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Hooniverse Truck Thursday – Did Someone Say Isuzu? The Controversial Vehicross and Axiom

Jim Brennan April 14, 2011 Hooniverse Truck Thursday 35 Comments

It’s Hooniverse Truck Thursday, and if anyone hasn’t listened to the Hooniverse Podcast, do so. It was one of our best, and the conversation centered on what vehicles we would bring back from the dead. I zeroed in on Isuzu, specifically the first generation Impulse (Piazza in other markets), but the conversation also centered around the Axiom and Vehicross Utility Vehicles. So without further interruptions, here is the short lived Isuzu Axiom and Vehicross.


The Isuzu Axiom was reported as being designed in Japan using a “knife blade” theme for its car-like styling. Many pundits likened the design to a Gillette Twin Blade razor, but at least it was distinctive. The Axiom’s radical styling may have been judged too extreme, but a surprising number of its design elements later found their way onto SUVs from other manufacturers.

This truck was built at the Subaru of Indiana Automotive, Inc. plant on the Rodeo platform. This was a joint replacement for the capable, but aging Trooper, along with the Trailblazer clone called the Ascender. It was offered with two different trim levels, the base and the upmarket XS, which featured a sunroof, heated front seats, two-tone leather interior, and projector like fog lamps.

One of the most interesting items in the creation of this North American truck was the naming of the vehicle. The name “Axiom” was determined by a naming contest held by Isuzu, and was won by Dr. Hakan Urey from Redmond, Washington, who suggested the name and won his own Axiom (but was given an Isuzu Rodeo until the Axiom became available). Another aspect of this vehicle was the range of vehicles Isuzu was showcasing on the show circuit. One was the Isuzu Axiom XSR Concept, that debuted in 2002. This truck concept utilized the Amigo chassis, and would have been easy to bring to market.

The other concept was called the Axiom XST, only this time it was a four-door version that ushered in other lifestyle vehicles like the Chevrolet Avalanche, the Ford Exporter Sport Trac, and later the Honda Ridgeline. This was an attractive truck, but it was never brought to market. GM was pushing their Envoy clone to help boost the output of the Oklohoma City GMT 370 production (Envoy XL, Trailblazer EXT, Isuzu Ascender).

The Axiom was available with a torque on demand four-wheel drive system, and a direct-injection 6VE1 V6 engine was added in 2004, boosting power from 230 to 250 hp. However, under the Axiom’s cutting-edge body was the largely unchanged Rodeo chassis, which was judged to be crude by critics. The stylish body was also available only as a luxury entry, and given that Isuzu was never perceived as a “Luxury” model, this limited the sales potential. The Axiom was discontinued in July 2004 and the Lafayette plant was retooled to build the Subaru B9 Tribeca. With the retirement of the Rodeo and Axiom, Isuzu no longer offered any Japanese-built consumer vehicles in the United States. The Axiom was never sold in Canada.

Before the Axiom was ever developed, Isuzu created quite a stir with the introduction of the Vehicross. The Vehicross was originally unveiled as a concept vehicle at the 1993 Tokyo International Auto Show. Its production version that was released in 1997 was notable because it arrived with very few design changes and in a very short time. This feat was accomplished through the use of inexpensive ceramic body-stamping dies and the reuse of readily-available Isuzu parts. The truck was intended to showcase Isuzu’s off-road technology, and is one of the few vehicles to ship with monotube shocks with external heat-expansion chambers, a technology normally reserved for off-road motorcycle racing.

Produced from 1997 to 2001 (US introduction was in model year 1999) the Vehicross used a lot of componentry from the Isuzu Trooper, including the 3.5L V-6 engine that produced 230 HP. The vehicle also features the BorgWarner developed Torque on Demand 4-wheel-drive system that was one of the most advanced systems at the time. This system has 12 independent sensors for detecting wheel spin and is capable of redirecting power to the wheels with the most traction. This gave the Vehicross a high level of traction on wet and icy roads, while its body-on-frame construction, truck-based suspension and adaptable gearing make it very capable off-road. Sales were intentionally limited, with only 5,958 vehicles being produced. Of that total, 4,153 were sold within the US.

So are either of these two Isuzu Sport Utility Vehicles worth remembering? See if you agree with the panelists about either the Vehicross, or the Axiom, and let us know what you think.

  • I like them both. I dig the styling, and think they stand out enough from all other SUVs of the time.

    • My sentiments exactly. There's a VehiCROSS parked in my neighborhood and I always give it a second glance.

  • Feds_II

    I always liked the vehicross. It's a halo vehicle, and Isuzu executed it well. As always, sell an enthusiast vehicle without a clutch at your own peril. Also, if you create a halo, you should have product to bask in the glow. What else does Isuzu sell?

    Axiom styling was great, and you've made me want to see if I can get one across the border (what say ye, Registrar of Imported Vehicles?). Again, why abandon the trooper name? Is there any nameplate more associated with Isuzu? Didn't think so.

    • TX_Stig

      They abandoned the Trooper name for the same reason that Suzuki got rid of the Samurai name. The Samurai didn't die when those tools at Consumer Reports lambasted it for wanting to flip in high speed, abrupt maneuvers. They did the same to the last generation Trooper, which a far more stable vehicle than the earlier, narrower ones. The problem was, the last gen Trooper actually had enough power to reach the speeds that could make it unstable. But regardless, the problem here is CR's misplaced zeal in their testing of off road vehicles. I still think that they do things to make vehicles flip that normal people would have great difficulty doing. Furthermore, I have seen far more domestic SUV's either with damage to, or sitting on their roof than imported ones. Hmm…

      • Feds_II

        Forget CR. the NHTSA roll over test has a robot to turn the steering wheel, not just for repeatability, but because a person would not be able to spin the steering wheel as fast as the test requires.

        But yeah, I didn't realize CR had lambasted the trooper.

        • TX_Stig

          Precisely. That's my problem with CR. I don't know how they manage to do it, when the gov't test standards are more stringent than theirs. I thought it was a fluke back when they did that to the Samurai, but when they repeated their performance with the trooper, I lost any and all respect for CR as an outlet of valid information.

    • Maymar

      There must be a way – I'm fairly certain that Jon Montgomery (one of our olympians) had one of these.

      If nothing else, we're about 6 months to a year from being able to import a JDM model.

    • Feds_II

      Poof?

  • tonyola

    The nose of the Axiom always struck me as being a little odd – it's as if the headlights, grille, and hood of an econobox have been placed of top of an industrial A/C evaporator rack. It's a little like medium duty trucks of a few decades ago that used light-truck grilles. The Vehicross is a bit too self-consciously Judge Dredd for my taste. It's trying a little too hard to be unique.
    <img src="http://www.sweptline.com/hist/69d800.jpg&quot; width=400>

    • tiffany hatfield

      boo to u. I think my vehicross is the most gorgeous coolest looking vehicle ever!!!!. there’s no vehicle out there to this day that comes close to comparing . it was way ahead of its time back then. I guess it still is and always will be. there’s still nothing in existence that even looks half as cool as it does. I love the way it looks, like a angry spider! I hate boring ugly average looking cars that all look the same. everyone has different taste. just like us humans being different. I’m uniqe and I like my vehicles are the same. don’t hate!!!!

  • IronBallsMcG

    I think the worst part of the Axiom is that it's too conventional looking once you get past the front end.

  • I was a big fan of the VehiCROSS until I test drove one at a local used car dealer. I really wasn't in the market, but I saw it on the lot and figured it was my one chance to drive one. I was surprised how shoddy the interior was. The NVH was distractingly bad. It was a 2-year-old model and they were still available new at the time, so I must have driven a 1999 model in 2001. It had about 35K on it as I recall (admittedly a bit high for a 2-year-old car), but the dash and interior panels squeaked and groaned more than the Town Cow does at 125K. Ever driven a 1st-gen Saturn Vue? It felt a lot like that.

    • 'The NVH was distractingly bad."

      Obviously, you're not an Ironman. No soup for you. Next!

  • fhrblig

    I thought the Axiom looked ok, except for the weird bumper/grille thing. And hey, if you want an Axiom riding on a pilfered 4-Runner chassis and using a Mitsubishi engine, has Great Wall got the car for you!

    <img src="http://i.imgur.com/ghHuJ.jpg&quot; alt="" title="Hosted by imgur.com" />

    • Does that rhyme with Rover?

      • fhrblig

        I like to pronounce it hover, like hovering over something.

        I see that Great Wall has a couple of cars called Voleex. I like that name, it's a pity that nearly everything they make is stolen intellectual property.

    • Feds_II

      That's EXACTLY what I want. Thanks Great Wall!

  • SSurfer321

    I never liked the VehiCross. Only two doors? Really? But it does have a cult following in the off-road market, so somebody must like it.
    The Axiom….how can you NOT like a vehicle promoted by Fred Willard? So obscure I cannot find videos/pics of the commercials.

  • FuzzyPlushroom

    The VehiCross is wonderful because of its strangeness. It's unapologetically unique (even if it does try a bit hard, as has been mentioned) and its capabilities are impressive.

    The Axiom, meanwhile, while its platform is the very epitome of mediocrity (fourth-generation Taurus aside), is – to my eyes – gorgeous. It's one of the few SUVs from the past 20 years that actually looks like a station wagon, and I love it dearly for it. If any major manufacturer introduced its bodyshell, with slightly-shrunken wheel wells and a bit less height below the beltline, on an AWD sedan platform, I'd very probably find a way to be in the market. (This is a large part of why I like the Ford Edge while loathing most crossovers.)

    • As Guest

      Wouldn't that be a Dodge Journey?

      • FuzzyPlushroom

        Well, yes. I guess I omitted the word 'good'.

        The closest thing is probably the Outback, but it looks as though it has a tumor.

  • RichardKopf

    Where do the owners of these esoteric Isuzus hide? I mean, I can't really find anything on them, and it looks like Jim couldn't either, as a good deal of the info in the article comes from Wikipedia. I don't say this disparagingly, just to emphasize that there truly is nothing.

    • alcology

      The same place as everyone else. In their own forum. http://www.vehicross.info/ Google with even autofill to this from "isuzu vehicross"

      • alcology

        "Google with even autofill to this from "isuzu vehicross" " I guess I put some words into google translate there and brought them back as zoidberg.

    • alcology

      My first post got eaten. They hide where everyone hides; in their own forum!
      http://www.vehicross.info/

      I don't know if there is a lot of historical info in there, but it's a start.

  • salguod

    I always thought the Axiom looked like a good looking wagon with a lift kit, fender flares and an extra slot in the grille. Imagine if you sliced it off at the conveniently placed lower body crease and lowered it down a few inches on the chassis.

  • My first car was a Geo Storm, so by default, I have a soft spot for Isuzu. There are several Vehicross in the Portland area, I've always wanted one.

    But then I remember that my Storm was kinda awful, and a buddy had a trooper that couldn't get out of it's own way, uncomfortable as a lead lazyboy too.

  • Alff
  • The Axiom is pretty lame but when it first came out I thought it looked remarkably sleek and classy. It was a rare sight on the roads too, around here at least.

  • Lotte

    I prefer it over the 117, but that really an apples-to-oranges comparison; they're both gorgeous in different ways.

    Gran Turismo's rendered both these cars in their game, and that's where I learned about them. (What? Isuzu made cars?) It was the first luxury-oriented car from Japan, if I recall correctly.

  • facelvega

    They're fine I guess. The Axiom is kind of anaesthetic. The Vehicross would've been almost awesome if there was no such thing as a Wrangler.

  • ptschett

    I just saw a Vehicross the other day and, not knowing the history, thought "that sure looks like a '90's SUV concept brought to life". My ideal SUV is the XJ Cherokee but the Vehicross would probably do enough for me.

  • i love me some vehicross

  • alcology

    The vehicross is one of my favorites. Always a couple for sale on craigslist in my area. The axiom looks like the ford edges fat cousin.

  • The VehiCross looks really cool in red exterior, and I am sure all off-road vehicle enthusiasts would fall in love with this vehicle due to its very aggressive designing traits.