- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2001

Although very few auto manufacturers specialize in just one type of vehicle in the rush toward sport utility vehicles, Isuzu has been among the first.

Since 1993, when Isuzu jettisoned all its cars in favor of SUVs, the company has been refining and redefining its lineup of off-road models each successive year.

Pursuing the entry-level, low end of the SUV market with inexpensive models for Everyman, Isuzu recently decided to take on the high end by introducing the big, burly, luxurious Axiom, a crossover SUV. Isuzu's first tentative step into the carlike Infiniti QX4/Lexus RX300/Cadillac Escalade country is an aggressive one, offering Torque-On-Demand (TOD), an electronically controlled variant of four-wheel drive, and tons of other high-tech features. It has a 230- horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine.

Although along the way the company dropped a few models, such as the friendly little Amigo (revising it as the Rodeo Sport), its flagship Trooper is still proving immensely popular. It weathered a rollover accusation four years ago and garnered increasingly higher sales. In fact, to commemorate the company's 85th birthday, a gussied-up Trooper Anniversary Edition — with leather and wood-grained interior, and a grade-sensing automatic transmission came out this year.

Isuzu's 2001 models include the Rodeo and Rodeo Sport which start at $15,440 and $17,990 respectively, the Trooper at $27,170, the Axiom at $25,985 and the VehiCROSS priced at $30,350.

Here's a more detailed look at the lineup:

cRodeo. Practical and affordable, this compact-size SUV comes in three trim/equipment levels S, LS and LSE in addition to an anniversary edition. All have split-folding rear seats that can recline, a cargo capacity of 81 cubic feet, aerodynamic roof rails with cross bars, and a choice of two engines. The base S model with manual transmission teamed up with the 2.2-liter, 130-horsepower, in-line engine provides the best mileage: 19 city, 23 highway.

c Rodeo Sport. Performance-oriented for the more serious off-roader, this short-wheelbase, mini SUV model can go topless with a soft top or sports a hard top for wimps. Buyers can move up from the standard 130-horsepower engine to the 3.2-liter V-6 with 205 horsepower. An advantage of the compact-size model is its tight turning radius. A one-step tailgate release and a new integrated spare-tire carrier make it easy to load and unload.

c Trooper. Fifteen years old, this midsized SUV lives up to its name. For 2001 it is available in two-wheel and four-wheel drive in the entry-level S, the better-equipped LS, the more luxurious Limited, as well as the special anniversary edition with chrome sidestep. All models are powered by a 3.5-liter, 215-horsepower engine. The patented TOD system, assesses traction conditions and correspondingly distributes power to the front and rear axles, and assures that each vehicle with automatic transmission and four-wheel drive has on-demand all-wheel drive. The Limited version has a power moon roof.

c VehiCROSS. Its Star Wars design has found a home with young buyers looking for a high-performance sports vehicle that can take on all kinds of rugged terrain. The compact-size four-seater comes only in a two-door model but it has heft, weighing in at just under 4,000 pounds. The engine is similar to the Trooper's 3.5-liter, 215-horsepower except for platinum spark plugs and a sequential multipoint fuel injection. Its TOD continually evaluates rear and front axle speed, throttle position, and brake and anti-lock brake system activation, automatically readjusting the amount of torque distributed every 20 milliseconds. Drivers can glance at the instrument panel and watch TOD in action via an illuminated readout that shows when the system comes online and how it is distributing the drive torque. Among the VehiCROSS' other innovations is a competition-inspired suspension used by off-road racing teams. The suspension separates shock gas and oil to limit the loss of dampening, thereby providing a smoother ride. An Ironman version adds special badging and leather racing seats.

cAxiom. Isuzu's odd-looking Axiom was regarded rather dubiously when it first arrived, but its industrial look is no longer unique among SUVs. Looking like a cross between a station wagon and a SUV, it has joined the ranks of other crossovers for those who like to appear as off-roaders but never leave the pavement. A luxury model, it has a 230-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine coupled to a four-speed automatic transmission and TOD 4WD. A more luxurious version, the $30,785 XS, raises the bar with fog lamps, power tilt, slide moon roof and heated leather seats.

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