Eccentric SUVs On the Road Weekly Publication

By Jim Gorzelany

CTW Features

With a lineage dating back to the original rough-and-tumble World War II military Jeep, the sport-utility vehicle market shows no signs of retreating, even if most models have gone soft in the guise of car-based crossover models. As a sign of their enduring popularity, exotic automakers Maserati and Bentley recently announced their intentions to sell luxury SUVs of their own in the coming years.

Of course mere entry into the SUV segment is no guarantee of success. Automotive history is scattered with the remains of some truly oddball models, many of which came to market riding the SUV wave that crested in the 1990s. For those who think current entries like the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet convertible SUV and the curiously fish-shaped BMW X6 and Acura ZDX crossover models are peculiar, we present our choices for what we feel are the half-dozen strangest SUVs ever:

Pontiac Aztek: For better or worse, the Aztek has come to be regarded as the SUV equivalent of the Ford Edsel and makes many lists of the worst cars of all time. Mechanically related to the Buick Rendezvous crossover when it was introduced in 2001, the Aztek was Pontiac’s attempt to redefine the traditional SUV design for younger buyers. The result looked like it was assembled from random bits of bodywork. Beyond its screwball styling the Aztek worked well enough and could be fitted with accessories that allowed it to double as a camper. It passed peacefully into automotive oblivion after the 2005 model year.

Suzuki X-90: At a time when buyers were flocking to four-door SUVs for their family-friendly versatility, the X-90 debuted for the 1996 model year as a two-seat compact model with a removable T-shaped roof and a smallish closed trunk. The X-90 proved to be a sales flop and was discontinued after just two years on the market. It’s perhaps best recognized as a promotional vehicle for Red Bull energy drinks, modified with a giant can of the beverage mounted on the vehicle’s back end.

Volkswagen Thing: Reportedly prompted by the popularity of Volkswagen Beetle-based dune buggies, VW imported what it dubbed the Thing to the U.S. market in 1972 as a durable, fun, off-road-capable vehicle. It was based on a small military vehicle of the day and possessed a certain Neanderthal charm, coming with a folding cloth top, removable doors and a bare-metal interior. It was discontinued in the U.S. after the 1974 model year, falling victim to spoilsport federal vehicle safety standards.

Isuzu VehiCROSS: The idea of an expressively styled and sporty two-door SUV probably seemed like a good idea when the VehiCROSS was introduced in 1999. Unfortunately, a mish mash amalgam of curves and plastic bolt-on body panels made this unfortunate Isuzu look like it came out of a box labeled “my first building kit.” It shared its underpinnings and mechanicals with the Isuzu Trooper, which made it an off-road-worthy vehicle, but it proved ungainly around town and was a poor alternative to a bona fide sporty car. Slow sales triggered its demise after a brief three-year run.

Lamborghini LM002: Now this was a piece of work. The LM002 – nicknamed the “Rambo Lambo” – was over the top in virtually all respects when it debuted in 1986. It ran on a go-anywhere 4X4 chassis and packed a V-12 engine it shared with the low-slung Lamborghini Countach sports car. It was popular among wealthy Saudi sheiks for its ability to conquer desert terrain, and some reports claimed the LM002 could accommodate gun turrets for such owners to defend their territory. It was sold in small numbers through 1993.


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