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Do they make one like they used to? The search for a modern-day VehiCROSS

Ross Ballot July 11, 2016 All Things Hoon 26 Comments
VX - TruckTrend

Source: Truck Trend

Often I find myself thinking about long-dead vehicles, wondering what their contemporary equivalents would be. Recently I was staring at my VehiCROSS, pondering its issues and problems, and wishing there was a modern version of the VX on sale today. It’s flawed, yes, but it’s a unique little truck that has some genuine charm to it. Look at it as a whole, and finding its current version becomes a bit of a puzzle: two doors, four-wheel-drive, fixed roof, off-road chops, on-road decency, and a design like nothing else. Ahead-of-its-time tech, an intelligent 4WD system, and a body that takes appearance as its priority, ditching usefulness and practicality in the sake of dropping jaws. But is there such thing as 2016’s equivalent of the VehiCROSS? And if so, what is it? It took a few minutes, but finally I reached my somewhat convoluted answer: maybe.

Back in the 1990s the automotive world saw a huge boom in the number of available two-door SUVs. Starting with the leftover Bronco, K5 Blazer, and RamCharger, these trucks were lusted after for their off-road capability but more manageable size as compared to regular four-door, full-size SUV counterparts. As time passed we were given a load of these shorter variants, with the likes of the Tahoe/Yukon GT, Amigo, VehiCROSS, Blazer/Jimmy, Freelander, Explorer Sport, and so on.

 

Typhoon - 3DTuning

Source: 3DTuning

Oh, and let’s not forget the Typhoon, the Ferrari-slaying turbo monster brought to us courtesy of GM. It may have been a street-only “truck,” but oh was it sweet. Over the years, as vehicles became influenced more and more by money and sensibility rather than by creativity, we started to see these two-door toys slip away. The Wrangler is still around of course, but at this rate it’s likely to be the only thing to out-survive cockroaches in the wake of a theoretical nuclear apocalypse.

Yukon GT - MotorTopia

Source: MotorTopia

Amidst two-door mania, one Japanese rarity stood out…though I may be biased. Isuzu’s VehiCROSS, the Trooper-based limited-production 4×4 with a sci-fi movie shell, has stuck with me since I first laid eyes on one. Starting as a concept in 1993, it eventually became a production vehicle in 1997, running until 2001 and selling 5958 total units (4153 in the US). Since then it’s become nothing short of a cult obsession. A very small cult, but a cult nonetheless. Parts are scarce. Sightings are rare. Owners are (for the most part) die-hards. Facebook car-spotting groups go bananas when one is seen. It’s a quirky, offbeat SUV with a lot of off-road capability and respectable on-road manners to match. The VehiCROSS provided a combination of strong characteristics in a strange, eye-catching package, and for that it’s become a bit of a unicorn.

20160706_181023

But what if you want to buy the modern equivalent of the VehiCROSS? Maybe you love the style and the capabilities and want to own one but don’t want to deal with the maintenance and quirks of a fifteen-plus year-old vehicle. Or maybe you just want modern safety equipment and technology. Regardless, if you wanted the closest thing you can to today’s version of the VX, what would it be? You can’t exactly stroll down to an Isuzu dealer and order one, so what other options are there to live out your two-door outer-space-looking SUV fantasy?

Paceman- Top Gear

Source: Top Gear

If you crave a wanna-be SUV rather than the real thing, Mini has your vehicle in the Paceman. Or at least tries to; I’ve seen very, very few. Probably not even enough to need a second hand to count on. But the Paceman is even less practical than the VX, a bit too heavy on the platform sharing, and has next-to zero off-road ability. A VX wanna-be in looks, but not a VX wanna-be in practice. It’s also down on power even compared to the fifteen-year-plus-old Isuzu, and very FWD-biased. Thus: not worthy.

Paceman - Winding Road

Source: Winding Road

And we can’t ignore the ever-present bald eagle in the corner, Jeep’s world-famous Wrangler. It’s fantastic off-road, has become livable on-road, and definitely looks like nothing else out there. But it’s not outlandish enough and they’ve sold a shitton of them over the years. You probably see tens, if not hundreds, of Wranglers out on the roads each day; how many VehiCROSSes have you seen in your life? And let’s not forget the Jeep has a removable roof, which the VX doesn’t. Likewise, as much as the marketing department will try and tell you it’s become totally civil on pavement, the Wrangler doesn’t come anywhere near the level of the VehiCROSS’ handling prowess or general driving characteristics. Plus, it’s American. Big ‘ol bag of nope. Love it to death, but the Wrangler can’t and won’t ever be a VehiCROSS.

Autoblog

Source: Autoblog

On the polar opposite end of the price spectrum we have the madness produced by Bowler. Making use of many Land Rover parts (like Range Rover and Defender bodies) I want to give them the nod for most VX-like vehicle sold today, seeing as they’re incredible all-around, but with the spaceframes and lack of real “production” it’s impossible to do so. On the less wild side, they offer what’s effectively aftermarket equipment for standard Land Rover Defenders. Awesome in its own right, but still not similar to the VX. Bowler does make some badass trucks though, easily eclipsing the off-road ability of the Isuzu. But they’re wildly expensive, and not really classified under “production.” Sorry, chaps.

Bowler Wildcat - IMCDB

Source: IMCDB

Bowler Nemesis - Motor Trend

Source: Motor Trend

Speaking of Land Rover though, I think I’ve found the answer. Or what’s as close to the answer as we’ll get for the year 2016. Hidden in its lineup of incredibly luxurious SUVs lies a two-door variant of a four-door crossover: the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Coupe. Bad name, very interesting car. On the surface it might not seem like the most VehiCROSS-esque vehicle out there, but let’s see how it compares.

20160706_181003

Like that of the VehiCROSS, that of the Evoque Coupe is unquestionably an extreme design, even more so in person than in pictures. Seeing it in the flesh allows your eyes to fully take in the steep rake of the roof, the sharpness of the 3/4 angle, and the overall proportions that make it stand out against the common background of four-door CUVs. But…it has no plastic cladding. No spare tire molded into the rear door. It uses a FWD-based AWD system. And it looks worthy of neither Mars nor Moab. Wait, how exactly can it be the most VehiCROSS-like rig on sale today?

Kamil Kaluski - Hooniverse

First, and most obvious, it has two doors and isn’t classified as “car.” Don’t forget, the once-cherished two-door trucks were once much loved, but today they’re scarce as scarce can be. That the Evoque has only two rather than four gets it a point on the board. It also has a fixed roof as well, another point (versus the Wrangler, at least). That it’s based on a more well-established platform (the regular Evoque and the other EUCD-platform mates it’s related to) contributes as well, seeing as the VX was based on the Trooper’s. The Evoque also has some strong off-road chops, from the still cutting-edge Terrain Response system to the (now-no-longer-offered) Haldex full-time four-wheel-drive system. It’ll shock you off road and be perfectly livable on-road. Sounds very VX-esque to me.

Kamil Kaluski - Hooniverse2

The Evoque Coupe also takes design and style as the priorities at the cost of practicality, as did the VX. It’s expensive for its size and class, as was the VX. It has extreme looks, not a ton of cargo room, and is made by a foreign manufacturer. Relatively few have been built, too. I couldn’t find production numbers, but if anybody finds how many Coupes were built let me know because I’ve seen only maybe three in my life. That being said, it’s a very low number for its time. Less common than a two-door Wrangler, at least.

But wait…the Evoque Coupe has some things going against it in its battle to be the Modern VX. It’s certainly less devoted to being sporty, with more of a luxury mantra than an off-road-meets-on-road agility. And more importantly there’s no Recaro seats, no TOD AWD/4WD system, and no aftermarket. But most importantly, there’s no cult following. The VehiCROSS has a super-dedicated fan-base which pores over the most involved details, fights for parts, and considers owning such a vehicle not just a labor of love but rather a full-blown obsession. Maybe I’m missing something (from my research at least), but there just doesn’t seem to be that level of fascination with the Evoque Coupe. And maybe there never will be. Then again, maybe…someday down the road…the VX owners will need a newer, more modern car to obsess over, and maybe they will fixate their fanatical minds on the two-door Landie. Maybe…someday…
So there we have it, the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Coupe is as close to a VehiCROSS as we’ll get in the year 2016. Maybe someday we’ll have something more similar to the long-gone Isuzu, though for now the Evoque may just be as close as it gets. But I’ll always be hopeful for another vehicle true to the concept of the VehiCROSS. Problem is, it may just take another quirky, off-beat Japanese automaker to make it happen. They’d need to do a unique re-bodying of a truck’s platform to be a true modern VX, but isn’t the Evoque Coupe just that? Not a truck, no. I’m stumped, but…hey…Mitsubishi, how about giving us a Pajero Evolution? Let’s face it, maybe the VehiCROSS was a once-in-a-generation run of an incredibly unique, eccentric, lovable oddball little SUV that had as much character as it did capability. Maybe it’ll never be made again. Maybe…and just maybe…the VehiCROSS was once and for all, never to be replicated and never to be copied. Only time will tell. For now, we’ll have to make do with the Evoque Coupe. Is it the future yet?

Un-credited images courtesy of Hooniverse or the author

  • kogashiwa

    First thing I thought of was the FJ Cruiser, which … is no longer available, I guess, after sales tapered off to next to nothing.

    Seems to be a pattern here. I bet they have a fanatical following in twenty years.

    • Ross Ballot

      Right, the FJC is close but no cigar. Extra half-door disqualifies it, otherwise it’s a really close one vs the Evoque Coupe. The FJC is nowhere near as on-road friendly though (relatively).

    • I can’t figure out why Toyota canceled the FJ. Late model examples are still bringing nearly full sticker prices on the used market. Maybe the volume wasn’t enough for big Toyota, but the demand is clearly there.

      • outback_ute

        The funny thing is I think they kept building them for other markets, they are due to go out of production in Japan next month.

        I think they still do the swb 2-door LandCruiser Prado (aka Lexus GX), but they don’t sell it in Australia any more.

      • Ross Ballot

        I’m guessing they’re cutting their losses in terms of having to upgrade/update it in terms of safety and fuel economy. It was long in the tooth and in need of updating, and I’m sure they saw their resources better dedicated to the new Prius and other higher volume movers.

  • 0A5599

    Jeep Renegade would check most of your boxes, but you seem to be in the minority of SUV buyers wanting two doors. Auto makers would build two door versions if they thought they could sell them, but no manufacturer is going to pay the engineering costs to develop a 1000 unit per year SUV unless they sold for $200k each.

    Don’t get me wrong, I own three 2-door SUVs already (and just missed out on a 4th one recently on Craigslist), but soccer moms and dads need access to load car seats these days.

    • Ross Ballot

      Yeah, the 2-door thing is vital to the VehiCROSS and its personality. Those extra 2 doors turn up the practicality up a whole lot and turn down the perceived “fun.”

      It’s too bad the 2-doors aren’t popular anymore. A lot of people really, really loved them.

      • 0A5599

        Murano Crosscabriolet has two doors, controversial styling, and impracticality. It is out of production now, but was produced a lot more recently than your Isuzu.

        Or Chevy HHR sedan delivery.

        • Ross Ballot

          I’d pay good money to see a Murano CrossCab attempt any moderately difficult off-road trail

  • engineerd

    The RR Evoque Coupe is going to be no more in the USA after this model year. Instead, we’ll get the even more bizarre RR Evoque Convertible. So, that will disqualify it on the not-so-fixed roof part.

    I’d say the Wrangler is the most akin to the VX on the market today. Yeah, it’s much much much more common, but in a sea of crossovers and large SUVs it is a bit of an oddity.

    • You just saved me the time of looking to see if they’d rung the death bell for the two door. I’m surprised it took that long.

    • Ross Ballot

      Huh, didn’t know the Coupe was on the chopping block. The Convertible is…interesting. Bleh.

    • I didn’t see that you mentioned the convertible when I posted my comment. It seems closer to the spirit of the VX to me.

  • desmo

    How about that one? 1990 VW Golf Country. The forgotten Miss Piggy of SUVs.

    • Ross Ballot

      Or so they’ve been saying for 10 years…

      • This time they mean it.

        • Ross Ballot

          Believe it when I see it…

          • Alcology

            Anybody want a peanut?

            I don’t know if there’s enough of a market for them to bring it to full fruition. If they pushed it right though, they could eat up a lot of jeep sales.

        • outback_ute

          Have they said it will be a 2-door though, or just a rebadged Everest?

  • The VX to me was all about the in your face, and practicality out the window aesthetic. The 2 door body was also key as was off road chops.

    I’d suggest that the Evoque Convertible is closer to the spirit of the VX, even if it does have the folding roof the VX lacks. They both seem to say we want to go anywhere and look outrageous doing it.

    http://www.topgear.com/sites/default/files/styles/16x9_1280w/public/images/news-article/2015/11/2103482f96fba9d12d6a70be4617db61/rr_evoque_convertible_ext_dynamic_10.jpg?itok=pSwpu4xh

  • Maymar

    http://image.fourwheeler.com/f/81099392+w660+h440+q80+re0+cr1+ar0/2015-jeep-cherokee-trailhawk.jpg

    Unpopular opinion time, but the new Cherokee might be a worthy contender. In Trailhawk form, it’s got some offroad chops (about as much as anything new that doesn’t have a flip-down windscreen has), and it’s got weird, unique styline (albeit more mutant capybara than transport for Martian surfbros). Sadly, it’s only a four-door, but still, it’s better than nothing.

    • Ross Ballot

      Yeah, a good point especially with the platform sharing. If only it had 2 less doors…

  • The Ratkiller

    Say what you will, I always thought the VX was a cool-looking truck.

  • webwzrd

    In looking specifically for something that might qualify as a modern VehiCROSS, I think the Nissan Juke might hit all the marks. Well except it has a couple extra doors, but they’re well hidden. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/52b2f8f1e0e08ae025a4230a395f54994157e6542bba604572e8ecdc076597c3.jpg