For the last few years, Isuzu hasn't been much of a competitor in the compact-truck market. As the Japanese automaker focused on closing down its car division and improving its Rodeo and Trooper sport-utility vehicles, it virtually ignored its small pickup, letting it languish in the market without an air bag, four-wheel anti-lock brakes or up-to-date styling. Thanks to a massive assist from General Motors, those shortcomings have been addressed in the all-new Isuzu Hombre. The Hombre, built in America for Isuzu by GM, is based on the Chevrolet S-10 and GMC Sonoma pickups. Hombre wears different fenders and grille but is mechanically identical to the GM trucks. As with the GM compact trucks, the Hombre offers decent performance and a long list of safety features for a very attractive price. Isuzu was able to keep the price low by offering one model with just one option package. In these value-conscious times, it's a smart move by Isuzu. PERFORMANCE; HANDLING All Hombres are equipped with a 118-horsepower, 2.2-liter, inline four-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission. An automatic transmission isn't offered. GM makes the Hombre's eight-valve, fuel-injected, aluminum engine. In fact, it's the same engine powering base models of the Chevy S-10/GMC Sonoma. The engine runs smoothly and quietly, but it lacks the beefy, muscular feel at low speeds that you'd like in a pickup. In the city and on the highway, acceleration is adequate and nothing more. You'll find the shifter and clutch pedal easy to work, so driving in congested areas is not too taxing. The Hombre doesn't bounce much over the rough stuff. Its front coil spring and live rear-axle suspension system do a nice job of flattening out the bumps. The truck also takes corners without leaning much, and the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is tight and crisp. The four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes are strong. When the ABS system engages, you feel quite a bit of pulsing at the brake pedal, and you hear a lot of noise. But the brakes bite hard, and they stop the vehicle quickly. Isuzu says the Hombre can carry 1,200 pounds of cargo in the bed, and it can tow a 2,000 pound load. FIT AND FINISH The Hombre is a perfect example of the global nature of today's auto industry. The truck was styled in Japan, and GM stamps out the body panels in Brazil, then ships the parts to Shreveport, La., for final assembly. It's a winning formula. The Hombre has a sporty, contemporary appearance, and GM bolts it up tight. Even though the Hombre is one of the least expensive trucks on the market, you never feel as if you are driving a bargain-basement vehicle. The cloth-covered seats are of high quality, offering excellent support in all the right places. You can flip the seats forward to store small articles behind them, but the Hombre is much like a two-seat sports car - that is, there's n ot much storage space inside the vehicle. You'll find the Hombre has a very user-friendly dash. Because of the size of the truck, everything is compact and easy to reach. The buttons and switches don't require that the driver look away from the road for more than a second or two when it's time to change radio stations. The rotary controls for the air conditioner make it easy and quick to set the temperature. Our bright red test truck came with the XS option package, which adds a 60/40 bench seat, folding armrest, four-speaker AM/FM cassette, carpeting, tachometer and a rear bumper. Other options included air conditioner and sliding rear window. The Hombre comes loaded with safety features, offers a strong warranty, excellent quality, pleasing styling and good fuel economy. You get all this for $13,353. These days, that seems like a bargain. Specifications: Base price: $12,063 Safety: Driver's air bag, four-wheel anti-lock brake , side-impact protection, daytime running lights, front and rear crumple zones. Price as tested: $13,353 Incentives: None EPA rating: 23 mpg city/30 mpg highway Truett's tip: Isuzu's new compact pickup could use a bit more power, but it offers outstanding quality and superb value for the money.
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