By on July 30, 2015

2000-isuzu-vehicross

Way at the bottom of the comments on yesterday’s Hyundai Santa Cruz article was a reference to a vehicle that I think, if it was built today, would probably sell better today than it ever did when it was new.

The Isuzu VehiCROSS, for all its faults, is (almost) exactly what people are craving today in a crossover-fueled market: go-anywhere utility, a tall sitting position, and full wrap-around plastic body cladding. Oh, and you either love it or hate it, just like every other new, successful crossover hitting the market in America at the rate of 2.5 new models per second.

Think about it. The sales of non-crossover, non-SUV and non-truck models in America is rather stagnant at the moment. This is pretty evident at Hyundai. The South Korean automaker’s car-heavy lineup is experiencing growth, but it’s a far cry from the industry average mostly due to a lack of crossovers and utilities in its lineup (the other big part being the Tucson getting pretty long in the tooth and uncompetitive against more established rivals).

Now, what if you could build a brand that was the complete inverse of Hyundai? Lots of SUVs. Little to no cars. Unlike Jeep, this brand could tout “Japanese build quality” and not be saddled with traditionalist design cues. That sounds a lot like Isuzu.

The VehiCROSS is just what America is craving, too. No, I don’t mean a two-door, body-on-frame SUV powered by a pair of V-6 engines. The most successful new entrants in the crossover and SUV space in the last few years have been styled in a way that leaves nobody wondering whether they love it or hate it — Nissan Juke, Buick Encore, Ford Edge, etc. The VehiCROSS certainly fits that bill.

What do you think, Best & Brightest? What brand or model from yesteryear was sold and killed off before its time?

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128 Comments on “QOTD: What Brand/Model Existed Before Its Time?...”


  • avatar
    Ion

    I feel like the VehiCROSS’ problem was more that it was an Isuzu rather than say a Honda. Then again how well did the ironically named crosstrek do?

    As for the topic at hand, I’m going to go for the low hanging fruit and say AMC Eagle. Look at how well Subaru is doing these days.

    • 0 avatar

      Volvo’s spiritual successor to the AMC Eagle and Subaru Legacy SUS is coming: http://www.volvocars.com/intl/cars/new-models/s60-cross-country

      • 0 avatar
        Land Ark

        The Subaru Legacy SUS already came and went. It was called an Outback though but it was around for 2 generations.
        I am not terribly excited about its return.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          I don’t get it. Americans still seem to love sedans (though not quite as much), and allegedly Americans LOVE sitting up high. So one would think a sedan-on-stilts would set the world on fire. But it did not. A rare car even in Northern New England, those SUS.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            The cognitive dissonance still seems to be too much. The only tall sedans that have sold in OK numbers are the ones that don’t make a big deal of their tallness. Think D-platform Tauruses.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            The 500/Taurus was not a sedan-on-stilts. It’s a *little* taller in the seats, but no taller in the chassis. And really, overblown in my opinion, it’s not as tall seating as a Fiat 500, for example, or many other “short and tall” cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      Agree 1,000% on the Eagle. Can’t think of better modern example. In 1980, most people outside the Northeast laughed at this car. If we push consumer tastes forward 35 years, it almost undoubtedly saves AMC.

      When the Volvo XC came out in 1998, the Outback was selling like hotcakes, Lexus had just introduced the RX 300, and it was very clear where the market was headed. I think the XC, and VehiCROSS, didn’t sell for other reasons. I do agree the VehiCROSS would sell better today.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Many will disagree but the Chrysler Airflows were way ahead of their time and never got their due. If you watch some of the testing film and promotional material that explains the reasoning behind what they did, the Airflow made sense- but the public wasn’t ready for them. Hence, they were only produced for a few years.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Bluebird electric milk trucks?

    http://www.treehugger.com/cars/electric-milk-trucks-still-working-jolly-old-england.html

  • avatar
    EquipmentJunkie

    International Scout, Travelall, and pickups. If IH could have held on with that line just a few more years, it could have been smoother sailing in a truck-oriented market.

    The AMC Eagle wagon was also ahead of its time.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      I agree if they could have held on and had just 1 more development cycle, IH truck line could have survived. Obviously the company as a whole had too many problems to survive whole, but the truck line could have been saved.

      With that said, I thank god the Scout 3 never went into production, it looks awful.

  • avatar
    lutecia

    The Renault Avantime of course (Avant meaning ‘before’ in French)
    However I’m not sure when is actually its time. Possibly never!

  • avatar
    Maymar

    Despite being of the opinion that crossovers are gross and have cooties, Chrysler really should’ve developed a 2nd gen Pacifica. They killed it off just as those were really taking it off, and one built to the standards of their current stuff (as opposed to their crude Daimler days) could be a solid hit for them.

    • 0 avatar
      cdotson

      You could say the same about the Dodge Ramcharger as the Chrysler Pacifica. The Ramcharger died just as (admittedly smaller) SUVs began to boom.

    • 0 avatar
      clivesl

      Definitely the Pacifica, I see the interiors FCA is putting into Jeeps and it makes me really want to see what they would do with the Pacifica today.

      And for BTSR, Pacifica HELLCAT FTW!!!

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        Yup, beige middle of the road stuff that appeals to the greatest number of people based on sales be damned, what the public would really buy is $70k cars with 700+hp. Yup, that’s a long-term plan for success.

        Seriously though, given my love for the R63 AMG, I’d lust for a Pacifica Hellcat.

    • 0 avatar
      Dieselkopf

      Isn’t the Dodge Journey pretty close to being a successor to the Pacifica?

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    When I first saw the Vehicross it legitimately looked like something from outer space. It was the Aztek before the Aztek. The looks have never grown on me, though I have always smiled when seeing it. I still think the Juke is ugly and the Buick Encore looks like it was squeezed in a press.

    Pick a car from the mid to late ’80s that came from the factory with a turbo. They were all ahead of their times. Sure turbos existed prior, but that was the first real mainstream push by multiple brands to get them out.

    Who would have thought that 10 or 15 years ago that almost every car for sale today would come with a turbo? Turbos were a punchline for so long.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      More specifically, recent Saabs were ahead of their time, as witnessed by the fact that almost everyone now offers a car with specs that are exact copies of the last 9-3’s specs: 4.5m long, 2.0 turbo 4, FWD base with optional Haldex AWD, advanced safety and aero, advanced engine management.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      Think a jacked up Aztec would sell today? I do.

      • 0 avatar
        Land Ark

        Azteks had more ground clearance than most CUVs on sale today.

      • 0 avatar
        dig

        I think a jacked up Ford Flex would sell today. It could be an option package for us Westerners that want the clearance AND the comfort/space.

        To the original question, I had a brand spanking new 1986 Isuzu Trooper with no AC, PW, etc. Japan quality (at the time) and it cost me like $9500 in 1986 bux. That lasted until 1999 as a hunting rig and 200k+ hard ass’d MT, ID, WA miles. I finally blew out the xfer case and it went to the “crusher”. Probably should have repaired it.

        Something like this rig would sell today and an option for non-Jeep Wrangler buyers. They quit making x-terras and fj cruisers. Only the x-terra was reasonably priced and bad ass’d enough.

        FWIW, I remember the VehiCROSS when it came out. It was too WEIRD looking and timid at the time.

  • avatar
    shaker

    This is the epitome of plastic cladding. People seem to pay more for it, as it suggests “ruggedness”.

    I looked at a buddy’s 1yr old Subaru Crosstrek yesterday, and that cladding is already scuffed up, and looking bad. Once scuffed, that area will hold onto dirt/mud, and stand out like a sore thumb. In a few years, UV and ozone will take its toll, and a white, irreparable “crust” will form. The desire to trade in will increase, and the car dealer will lower the value, citing the “condition” of the cladding.

    A win-win; but not for the owner.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Pontiac Aztek.

    When folks complain about cars being too lookalike, this came along and changed that idiom. The size was right and the packaging was good, too. There were some faults, beyond the somewhat fragile GM drivetrain. Who would market a vehicle to outdoorsy types and then install carpet in the whole thing? I think they would have done better to do a plastic mat, like the original Honda Elephant. Also, was there no way to make that fastback a little less fast? It’s clearly not going to win any styling awards, so, why not? It would add a lot of cargo capacity with little change to the rest of the car.

    But, the car did set the standard for the “angry appliance” styling idiom that we seem to have today. It also was the mass market soft roader that really pushed the CUV beyond the “smaller Explorer/Blazer/4Runner” ideal. They no longer had to look like a tiny Jeep.

    • 0 avatar
      ...m...

      …exactly that: the aztek was reviled mostly for being ahead of its time, but as a car-based lifestyle-utility minivan-replacement, replete with superfluous cladding, angular styling cues, and gimmick feature sets, it’s exactly the sort of vehicle which has come to dominate the suburban market fifteen years later…

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I still think if the production Aztek would have looked exactly like the concept car, it’d have been a hit (or at least not the epic fail it was).

  • avatar
    ajla

    Oldsmobile Jetfire.

    Because it had a turbo.

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      TTAC commentariat is divided down two indelible lines: acceptable modifications to “classic” cars and turbo vs. NA. In my opinion, it’s just a slightly nuanced young versus old battle, which youth is destined to win by attrition before they lose the next war for the same reasons…

  • avatar
    tonyola

    1950-1954 Henry J. America just wasn’t ready for a compact car just yet – gas was cheap and longer, lower, wider was the order of the day. It didn’t help that the Henry J was a dumpy-looking thing.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    While we’re on Isuzus, the Axiom was far more appropriate for today’s market while simultaneously being far less appropriate for the market of it’s time than is/was the Vehicross. Sized, styled, equipped, and priced in a way that would be competitive with modern crossovers it was *way* out of Isuzu’s league at the time it was built. The few I still see around occasionally appear as if they have aged far better than any other Isuzu product an don’t even draw undue attention (negative or otherwise) to themselves.

    • 0 avatar
      Skink

      Plus one on Axiom. Clean, crisp styling that looks good today. Compared to the puffy “spare tire” fat guy cladding bulgyiness of the VehiCross. VehiCross looks like a cartoony prop vehicle in a low budget 80’s sci-fi movie.

      Unlike current CUVs, or even most current SUVs, both the VehiCross and Axiom were body on frame, as was the Trooper. They also had decent dohc V6s (the VehiCross had only one, Mark, same as Trooper and Axiom.)

      The Axiom would fill a gap in the market today. BOF, part time 4wd (iirc), non-jellybean styling, available 4wd, and RWD! When 4wd is not selected. Update the red monchrome info screen and you’re there. I’d buy one.

      • 0 avatar
        cpthaddock

        I never really got the whole Isuzu derision. The models that were all Isuzu seemed to be pretty darn rugged. I have two friends who won’t give up their ’99 and ’00 Troopers and have had to perform hardly any repairs on them since buying them new.

        In NZ, where high new vehicle prices keep cars on the road for a long time, you still see many Troopers (or their Holden equivalent) on the road, V6 and turbo diesel.

        My perception, whether correct or not, was that Isuzu’s reputation suffered from using less reliable GM parts along with the Honda faithful’s rejection of their tie-in. The one major caveat is that I have no real knowledge of their cars before they went SUV only in the mid ’90’s.

  • avatar
    ...m...

    …how about the lamborghini LM002?..it was a civilian hummer before the luxury HMMWV craze started, and an exotic performance SUV decades before exotic performance manufacturers started chasing the SUV market…

  • avatar
    v8corvairpickup

    Inexpensive compact pickups. Not everyone wants to pay $70000 for a half ton truck. Sadly, the business model for low cost vehicles isn’t strong in the modern era. The long in the tooth Nissan Frontier is the only entry that is relatively cheap.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      This is a vehicle that had its day in the sun and then disappeared (sadly). In the mid 80s when I was in high school everyone had a Mazda B2000, Ford Ranger or Nissan Pup. Most were lowered with wide tires and full bed covers. A few people used them like traditional trucks but most were really just a small, cheap car that had room for fishing rods, surf boards or other outdoor gear. So they fit the Jeep model of a simple vehicle designed for adventure… ironically the VehiCROSS was to be the ultimate expression of this concept. However because it was a very odd looking Isuzu it was off most people’s radar.

      • 0 avatar
        another_VW_fanboy

        I also have no idea why compact pickups lost their appeal. The Ranger is one of the toughest vehicles I’ve ever dealt with. Worked for a delivery company once that had a fleet of them, and there was one that had over 430,000 miles on it. A four banger. Original engine and trans! I guess the fact that they are basically just a work truck (because they’re not very comfortable in any trim) they didn’t sell well past that segment.

        • 0 avatar
          Dan

          The appeal of compact pickups is like the appeal of compact cars, it begins and ends with not being able to afford something better.

          Consider what buying a car looked like in the 80s: Taking a 10-15% loan to buy a car with a 1-2 year warranty which would be expensively falling apart by 60K and worthless by 100.

          Those mini trucks were cheaper than almost everything else, because they had less content than almost everything else. That couple thousand bucks was real savings.

          None of those conditions apply now. With borrowing costs that round to zero and cars that run 150K on nothing but fluid and tires, most of the cost of owning a vehicle already isn’t the vehicle.

          With all of the federally mandated safety and emissions content, and the market mandated consumer expectations of A/C, AT, good NVH, etc, a small truck costs very nearly as much to build as a real truck.

          So why settle?

          • 0 avatar
            DweezilSFV

            That’s nonsense. In your mind “it begins and ends with not being able to afford something better”.

            When you start paying full MSRP on your next ride, you’ll have some credibility.

            Always easy to deride people’s choices when you don’t understand their reasons for buying something of which you don’t approve.

            Check your assumptions.

            Why settle? Yes, that worked out well for all those that overleveraged on their housing to feed that attitude, didn’t it?

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      You can get a base model Tacoma for around the same price as a base model Frontier. It’s probably easier to find a cheap Tacoma than a cheap Frontier simply because of how low demand for Frontiers is these days. You can get both in the low to just below $20k range.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Cheap compact pickups landed right on time, and went away when their time was up. Except their closest living relatives are the $22,500 midsize pickup with a forced extra cab, A/C, cloth seats, carpet, CDmp3, power windows/locks, tilt wheel, cruise and a bunch of other “options” the cheap compact pickups lacked. They didn’t even come with a rear bumper or side view mirror.

      Americans and fleet definitely want a Tacoma, Frontier or Colorado, as *stripper* as humanly possible, but the business case just isn’t there for OEMs. I’m not sure it ever really was, except they sold like crazy in their time, complete insanity. They could not build them fast enough. And that little “trade embargo” on imported Japaneses cars, opened up the floodgates on (exempt) compact pickups.

      Today a truly stripper midsize pickup would be a ‘loss leader’, except there wouldn’t be enough luxury midsizer pickup sales to justify/offset it.

      You could say it was the perfect storm. It can’t really happen again, but we can keep hopes alive.

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        Small trucks fizzled out because full-sizers got a lot better and compacts/midsizers stagnated. Small trucks lost the fuel economy war once it hit the point that their V6ers were no more efficient then a full sizer’s V8- sometime in the late 90s.

        Now, by time once loads up a small truck like a Colorado, it’s spitting distance to a full sizer which is a big step up in comfort and NVH.

        I do miss those small 80s Toyota pickups though, they were pretty cool.

  • avatar
    another_VW_fanboy

    Citroen DS/SM. Just about everything about these cars was different. Most people either love them or hate them, but their technology and engineering were way ahead of their time to this day.

  • avatar
    th009

    Ahead of their time. Doesn’t mean they were perfect, but definitely too early to be successful (so not including the Citroen DS):
    Audi A2
    BMW 2002 Touring
    Citroen SM
    Pontiac Aztek
    Toyota Previa
    Volvo P1800ES
    VW Golf Country

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    GM’s EV-1

  • avatar
    TW5

    GM EV1 was built a decade before of the Nissan Leaf.

    AMC Eagle lineup existed before modern Subarus.

    Jeep Cherokee XJ started the trend of moving towards unibody for SUVs.

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      Subaru was selling 4WD station wagons in the US as early as 1976. The Eagle was introduced for 1980.

      • 0 avatar
        TW5

        and I’m sure someone made a 4wd wagon before Subaru. The point is that the current Subaru lineup is very similar to AMC Eagle offerings.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          @TW5 – Subaru really was the first to make a 4WD wagon. The only passenger things before that with 4WD were truck and SUV implements like the Range Rover, or a Land Cruiser.

          There’s a very informative chart detailing such debuts in both civilian and military 4WD development through the years, here.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four-wheel_drive

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Also, this has been discussed extensively here, back in 2010 (before I was around).

            https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/05/the-scrappiest-car-maker-ever-a-brief-illustrated-history-of-subaru/

    • 0 avatar
      DIYer

      GM EV1 – sold and killed off by GM before its time.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    SVO and TTA

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    Not an entire model, but a variation: The Volvo 850 /*70 BiFuel.
    http://m.motortrend.com/roadtests/wagons/112_9707_driving_volvos_bi_fuel_wagon/

    Been thinking about them lately. The CNG models rode a trend that just started. In Europe, LPG became more popular for private cars, while busses are still running CNG quite a lot.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    The first Honda Odyssey was an interesting attempt at a crossover vehicle. It wasn’t really a minivan, nor was it a car, although it was built on the Accord platform.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda_Odyssey_(North_America)#/media/File:HondaOdyssey-001.jpg

    Let’s not forget the Nissan Axxess, which was similar in configuration, and the Mitsubishi Expo.

  • avatar

    Chrysler Pacifica and DODGE MAGNUM

    They existed BEFORE the Pentastar V6, before the 392, before the 6.2-L HELLCAT, before the 8-speed Torqueflight and before Uconnect touch and before panoramic sunroofs.

    If those – or even one of those – was available with all the goodies I’ve got in my cars, they’d be the most ridiculous deal killers on the market.

    Chrysler Pacifica HELLCAT AWD.

  • avatar
    izido

    NSU Ro80 hands down! This car was 20 years before it’s time in styling and technology…

  • avatar

    Since the International Scout and AMC Eagle have already been mentioned, I’m going to say the Jeep Grand Wagoneer. The 84-90 model, not the 1993-only “Grand Cherokee with Di-Noc”. They had the big luxury SUV market before there was a big luxury SUV market, and they had retro before retro was a thing.

    • 0 avatar
      matador

      They had retro, because American Motors had no money.

      They really were one of the first true luxury SUVs, though. They’re kind of like the modern Range Rover of their time.

  • avatar
    Steve Lynch

    The late 80s Honda CRX HF, 42/51 mpg, would sell like crazy today.

  • avatar
    rodface

    I didn’t see it before, but now I do: the VehiCROSS was reincarnated as the 2014 Jeep Cherokee!

    http://www.tflcar.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/CN014_062JP-620×413.jpg

  • avatar

    Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t add my own pet unicorn to the discussion – the LaForza. It was a Range Rover competitor when there were hardly any Range Rovers to compete with. Nowdays, that every suburban soccer mom and wannabe rap superstar is driving one, there would probaby be much more demand for an Italian alternative, especially one with as many cow’s worth of leather as the LaForza

  • avatar
    Garak

    Hold on.. you’re telling me the vehicle in the picture is a nearly 20 year old desing? I’ve never seen one before, and thought it was some concept car or brand new model. Pretty amazing.

  • avatar
    Polishdon

    Plymouth Prowler. It had the style but no power. With the new Pentastar V6 and the Hemi’s, it would have been great! (and yes, you could put a 4.7 v8 in a Prowler)

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      The 3.5 L EGJ V6 in the Prowler puts out 253Hp and it weighed 2,800lb. No power?

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      The 3.5L EGG was more powerful than the 4.7L Powertech at the time (99-01).

      The 4.7 wasn’t out when the Prowler originally debuted either.

      • 0 avatar
        Polishdon

        It had power, but most people wants a V8. Perhaps, instead of “No Power” comment, maybe I should have said “Lack of V8”

        They had a concept Chrysler Howler that had the 4.7L V8. http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/chrysler/112_0012_chrysler_howler/

  • avatar
    65corvair

    The 1965-69 Corvair. A nice sized compact with a great suspension. A flat six (think 911) with two carbs, four carbs or a turbo. Think of a 3 series BMW type car in the mid 60’s. Not a muscle car, but a nice road car.
    My 50 year old Corvair still handles and rides great even when pushed hard. The steering with what power steering dreams of. Non power with no engine. Light, quick with tons of feel.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    I’d volunteer Saab’s late 90s, early 2000s cars, especially the 9-5. “HA HA HA”, everyone said, “You can’t have a LUXURY CAR with a FOUR CYLINDER TURBO! How STUPID! Nobody will EVER stand for that in a MILLION YEARS! Nope nope nope nope nope” …and yet here we are!

  • avatar
    BigOldChryslers

    I liked the Chrysler Airflow answer. Didn’t expect to see that one, and I agree. I’ll throw an even more unexpected answer out there:
    1988 Magna Torrero

    It was a $100k+ luxury SUV with an aluminum 8.1L DOHC V8 and 150mph top speed. Basically a Porsche Cayenne fighter that would’ve hit the market a decade before the Cayenne, if it had gone beyond the prototype stage.

    http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1430/5143369967_eef74f5dbc_b.jpg

    The engine was actually the Schubeck Eagle. Magna bought the rights to the design, which unfortunately tied it up when the Torrero project died. Automakers balked at the possibility of their supplier Magna possibly becoming a competitor, so the project was cancelled.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    The Lexus ES250. Consumers were not ready at the time to accept a smallish FWD luxury car from an unknown marque, which was just a rebadge of a basic Camry. No no, they said. This won’t do. Meanwhile, the LS killed it because it was large and RWD and V8, etc.

    And here we are today, in rebadge FWD small car land. People will do anything to get their hands on a luxury badge. It was 20 years too early.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Funny how once they revised the ES to look absolutely nothing like a Camry there was no problem selling it. The first-gen ES300 really was an appealing car. I remember sitting in one that a family friend had bought and thinking the build and material quality was amazing, and the styling looked really good.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Those ES300’s look just fine today, especially the later ones in two-tone and Coach trim, etc.

        http://www.clublexus.com/forums/attachments/es300-330-350-300h-classifieds/178583d1277946151-2000-es300-for-sale-side-1.jpg

        That’s a good looking car! IMO, they should have dumped the Cressida version in 1990, since it sold so few. Leave the Camry and V6 version as-is, then shift the Cressida over to become the “sporty option” GS300. There would have been a big enough price and size differential between it and the LS to make it work. Now you’ve got two solid RWD quality vehicles.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          No power in the ES300 though.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            No? Not equivalent to the VQ30 at the time? That one made 190hp in I30 form, and felt plenty quick.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I had an MY02 with 20K miles on it at the time. I hooned the hell out of it the day we were running it at BAA because I figured it was going away and why not. No power at all, I was shocked. We ended up not selling it so I kept for another two weeks and took it up 79. The power was barely adequate for a so called “luxury” car.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            It’s saying 210HP, so I’m blaming transmission fail on that. 210 should be enough to motivate that car decently.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Who knows. The car didn’t have any noticeable transmission issues and seemed to shift ok at the time.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          That second generation, IMO, doesn’t look nearly as good as the first. Too many straight edges and the proportions aren’t as good. (I feel the same way about the generations of Camry they were based on.)

          My favorite ES300 is the ’94. (Disregard the tan color.)

          http://media.ed.edmunds-media.com/lexus/es-300/1994/oem/1994_lexus_es-300_sedan_base_fq_oem_1_500.jpg

          These cars had 185 hp, not 210. The one I drove was quick enough but speed really wasn’t their reason for being.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            My 210 figure was for the later ES300, the revised bigger body style, which had the 3.0 for only a year or so before going to the 3.3.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            True, but a little grunt should be expected of a higher end car of the period, IMO.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Lexus pioneered that segment? I don’t know about that. I can think of two very successful midsize FWD luxury/sporty sedans that pre-dated the ES: the Audi 5000 and the Acura Legend. Both were based on family car platforms, as the ES was. Both were a bit bigger than the ES, but not dramatically so.

      So, there was a market for this kind of car before the ES – it’s the execution and pricing that set the ES apart.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I’ll give you the Legend (and it would be an appropriate entry here), but I don’t think the 5000 can count as a “success” in North America. It sold in small numbers until the unintended acceleration fiasco hit and then it sold in almost no numbers.

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          The 5000S was a huge success for Audi. It drove them to a sales peak that they wouldn’t equal for many years. One theory for why it became the focus of the sudden unintended acceleration farce was that it was a result of the 5000S having so many conquest sales from US luxury makers. People were used to the gas pedal and brake having their own zipcodes. They got in their new Audis only to discover that they were close enough together to be covered the the heel and toe of one foot. Chaos ensued.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Right you are – 5000s were absolutely everywhere in the first few years after they debuted. Sold like hotcakes.

            Audi had no higher rates of pedal mis-application than Buick or Oldsmobile. A case of media-driven hysteria if ever there was one.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            I read an article in Car and Driver that said the 5000S actually had the highest rate. The second highest rate was the Mercury Grand Marquis, which had a great distance between the two pedals. The difference was in the ages of the short women who experienced ‘sudden unintended acceleration’ in the two cars.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Acura Legend was conceived as a luxury car for both Honda and Rover. The Audi 100/500 C1 through C3 did not have a generic passenger car equivalent in Europe or the US. I think his point is the ES250 is a quick near badge job of the Camry, and that this is now commonplace among “luxury” marques.

        “The Legend was a result of a joint venture with Britain’s Austin Rover Group called Project XX that started in November 1981 with the Austin Rover-Honda XX letter of intent signed by the two companies to replace the Rover SD1 and to provide a luxury vehicle for Honda.”

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acura_Legend

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_Group_C_platform#C1

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        My segment is smallish FWD rebadge. Neither the 5000 nor Legend were small rebadges! There was no equivalent product available on the US market from a lower manufacturer.

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          Yes. The Legend certainly wasn’t a rebadge of another Honda product. There was no big, V6 Accord in 1986.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Well technically the *Acura Legend* was a rebadge, since it was sold as the Honda Legend everywhere else in the world. Because ‘Murica?

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            Said the biggest badge whore on the internet.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Unlike you CJinSD, I like and dislike cars based on their substance, not their badge. Some BMWs have impressed me enough to buy them, no Honda product has to date. Might happen, you never know. I NEVER say never. Well, other than Camrys. And Corvettes.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          I think calling the ES300 a Camry rebadge is more than a little ungenerous. Same mechanicals, but the styling was 100% different inside and out.

          Granted, it did have the same proportions, unlike the Legend that was actually longer and wider than the contemporary Accord.

  • avatar
    KrohmDohm

    I saw a VehicCROSS the other day and remember thinking it still looked very modern compared to some other CUV’s. I always had a soft spot for Isuzu’s(1st Gen Impulse!) and totally believe the VehiCROSS was ahead of its time. Slap two more doors on it and it would fly off lots today.

  • avatar
    FThorn

    AMC Eagle SX/4.
    Drops mic.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    1970-74 Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda. Had they survived five years later, they may have cashed in on the success that the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am enjoyed almost exclusively.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      Those cars arrived too late, not too early. By 1970, the Mustang had been out 5 years, and the Camaro/Firebird had gone to that fastback body style. While I love those Mopars, everything looked like an improvement on a GM design from three years ago.

      And the Challenger name did survive, as an awful Mitsubishi captive import.

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      Interesting. Most people would say that the Mopar E-bodies were LATE arrivals to the muscle car market. Plus, they would’ve needed a restyle ASAP to stay competitive, possibly looking like the Dodge Diamante concept car.

      The 2nd generation Camaro and Firebird, arriving in 1970, looked significantly different from the 1st generation. This was probably part of the secret to them hanging on through the 70’s.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    ’86 Buick Riviera. Touch screen in the dash controlling the radio and HVAC.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’m going to go with the Cadillac Cimarron.

    Yes, the Cimarron.

    Even with all the epic-fail execution, the concept – a FWD luxury sedan based on a small-car platform – was pretty much unheard of at the time. Audi sold the 4000, and that was about it until Infiniti did the G20 a few years later – and sold a crapload of them.

    But today, they’re commonplace. Even Mercedes makes one.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Honda Element. A finer Kia Soul but about 8 years too early for the boomer garden store contingent.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Well, a lot of have already been mentioned above.

    The AMC Eagle was certainly ahead of its time.

    The Aztek was a horrible implementation for many reasons pounded out all over the internet, but a lifted “wagon” five passenger vehicle with AWD that really provides a perceived improvement of safety in rain and snow, sold at a premium over it’s five passenger sedan counterpart? Ya – the Aztek was blazing a trail.

    The Encore is a modern version of a vehicle ahead of its time – look at everyone else jumping into the now very crowded subcompact CUV class.

    The CRX was ahead of its time. An almost A-segement sized commuter with gas sipping behavior, and fun to drive dynamics. Get it in the Si trim and fun, fun, fun. The Fiat 500 is a spiritual successor, even if it comes with a back seat (and the CRX didn’t). Look at all of the other B-segment vehicles out there that tap into the CRX spirit (again, with a back seat).

    The ’35 Stout Scarab is the spiritual great great grandfather to the original Dodge Caravan.

    I don’t think you can ignore the GM EV-1 as ahead of its time – and actually remarkable given the state of battery technology when it was brought to market. Makers are still struggling with a viable, affordable electric car that can go past 100 miles range and not have a sticker price north of $75K.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    I’ll say the Chevy Volt. Right technology, wrong company. All the benefits of an electric up to 40 miles, with no concerns regarding range anxiety. But too many people write off GM because of the baggage.

    As for the ELR, no one is paying $40K more for the same car with 2 fewer doors.

    If Toyota or Honda was making this car, the Prius would disappear from our roads.

  • avatar
    BigOldChryslers

    I just thought of another one: Pontiac Fiero. Pontiac engineers managed to push through a watered-down version of their original sports car concept for 1984 that eventually was improved and significantly redesigned for 1988, just before GM killed the model. By then the competition for sporty 2-seaters was ramping-up from the likes of the Toyota MR2, Honda CR-X and Mazda Miata (and later Porsche Boxster and BMW Z3 on the high end).

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    AMC Eagle, and all the 80s high roofed 4 door hatches- Honda Civic wagovan, the toyota tercel 4wd equivalent, the nissan stanza version, and the mitsubishi expo variant.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Vehicross looks so pokemon there! That couldn’t have been mere coincidence back then.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The Chrysler Airflow was obviously way ahead of its time. The Nash Metropolitan was, too.

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