Isuzu Ascender 7 Passenger
The Isuzu Ascender returns for '04, but since it was not available for us to test last year, it was eligible to compete in this year's battle. However, this year the name has been changed to Isuzu Ascender 7 Passenger in order to distinguish it from the Ascender 5 Passenger that will be available later in '04.
If the Ascender looks vaguely familiar to you, that might be because it is a near clone of the GMC Envoy. Under the hood of the Isuzu comes either the Chevy's 4.2L inline-six or an optional 5.3L V-8, which also is available in the Chevy. Our Isuzu came equipped with the V-8, which produces 290 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. Mated to it is a four-speed automatic transmission. Up front is an independent front suspension that features a coilover shock, and in the rear, a five-link coil/solid-axle suspension.
What We Liked
The Ascender features a comfortable, roomy interior that makes for an easy place to spend some time. It also has a comfortable and soft highway ride that makes it a comfortable vehicle for long trips. Our judges also found the gauges to be well laid out and easy to read, and they appreciated the climate control system, which was easy to use.
What We Didn't Like
Unfortunately for Isuzu, there was plenty that our judges did not like about the Ascender. Thanks to pillowy-soft suspension calibrations, handling was poor on mountain roads--the Ascender became the automotive equivalent of a marshmallow as we tried to push it over twisty pavement. The brake pedal was also soft, leaving a dead, squishy feel when stepped on.
Our judges also disliked the Isuzu's steering, which was far too light and felt almost disconnected from the vehicle. The 5.3L V-8 produced power that could be described only as adequate. The transmission also seemed to hunt for the right gear among too few ratios.
Once in the dirt, things did not get much better for the Isuzu. In the sand, the Ascender almost instantly overheated, and had to be parked for our dune testing. On trails, great care had to be taken not to damage the vehicle or get it stuck. This situation was not made much better by the vehicle's running boards, which almost instantly became rock-modified. Unsupportive seats that made you feel as though you were precariously perched atop them let the occupants flop around on rougher terrain. Final Verdict
The Isuzu Ascender reminds us of a luxury car from the '70s. Just like an old luxury car, when asked to do anything more than a straight-line pavement cruise, it could not answer the call. If you are merely looking for a comfortable highway cruiser, it might be for you, but if you expect more from a vehicle, you likely will be disappointed.
Check It Out If:
You always wanted to drive your father's Oldsmobile.
Avoid It If:
Your drive involves corners and anything resembling dirt.
The Short Version
A 4x4 station wagon for people who hate station wagons, and an underachiever for nearly everyone else.