- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

Isuzu finds itself mired in a Catch-22. Its limited product line doesn’t generate much in the way of sales, thus producing little revenue. Cash is numero uno on the list of requirements for developing new product and, without that new product, sales will continue to sag. It’s a dog chasing its tail with little hope of ever overtaking it, and this pup is running out of steam.

The two trucks Isuzu does offer are thinly disguised versions of trucks marketed by Isuzu’s Dutch uncle, General Motors.

There’s nothing wrong with a little badge engineering among relations, but in this case it may just be prolonging the agony. What Isuzu needs is a huge cash infusion; however GM, with problems in its own back yard, isn’t in a position to give Isuzu the help it needs. In the meantime, Isuzu soldiers on with the Ascender sport utility and the i-Series pickup truck.

Think of the Chevrolet Colorado or the GMC Canyon with an extended warranty period and you basically have Isuzu’s i-Series. Otherwise, there is virtually no more difference between the i-Series and the GM versions than there is between the two GM versions themselves.

This isn’t a bad thing for buyers of the i-Series. GM’s small pickups are solid in most respects. If you draw comfort from a warranty period somewhat longer than that of the GM trucks and you like your options lumped into packages, the i-Series is for you.

Isuzu doesn’t offer a regular cab version of its truck as do Chevrolet and GMC. All members of the i-Series family are either extended cab or crew cab configurations with air conditioning and an audio system. At the bottom of the heap is the $17,649 i-280 S. It, like the $19,649 i-280 LS, is an extended cab. Both are rear-wheel drive and are powered by a 175-horsepower 2.8-liter four mated to a five-speed manual transmission.

Moving up to a four-speed automatic will add another $1,089 to the bottom line. Other than the automatic tranny, all options come in the form of packages and only one is available on each trim level. On the S it’s a $699 Preferred Package that replaces the vinyl seats with cloth and the vinyl floor with carpet. A CD player is also included.

The top-of-the-line pickup is the $28,018 i-350 LS. Armed with all-wheel drive and a standard four-speed automatic transmission, this crew cab is propelled by a 220-horsepower inline 3.5-liter five-cylinder engine.

The LS trim on both the i-280 and the i-350 adds power windows and door locks, folding power outboard mirrors, remote keyless entry and upgraded seat coverings, as well as increasing the number of speakers for the audio system from four to six. Toss in another $1,839 for the option package on the i-350 LS to upgrade to leather seating, six-disc CD changer and several other interior enhancements.

While the inline four is really just bare-bones transportation, the five-cylinder in the i-350 provides plenty of get up and go. Neither horsepower nor torque compares to the output of the V-6s in key competitors such as the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma; however, it is sufficient to pull 4,000 pounds or haul around nearly 1,200 pounds of stuff.

Acceleration is brisk and the engine’s operation is remarkably quiet. The fuel efficiency of both engines is within segment parameters.

The four has an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 20 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, while the five is rated at 17 mpg and 22 mpg respectively.

While suitable for the entry-level i-280 S, the overall look of the cabin doesn’t quite live up to the promise made by the $30,000 price tag of a loaded i-350 LS. The front seats, though, are comfortable.

Providing wide openings, the rear doors of the crew cab make easy work of accessing the back seat where as many as three adults can squeeze themselves. Extended cabs are mated with a 6-foot cargo box while the crew cab’s measures 5 feet.

Compact pickup shoppers have a staggering array of choices.

Although the i-Series is a competent competitor, there is nothing elevating it above the rest of the pack.

An also-ran in a field brimming with popular entries, the i-Series must not battle simply for its own existence but for the very survival of the Isuzu brand. It’s a pretty good truck, but may not be that good.

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