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Automakers around the world put wild concept cars out on the auto show circuit to gauge interest from visitors.

Conceived as an over-the-top concept for the 1993 Tokyo Auto Show, the VehiCROSS attracted so much interest that Isuzu offered it for sale. Usually when automakers decide to build a popular show vehicle for production, they take out the same distinctive elements that drew the attention of show goers in the first place. That didn't happen here. The VehiCROSS at your local dealer is every bit as striking as the original concept vehicle that wowed visitors to the auto shows a few years ago.

This 4-seat, 2-dr SUV borrows its drivetrain from Isuzu's full-size Trooper SUV, including the 3.5-liter V6, automatic transmission, and Torque On Demand 4WD that can be left engaged on dry pavement and includes low-range gearing. VehiCross's body is metal with unpainted composite plastic lower cladding. The tailgate encloses spare tire and swings open to the left.

The wild design continues inside with a red-and-black leather interior, faux carbon-fiber door panels, and racy seating.

The Recaro seats are firm and comfortable, with full bolsters to keep you planted. The instrument panel features graphics on the speedometer and tachometer that change to high-contrast amber at night.

Clearly, the VehiCROSS wasn't designed for everyone. Some aspects of its design - the very things that make it attractive -- make it awkward to use. But the VehiCROSS does have some redeeming qualities. Its small exterior dimensions hide a surprisingly spacious interior. It handles great, it has lots of power from its smooth, quiet V6, and its sophisticated four-wheel-drive system provides stable cornering on dirt roads.

The VehiCROSS handles amazingly well on winding roads, given its ground clearance and off-road orientation. Its effort-sensitive recirculating-ball steering is unexpectedly sharp, crisp and responsive. Despite its height, VehiCROSS provides a comforting sense of stability through even the sharpest corners.

The VehiCROSS continues to draw stares.

It's unusual appearance is heightened by its relative rarity. Slide into a parking spot at the grocery store or mall, and you'll quickly find yourself drawing interest from onlookers.

One strong design element is the headlights; shaped like snake-eyes, they glitter like jewels. But the overall appearance is difficult to take seriously. Maybe it's the bulge on the rear hatch that serves to conceal the spare tire. Or the hefty black polypropylene side cladding that is held in place with exposed machine bolts. Nearly 67 inches tall, with 8.5 inches of ground clearance beneath it, VehiCROSS sits high on its haunches.

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