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Isuzu Offers the New 4WD Axiom

Fresh Bodywork on Proven Parts

Jon ThompsonPhotographer, Writer

Vehicle marketing these days has become a battle of niches. It’s a lesson that has not been lost on Isuzu, which has a perfectly acceptable line of four-wheel-drive vehicles. That line includes the Rodeo and the Trooper, and also includes the VehiCross, an odd but effective exercise in niche marketing—and, indeed, niche engineering—in its own right. But the Rodeo and Trooper, especially, are trucks, bless their 4x4 hearts. And while they continue to enjoy brisk sales, a component of the new-vehicle-buying public seems to be tending toward hardware with a softer, more car-like character. So Isuzu conjured up a new axiom: Some people who want SUVs actually want cars. And it followed with a vehicle to prove its axiom.

he vehicle’s name, of course, is the Axiom. Isuzu certainly had all the hardware required, so it started with what already were proven pieces. The company’s engineers stiffened and reinforced the Rodeo’s ladder frame, and then they equipped that frame with the 3.5L V-6, 4-speed automatic transmission, 2-speed Borg-Warner TOD transfer case, and rear-suspension componentry from the highly respected Trooper.

To that foundation it added an all-new body design drawn to provide drivers and passengers with an experience that is less truck-like and more care-like. Though a good number of SUV buyers buy their SUVs because they’re tall and provide a nice, high vantage place from which to view the driving environment, Isuzu has chosen to adopt a more car-like interior for the Axiom that places the hip-pivot point low, much as a car would, with a high window sill, much as a car might. Time, and buyers, will validate this strategy. Or maybe not. The other controversial aspect of the Axiom is its styling, especially its nose, which first-time viewers either loved or hated. “It’s polarizing, we know that,” said one Isuzu official. Indeed, it is. We’ll let you make up your own mind about that bluff, blunt nose, and say merely that Isuzu went out of its way to generally style the body to remind of us more of cars than trucks, especially the rear window and D-pillar, which seem suggestive of the Mercedes-Benz E-320 station wagon.

Given Isuzu’s strategy with the Axiom, its interior and amenity level is very car-like. The tasteful saddle-and-black interior is reasonably plush and comfortable, though we found the pedal positions a bit cramped for tall people, with the central console intruding into the space needed for the driver’s lower right leg. The amenities mentioned are all the usual ones—air, stereo/CD, and so on—with a couple that deserve more detailed mention. First, there’s a switch that controls the Axiom’s sophisticated 17-position electronic shock absorbers. The system, called Intelligent Suspension Control (ISC), is capable of tuning those shocks hundreds of time per second. The system has two positions—Sport and Comfort. We found Sport to be more to our tastes on the highway, and Comfort to be the better choice for dirt driving, but a little more rebound damping on both settings would have been welcome.

The Axiom’s transmission also has three positions—Standard, Power, and Winter. On some similarly equipped vehicles, it’s hard to find a difference between settings. Not with the Axiom. Winter lowers the shift points significantly, Power raises them significantly. More important than these electronic gee-gaws, however, is the TOD (Torque On Demand) transfer case. The system incorporates an electronic control unit, wheel sensors, software, and an electromagnetic clutch within the transfer case to sense wheelspin and to divert torque to the front differential as needed. So the Axiom can be driven in 4x2, 4x4 TOD, or 4x4-low. These positions are selected via a rotary switch mounted on the dash to the left of the steering wheel.

Our brief preview of the Axiom did not include difficult off-highway terrain, so we’ll have to reserve judgement on how well this newest Isuzu serves the needs of the enthusiast ’wheeler. But we will venture to say that if you’re a fan of the Trooper, you’ll probably do just fine with the Axiom. Particularly if you’re one of those who love, rather than hate, its styling.

Check It Out If:

You’re a truck loyalist who wants a capable vehicle that offers a softer more car-like


Avoid It If:

You’d rather drive a full-on truck. For you, Isuzu offers the Trooper.