Isuzu's latest sport utility vehicle went on sale for the 2003 model year and replaced the company's long-lived Trooper. The Ascender shares its platform with General Motors' midsize SUVs. Even though the original seven-passenger Ascender is larger than a midsize model, it's smaller than typical full-size SUVs.
A shorter five-passenger version joined the lineup for 2004 and was powered by a 275-horsepower inline-six-cylinder engine. Seven-passenger models can be equipped with the six-cylinder or a 5.3-liter V-8. For 2006, the inline-six cylinder engine gains power, and GM's StabiliTrak electronic stability system becomes standard on all Ascenders.
In 2005, Isuzu dropped its other two SUVs: the Axiom and Rodeo. The Ascender's V-8 gained GM's Displacement on Demand technology, which automatically deactivates four cylinders when feasible to reduce fuel usage.
Five- and seven-passenger Ascenders come with either rear-wheel drive or on-demand four-wheel drive. The four-wheel-drive system has four modes: automatic, 4-Low, 2-High and 4-High.
Several option groups that are comparable to additional trim levels are offered. The LS package includes traction control, a limited-slip differential, a sunroof, a six-CD changer and a roof rack. The Limited package, offered only with V-8-equipped models, adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, side curtain-type airbags with a rollover sensor, power-adjustable pedals and a Bose sound system. Leather and Luxury packages are available for six-cylinder models.
Exhibiting a traditional two-box SUV profile, the Ascender features 17-inch alloy wheels, overfenders and bodyside moldings. The Ascender features body-on-frame construction and rack-and-pinion steering.
The extended-length Ascender seats as many as seven people, and the shorter model holds up to five. Second-row passengers get a 65/35-split, folding seat, while the 50/50-split third-row seat in the seven-passenger model holds two. The second-row seats have a flip-and-tumble feature for easy access to the back row. Ascenders have dual-zone air conditioning, power windows and locks, and a CD player.
Under the Hood
The Ascender's 4.2-liter inline-six-cylinder generates 291 hp, up 16 hp for 2006. Buyers of the seven-passenger model can step up to a 5.3-liter V-8 that develops 300 hp and 330 pounds-feet of torque. Each engine teams with a four-speed-automatic transmission. Maximum trailer-towing capacity is 7,200 pounds with the V-8 and proper towing equipment.
Daytime running lights, an electronic stability system and antilock brakes are standard. Two-row side curtain-type airbags are optional.
The Ascender isn't exactly a standout in the crowded SUV field, but at least it falls at the appealing end of the spectrum. Ascenders with the inline-six-cylinder run quietly and accelerate vigorously from a standstill. Handling is confident for an SUV, and the ride is quite compliant. The seat bottoms are somewhat hard, and the seatbacks have virtually no side bolstering to keep occupants in place during turns.