The Axiom has been around for a while, and is set for retirement at the end of this year--but in spite of its impending departure, there's a significantly revised engine under the hood this year. It is still a 3.5L V-6, but it now features direct injection. This technology moves the fuel injector so that it is inside the combustion chamber, instead of upstream of the intake valve. The result is that a much finer mist of fuel can be sprayed into the cylinder, and at much higher pressure. Spraying high-pressure fuel directly into the combustion chamber helps cool the chamber, allowing for a higher compression ratio (10.3:1 versus the conventional engine's 9.1:1) on 87-octane fuel. A more efficient combustion process produces more power, upping the DI V-6's output from 230 hp to 250, and from 230 lb-ft of torque to 246. Of course, a more efficient combustion process also leads to better fuel economy, along with reduced emissions. The rest of the Axiom remains largely unchanged for '04.
What We Liked
Our judges found the new DI V-6 to be a zippy, frisky little engine. While the power was good, most of it seemed to be above 4,000 rpm. This meant that little low-end torque was available and that you really had to keep the V-6 revving to keep the Axiom moving.
The Axiom was also a decent trail performer, which surprised many of our judges. It has a decent amount of flex and it somehow always seems to find traction. These characteristics made into a billy goat, as it would scamper up most obstacles without even spinning its tires--all of this with open differentials and no traction-control system.
In the dunes, the Axiom performed well as it floated on top of the dunes. As long as the revs were kept up (and we mean way up), the Axiom could power its way to the top of most dunes.
What We Didn't Like
While the Axiom did a great job of finding traction, it was far too low for the trail, and would constantly scrape its belly or get dinged in the nose by even the smallest of trail obstacles. This left most of our judges lukewarm about its overall trail performance.
Almost all of our judges disliked the Axiom's HVAC system controls, finding them confusing. The Axiom uses a small display screen to show HVAC and audio functions, as well as direction of travel, date, outside temp and so on, and our judges found this to be too much info poorly organized into one area.
Other gripes also focused on the interior. Most of our judges noted that a surprising amount of wind noise made its way into the interior at highway speeds. The majority of our judges also disliked the Axiom's seating position, which was so low that it felt like we were sitting on the floor. Our taller judges (those over 6 feet) also found the front seats to be somewhat cramped, and many found their feet and legs cramped in a small footwell, and their lower legs squished up against the center console.
The Axiom is a mixed bag of an SUV. Our judges liked the power of the new DI V-6, but did not like the fact that most of its power and torque is found so high in the rpm range. While it was a competent trail performer, it lacked ground clearance. The interior also left our judges lukewarm. With these negatives to counteract most of the Axiom's positives, it wound up finishing at the back of the pack.
Check It Out If:
You're interested in a compact vehicle with considerable capability.
Avoid It If:
You're of more than average size.
The Short Version
It's compact, nimble and quick. It's interior is cramped, and it's engine will, we hope, find a more hospitable home next year.