Isuzu has specialized in sport utility vehicles since 1993, when its last passenger car left the market. After producing the Rodeo, Trooper and Amigo through the 1990s, Isuzu has added yet another SUV to its lineup. Named in a contest that drew 17,000 entries, the Axiom displays a more curvaceous body than some of its SUV competitors. Designers were looking to obtain sedanlike qualities, said Scott Hyde, Isuzus executive manager of product planning. These qualities include nimble handling, comfort, appealing performance and dimensions that allow easy control. Body-on-frame construction is used, along with stiffened engine and transmission mounts. Intelligent Suspension Control is standard.
Manufactured at a Lafayette, Ind., plant that also turns out Subarus, the Axiom went on sale in April 2001. Prices start at $25,985 for a rear-wheel-drive model and $28,465 for the four-wheel-drive version. Base and upscale XS editions are available. Isuzu expects to sell about 22,000 Axioms in 2001 and 32,000 annually thereafter. Acuras MDX is considered to be the principal competitor.
Riding a 106.4-inch wheelbase, the Axiom measures 182.6 inches long and stands 67.2 inches tall. Styling began with a series of Isuzu concept vehicles in the 1990s, including the Zaccara and ZXS, which flaunted a knife-edge design. Sheet metal is said to be nearly identical to what was used on the ZXS.
Featuring an arched roofline, the Axiom has sculpted wheel arches over geometric-shaped, six-spoke, 17-inch aluminum wheels. The bold grille displays gaping air intake slots. Isuzu claims that the Axiom has a lower center of gravity than typical SUVs, but ground clearance remains ample. The front bumper is positioned at a height similar to that of passenger cars to minimize damage during a collision.
Seating for five occupants is standard, with four-way power adjustment for the driver and a split, folding rear seat with fold-down armrests. Isuzu says the Axioms interior is more like a European sedan than an SUV, following a sculpted theme comparable to its exterior. Because the vehicles hip line is lower than usual and matched by a higher belt line, windowsills are somewhat high. Options include a power moonroof, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, a Multi-Information Display with a satellite-linked digital compass and a 140-watt stereo system with a six-CD changer.
Under the Hood
A 230-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine teams with a four-speed-automatic transmission. The second-generation Torque-On-Demand four-wheel-drive system automatically transfers power away from wheels that are slipping and incorporates a Low range for offroad treks. A second-generation Intelligent Suspension Control uses multiple sensors that adjust shock-absorber damping at 17 different settings to suit various road conditions, and a dashboard switch selects either Sport or Comfort mode. The Axiom can tow as much as 4,500 pounds. Dual front airbags and four-wheel antilock brakes are standard. Side-impact airbags are not offered.
Rather brisk yet smooth acceleration can be expected from a standstill. Performance also is energetic for passing or merging. Excellent automatic-transmission response is another bonus, though a lot of downshifting takes place when the Axiom is subjected to serious upgrades. Shifts are clearly felt but are not distracting.
Despite a relatively firm suspension, the ride is quiet and pleasant, with hints of a sport sedan. But when the pavement gets unduly harsh, so does the ride, which yields more jostling than some occupants might prefer. Changing from Sport to Comfort mode in the suspension produces a noticeable difference.
Firm cushioning and moderately supportive seatbacks help to make the front seats satisfying, but second-row seats are less spacious and better suited for two people than three. Still, legroom is ample and foot space is adequate, though a passengers knees are forced a bit upward. The tan-and-black-leather upholstery looks and feels good.