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2004 Isuzu Axiom XS - Long-Term Update

Our "Cute" Isuzu Keeps Plugging Along

Ken BrubakerPhotographer, WriterAmerican Isuzu MotorsPhotographer

At a strip mall, a lady went out of her way to inform us that she thought our Axiom was "cute." We must say that this is not exactly the sort of thing a big, hairy guy wants to hear. What was interesting, though, was that she referred to our Axiom as a car-not a truck or SUV. In many ways she was correct because the Axiom has a low step-in height, smooth ride, room for five, and a carlike driving position. However, what she didn't see is the Axiom's surprising off-road capabilities. We have to admit that we've come to admire the little vehicle for its ability to scoot over less-than-hospitable terrain. Who would've thought that a vehicle that is part minivan, part SUV, and part car could be so capable off-road? Since our last update, the Axiom has covered many road miles in addition to a fair amount of off-road driving. It was even used as a pack mule for staff and gear at our Real Truck Club Challenge in Indiana, which was held at the Badlands Off Road Park.

While we're pleased with our Axiom overall, there have been issues. The vehicle has spit out two rear door seals in quick succession, requiring a pair of visits to the dealer. However, the most interesting surprise was when we found that one of the transmission mounting bolts had defected from the vehicle. We now know the cause of the creak/groan that was emanating from under the vehicle since the 600-mile mark.

Like we said, the Axiom is surprisingly capable off-road. The transfer case sports a 2.48:1 low-range ratio, which factored with the 4.30:1 axle ratio and 2.856:1 first-gear ratios gives it a respectable, but not earth-shattering 30.4:1 crawl ratio. The 23.5-degree approach and 24.1-degree departure angle aren't exactly noteworthy, yet the design of the front and rear polyurethane bumpers have resisted damage, even when we stuffed them into terra firma. The Axiom feels solid when bouncing down the trail, thanks to the stoutness of its box-section ladder-type frame that features eight crossmembers. Further, forward visibility is very good, and the Torque-On-Demand (TOD) four-wheel-drive system quickly responds to traction changes, sending power to the front and rear axles as needed.

Our time with the Axiom is drawing to a close, but we anticipate piling several thousand more miles onto the vehicle before it boomerangs back to Isuzu. We'll be in touch.

Previous reports: Oct. '04, July '04
Base price: $30,499
Price as tested: $31,184
Four-wheel-drive system: Two-speed transfer case with Torque On Demand in lieu of 4-Hi

Miles to date: 17,172
Miles since last report: 3,119
Average mpg: 19.1
Best tank mpg: 21.5
Worst tank mpg: 14.7


Hot: We dig the Axiom's smooth on- and off-road ride, which is created in part by the softly sprung front and rear coil springs. Frankly, we didn't expect this good of a ride from a relatively short 106.4-inch-wheelbase vehicle. We also like the standard Intelligent Suspension Control system, which allows the driver to select a "Sport" mode for improved handling. It really works well, and the handling changes are dramatic when the system electronically changes shock stiffness.
Not: Unfortunately, when passengers or cargo are added to the rear of the vehicle, the rear suspension quickly bottoms out on even mildly rough roads when in the "Comfort" suspension mode. We did find, however, that selecting the "Sport" setting alleviates the bottoming-out issues by firming up the shocks. Our other gripe is regarding the transfer case. While the TOD system works well under most circumstances, we'd like to see a standard 4-Hi transfer-case setting in addition to the TOD setting.

LOGBOOK QUOTES:* "The 3.5L engine proves that good fuel mileage and performance can live in harmony."
* "Still haven't gotten used to the HVAC controls. Too complicated."