Isuzu's Amigo is your friend if you want a two-door SUV with agile handling and the ability to tackle off-road trails.Two-door SUVs have a dedicated, but rather small, customer base of active, outdoor types who have gear to haul around. The Amigo's 96.9-inch wheelbase is 10 inches shorter than the four-door Rodeo, and that makes it more maneuverable both on and off road. It turns tighter, reacts quicker and fits into smaller spaces. Plus, it looks sporty, and I suspect that's a major factor for young buyers who don't want to drive a vehicle that looks like it could belong to their parents. From a design perspective, the Amigo and Rodeo are identical from the windshield pillars forward. The Amigo's roof extends only over the front seats, leaving the back seats to be covered by either a folding, soft cloth top or a fiberglass hard top, which is how our test vehicle was configured. I remember from driving other Amigos that folding down the cloth top was not all that easy, and putting it up was even harder. Plus, for urban living, the cloth top is not nearly as secure. The hard top is quieter, as well, which is a benefit. Amigos can be powered by one of two engines: a 130-horsepower, 2.2-liter, four-cylinder and the more popular 3.2-liter, 205-horsepower V6. The aluminum DOHC V6 is loaded with technology, such as a crankshaft that has six bolts for each main bearing and ignition-coil igniters mounted directly on each spark plug. In order to give the engine power at both low and high speeds, Isuzu has employed variable-length intake ducts that change with engine speed. On the road, this engine has a minimum of vibration and more than enough power for pulling up hills, passing slower vehicles or just scooting away from a stop. Four-wheel drive is a shift-on-the-fly system, although the vehicle has to be stopped to engage low range. Brakes are four-wheel disc with anti-lock on four-wheel drive and a disc/drum setup on two-wheel drive. Like the Rodeo, Amigo uses a body-on-frame construction more akin to a pickup than a carlike unibody SUV. It is built in Lafayette, Ind. The suspension layout is fairly typical and trucklike: dual-wishbone layout in front and a solid rear axle in back. The solid axle is tough and dependable for off-road work, but, combined with the short wheelbase, the ride is pretty choppy over bad pavement. To improve ride quality, coil springs are used at all four corners. This year Isuzu offers Intelligent Suspension Control (ISC). This system uses a computer and various sensors throughout the vehicle to make on-the-fly adjustments to the shock absorbers according to driving conditions, or the Sport setting can be selected manually with a button on the console. I found Sport to be a tad too firm for pavement work, but it might be fine off-road. Because of ISC, the vehicle sits flatter in turns, doesn't bounce as much ov er big bumps and generally rides more like a car than a truck. There is some tire noise on highway expansion joints, but in general, ISC smooths out the ride while enhancing maneuverability by subduing body roll in turns and front-end dive while braking. ISC is part of the Ironman option package ($962). The cabin feels a tad small, even though there is room for two passengers in back. Getting into the back seat is a bit of a chore because there is no back door, and the short wheelbase robs space from behind the back seat for hauling junk. The side-opening tailgate also contains the spare tire, and it sticks up into the back window. Add to that the bulk of the rear-seat headrests and vision out the back was not very good. The gauges have new graphics this year and a six-disc, in-dash CD player is optional. The sound quality was only average, however. To reduce engine and road noise, Isuzu uses two-sided panels filled with asphalt sheeting on the inner and out er da sh panels, inside wheel wells and in the cargo area. Body pillars are filled with foam, too. This attention to noise reduction was helpful, but a cloth-topped Amigo would still be fairly loud. The hard top is not. In an impressive move, Isuzu has lengthened its powertrain warranty to 10 years or 120,000 miles, the longest in America. Price
The Amigo's base price is $18,215. Add air conditioning, power locks, power windows, power mirrors, remote keyless entry, cargo net, fog lamps, 16-inch alloy wheels and Intelligent Suspension Control and the sticker price is $22,312. Warranty
Three years or 50,000 miles. The powertrain warranty is for 10 years or 120,000 miles. Point: This Amigo's strength is the short wheelbase that enhances maneuverability, especially on off-road trails. The computer-controlled suspension provides a smoother, flatter ride than before. The exterior has been freshened up to look the same as the Rodeo. Counterpoint: The Amigo's cabin feels snug, the spare tire and rear-seat headrests interfere with rear vision and cargo space is tight unless the second seat is folded down. SPECIFICATIONS: Engine: 3.2-liter V6
Wheelbase: 96.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,975 lbs.
Base price: $18,215
As driven: $22,312
Mpg rating: 16 city, 19 hwy.
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