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Expert Reviews 1 of 7
By Tom Strongman
September 2, 1998
Generation X'ers rejoice. After a three-year hiatus, Isuzu's Amigo is back, ready to prowl the beaches or frolic on college campuses. Fold down the canvas rear section of its top and this stubby sport-utility vehicle draws twentysomethings as
inexorably as a bug zapper does mosquitoes (not with the same result, I might add). This half-convertible sport-utility vehicle is much more civilized than its predecessor because it is derived from the new Rodeo, which is built in Lafayette,
Indiana. It blends the safety and security of a fixed roof with the open-air fun of a convertible. Front-seat passengers are covered by a steel roof (with a pop-up, removable sunroof) while a folding, soft top covers back-seat passengers. Big wheels and
fender flares give it a rugged look. The base model, with a 4-cylinder engine and two-wheel drive, starts around $15,000, while the V-6 powered, four-wheel-drive version, like the test car, begins at $19,398. The Amigo's 96.9-inch wheelbase
is roughly 10 inches shorter than the Rodeo, but many of its mechanical components are the same. The 3.2-liter, dual-overhead-cam (DOHC) powerplant has 205 horsepower. Isuzu this engine's weight has been reduced by a compact cylinder head design and a
cast-aluminum crankcase. On the road, the V6 is smooth and lively. A variable-length intake system fattens up the low-speed throttle response while enabling the engine to breathe freely at high rpm. Keeping up with traffic is easy, especially with
the 5-speed gearbox whose shift linkage is light and positive. An over-drive fifth gear allows the engine to relax at highway speeds so you're not inundated with noise. The base engine, a 2.2-liter, 4-cylinder engine, is also a dual-overhead-cam
(DOHC) design, and it develops 130 horsepower. The V6, however, is the engine of choice because it is so smooth and peppy. Four-wheel-drive is selected by a dash-mounted switch, while a stubby gear lever on the floor is used to select low range.
While the concept of a soft-top off-roader is most appealing, actually putting down the top required more time and effort than I expected. Side and back windows have to be unzipped and removed before the canvas top is unlatched from the steel roof
and folded down behind the rear seat. Storing the windows so they don't get scratched or damaged can be tricky. I'm sure it gets easier with practice. The wide, center pillars of the top hinder rear three-quarter visibility, and the high-mounted
stop light that sits above the spare tire is an irritant when looking in the rearview mirror. From the driver's perspective, the Amigo has been refined. Controls are logically arranged and easy to reach. The noise level is reasonable for a
canvas-topped vehicle, due, in part, to the application of sound-damping, asphalt sheeting between the inner and outer dash panels, in the wheel wells and in the rear cargo area. Urethane foam has also been used in variou
s body pillars. The front seats are comfortable, and instrumentation is simple and legible. Given the Amigo's short wheelbase, it would be natural to assume that the back seat is too tight for anyone under 12 years old, but that is not the
case. Getting back there does require some gymnastics, true, but once there, legroom was adequate. Also, the back seat folds down to create a cargo space which can be accessed through the side-opening tailgate. Wider tread width front and rear not
only gives the Amigo a rugged stance, but it improves handling. It felt stable in high-speed turns, and part of that can be attributed to a five-link, independent rear suspension that also does a good job of soaking up bumps. The standard anti-lock
brake control unit is now lighter and smaller. Toyota and Kia both have similar vehicles, which indicates that drop-top SUVs are enjoying a resurgence of popularity. I can see why. Price The base price of our test vehic
was $19,398. Options included air conditioning, power windows and locks, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, in-dash CD player, limited-slip differential, 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, and fender flares. The sticker price was $24,007, including
freight. Warranty The basic warranty is for three years or 50,000 miles. Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers. Point: Clearly, the Amigo is targeted at a young audience. The new
V6 engine is smooth and responsive, and the interior is a much more hospitable place to be. Counterpoint: Putting the top down is more complicated than I would like, and getting in and out of the back seat is better left to agile youth.
SPECIFICATIONS: ENGINE: 3.2-liter, V6 TRANSMISSION: 5-speed WHEELBASE: 96.9 inches CURB WEIGHT: 3,668 lbs. BASE PRICE: $19,398 PRICE AS DRIVEN: $24,007 MPG RATING: 18 city, 21 hwy.