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2004 Isuzu Axiom XS Review - Long-Term Test

Gone With The Wind

Ken BrubakerPhotographer, WriterAmerican Isuzu MotorsPhotographer

Our yearlong test of the Isuzu Axiom has concluded, and our Crystal Blue Metallic machine has returned to Isuzu HQ for a happy homecoming.

There were three reasons why we wanted to test this unique SUV. First, its overall off-pavement capability surprised the heck out of the staff during the 2004 Four Wheeler of the Year test. Second, it sports Isuzu's remarkable new-for-'04 direct-injection 3.5L V-6 engine. Third, we wanted to shine a well-deserved spotlight on Isuzu because so far the company hasn't succumbed to the all-wheel-drive trend, and has unflinchingly insisted on installing a two-speed transfer case in its entire four-wheel-drive product line.

Over the course of the past year we've used the Axiom in ways most buyers probably never will. From prowling deep, dark trails in northern Michigan to crawling over the brutal terrain of the Badlands Off Road Park in Indiana. Of course, the Axiom has also seen a vast amount of general commuting as well as family hauling. And because it was based at our Illinois Four Wheeler Midwest Bureau, it also had to endure a relentless winter that regaled us with deep snow and brutally cold temperatures.

For the most part, the Axiom performed flawlessly. We did have a couple of issues that had to be resolved during our test, though. First, a pesky passenger-door seal defected from the vehicle. Twice. Second, a transmission-mount bolt decided to abscond from its threaded home, causing an aggravating groan/squeak from under the vehicle. Fortunately, the crack service technicians at M'Lady Isuzu in Crystal Lake, Illinois, repaired both of these items quickly and under warranty. Speaking of service, we adhered to the dealer's recommended maintenance schedule, which totaled $526.02 over the course of the year. This figure reflects the cost of basic oil changes and tire rotations as well as a rear-axle, front-axle, and transfer-case lube changes.

What we learned over the course of our yearlong test is that the Axiom is an attractive buy at its price point. Its styling sets it apart from other compact SUVs, and because it's an amalgamation of a full-frame truck, station wagon, and regular car, it can multitask quite well. It's sad that Isuzu has pulled the plug on the Axiom, but there are two upsides. First, at the time of this writing we found that there are still some '04s available on Isuzu dealer lots, and second, rumor is that the sweet, direct-injection V-6 will live on in future Isuzu products.

Previous report: July '04; Oct. '04; Apr. '05
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: 22,680
Miles since last report: 5,508
Test Average mpg: 19.1
Best tank mpg: 23.2
Worst tank mpg: 14.7

18,000-mile service: Oil and filter change; chassis lube; tire rotation; new fuel filter; transfer-case and front-axle fluid change; 27-point inspection; rear driver-side door weatherstrip replaced under warranty
Cost: $313.05
22,000-mile service: Oil and filter change; chassis lube; tire rotation; 27-point inspection; rear driver-side door weatherstrip replaced under warranty
Cost: $38.61
Problem areas: Door seal, tranny bolt

Hot: The snappy direct-injection 3.5L V-6 engine and its good return on a gallon of gas; fast-acting Torque On Demand four-wheel drive; lack of domineering traction control; effective rear limited-slip differential; great forward visibility; awesome four-wheel disc brakes; low step-in height; smooth ride; Intelligent Suspension Control system, which changes shock stiffness for comfort or sport modes.
Not: Narrow driver's footwell, which forces taller drivers to rest their right knee on the center console; Multi Information Display contains so much information that it's hard to read at a glance; rear suspension bottoms out in the comfort setting when cargo or passengers are carried in the rear of the vehicle; no 4-Hi transfer-case setting.

* "Drives like a car, but goes where cars can't."
* "Rides quite well for a short-wheelbase vehicle."