Vehicle Overview
Isuzu’s latest sport utility vehicle went on sale during the 2003 model year to replace the company’s long-lived Trooper. The Ascender is built on the same platform as GM’s extended-length midsize SUVs, including the Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT and GMC Envoy XL.

Even though the Ascender is larger than a midsize model, it’s smaller than typical full-size SUVs. Isuzu calls it the “ideal size;” it comes equipped with three rows of seats that hold seven people.

A shorter five-passenger version joins the lineup for 2004 and is based on the regular-length Chevrolet TrailBlazer; production begins in January 2004. It will be powered by a standard 275-horsepower inline-six-cylinder engine. The seven-passenger models may be equipped with the six-cylinder power plant or a 5.3-liter V-8.

Three seven-passenger trim levels are available: S, LS and Limited. Five-passenger Ascenders will be offered in only one S trim level, but option packages that include LS, Leather and Luxury are available.

The Ascender may have two-wheel drive (with traction control) or on-demand four-wheel drive. The four-wheel-drive system has four modes: automatic, 4-Low for hard going, 2-High and 4-High. Limited and LS models include a locking rear differential.

Isuzu marketers refer to the “bold, commanding presence” of the seven-passenger Ascender. It features 17-inch alloy wheels, overfenders, bodyside moldings and a long, 129-inch wheelbase. The seven-passenger Ascender is 207.6 inches long overall and 75.5 inches tall.

Built with body-on-frame construction, the Ascender has rack-and-pinion steering and a standard premium ride suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers. A roof rack is standard. The Limited features running boards and special monotone paint. A power moonroof is included on the LS and Limited models.

The extended-length Ascender seats seven people, while the shorter new model holds five. Second-row passengers get a 65/35-split, folding seat, while the 50/50 third-row seat holds two. The second-row seats have a flip-and-tumble feature for easy access to the back row. All rear seats fold flat to create a cargo volume of 100.2 cubic feet.

All models come with dual-zone air conditioning, power windows and locks, power heated mirrors and a Premium Bose sound system with a CD player.

Under the Hood
A 4.2-liter dual-overhead-cam inline-six-cylinder engine generates 275 hp and 275 pounds-feet of torque in the base S model. Buyers of the seven-passenger model can step up to an LS or Limited, which is equipped with a 5.3-liter V-8 that develops 290 hp and 325 pounds-feet of torque. Each engine teams with a four-speed-automatic transmission. The trailer-towing capacity reaches 5,500 pounds with the inline-six and 7,200 pounds with the V-8. Two-wheel-drive LS and Limited models include traction control, which is optional on the S edition.

Three-point seat belts are installed in all seven seating positions. An anti-theft engine immobilizer, daytime running lights, antilock brakes and side-impact airbags are standard.

Driving Impressions
The Ascender isn’t exactly a standout in the crowded SUV field, but at least it falls at the appealing end of the spectrum. The smooth six-cylinder Ascender runs quietly and accelerates vigorously from a standstill. Handling is confident for an SUV, and the ride is quite cushiony. The seat bottoms are somewhat hard, and the seatbacks have virtually no side bolstering to keep occupants from leaning in turns.

Reported by Jim Flammang  for;
Posted on 8/27/03