pretty badass for a late 90s car, right? And not the kind of thing you find on wimpy small crossovers these days. Let's see your mom's CR-V do all that. Spoiler alert: IT CAN'T.
The party continues inside with a tasteful, classy, simple interior that includes Recaro seats up front. Recaros! On a small SUV! It may look a little dated, but it's honest, and it isn't overcooked like so many modern interiors are.
Tough, stylish, unique — and underappreciated, like all great future classics. The Vehicross was only ever meant as a limited-production model. Just under 6,000 were ever made between 1997 and 2001, though the overwhelming majority of them were sent to the U.S.
But even with the intentional niche status, the car was never really a huge hit with buyers. As recently as 2010, Car and Driver was knocking it, saying Isuzu had to learn that "no one wants a three-door SUV that looks like an escapee from the set of Battlestar Galactica."
Y'all are a bunch of haters, man. Just writing about the Vehicross makes me want one. It's something truly different in an endless sea of pedestrian grocery-getters, and I have a feeling that one day, future generations will appreciate it more than we have so far.
And the best part is that while they aren't exactly plentiful, they are cheap. A recent search on Cars.com shows that one of these can easily be had for under $10,000. Those fancy 4WD gizmos could get expensive to repair, but the car is pretty robust overall. It's a great way to get a decent rock climber without spending a ton of dough.
Isuzus in general are hugely unappreciated, even though they cranked out some awesome machines before they went kaput. The Vehicross is one of them. And years from now, people may look back on it and think, "Man, I really should have bought one when I had the chance."
Now's as good a time as any.
Future Classics is a new feature we're trying out on Fridays. What car from the last 15 years or so do you think will be sought after years from now? Feel free to give us some ideas in the comments.