- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2001

Isuzu adheres to its philosophy of "still no cars" but with a vehicle that seriously approaches defying categorization.

Is it a minivan on steroids, is it an unconventional sport utility vehicle, or is it, in fact, a family wagon in disguise? It may well be construed as all of the above, but it is certainly not a car. In essence, it really combines the positive attributes of all of the aforementioned vehicle examples.

Axiom, according to Webster, means "a self-evident truth." The name was picked from a host of entries submitted in an Internet contest staged by Isuzu. Defining the proper slot into which the Axiom should be placed in the marketplace isn't really "self-evident" at all and might pose some degree of difficulty. A description, on the other hand, is actually quite simple.

It is a boldly designed transportation craft from its massive slotted or louvered grille flanked by cat's eye headlamps, past the pronounced wheel-well arches and uniquely asymmetrical windows and body sides, to the stylized lift gate. Despite Axiom's overall mass, it is surprisingly aerodynamic in its appearance. The "A" pillars sweep up to a roof line that tapers rearward to the reverse rake of the tailgate, with blacked out "B" and "C" pillars projecting the image of one gracefully arcing window area per side and contributing to the lean, mean (but attractive) form. The stylishly geometric, blocked-spoke 17-inch wheels add to the vehicle's aggressive stance. The interior continues the contemporary flavor of the exterior while providing more space and volume than the Rodeo, Isuzu's most popular SUV.

Axiom comes off visually as an off-road wagon with sporty attributes, while in reality, due to its exploratory capabilities, it is probably more fitting to refer to it as a serious SUV with designer packaging. The overall design exercise began with a series of thought-provoking concept show vehicles, one of which the Zaccar, contributed to the muscular bow, befitting an armored vehicle. Because of the Axiom's fresh new appearance, it's amazing that roughly 70 percent of its parts are lifted from the bins of both the Trooper and the Rodeo.

Power for the Axiom comes from a 3.5-liter. dual-overhead-cam V-6 that generates equal amounts of horsepower and torque 230. The engine couples only to an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. The actual drive configuration may be ordered as either rear-wheel or four-wheel drive. The latter features a Torque-on-Demand (TOD) four-wheel-drive system that allows the driver to choose two-wheel (rear) drive, automatic four-wheel drive, or four-wheel low (by means of a two-speed transfer case). Borrowed from the Rodeo is Isuzu's Intelligent Suspension Control (ISC).

Axiom isn't scheduled to hit showroom floors until early April. There will be two trim levels from which to choose: Standard and ES. Official pricing has yet to be firmly established, but estimates place Axiom in the mid-$20,000s base-level vehicles should be about $25,000 with loaded, top-of-the-line models ringing up for nearly $28,000.

There is no questioning the Axiom's off-road prowess it provides a ground clearance of nearly 8 inches, with an approach angle of 23.5 degrees, a departure angle of 24.1 degrees and a ramp break-over angle of 19 degrees. Isuzu's TOD system should empower the more adventuresome owner to tackle some pretty serious wilderness. Towing capacity reaches comfortably to a 4,500-pound limit in on-road scenarios, which brings up a point the Axiom's real forte is away from paved surfaces. Don't get me wrong here, it does quite well on the road; it's simply not as sporty as it appears it might be, since it will be competing with the likes of Audi's all-road, Volvo's V70 Cross Country and Subaru's Legacy Outback, which are all pretty athletic.

Power is totally adequate, shifting is smooth and handling is nimble and precise. The ride quality is adjustable through the ISC feature but could be firmer (settings consist of comfort and sport) on paved surfaces for my money (perhaps sport and sportier). Riding up front presented a pleasurable experience even in early prototype test vehicles. Rear accommodations, on the other hand, are somewhat less friendly with limited foot space once inside. Entry and exit are hampered to a degree by rear doors that should open a little wider maybe I'm just not the right size.

On the plus side, Axiom offers a premium eight-speaker sound system, an ergonomically pleasing instrument panel and a 10-year, 120,000-mile limited powertrain warranty to back up what is already a solid vehicle in an attractive package.

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