Versus the competiton:
Isuzu has added four-wheel-drive and extended-cab models to its lineup of Hombre compact pickups for 1998. But you really can’t call these vehicles “new.”
What you can call them are examples of political life in an auto industry suburb called Cloneville.
Here’s the drill: General Motors owns 37.5 percent of Isuzu, which is a very big piece of the action. So, when GM redesigned the Chevy S-10 compact pickup and the virtually identical GMC Sonoma several years ago, it provided a mildly revised version of those vehicles to Isuzu to sell as the Hombre.
By sparing the Japanese automaker the expense of redesigning its own pickup, that kindly little gesture saved hundreds of millions of dollars for Isuzu — and major stockholder GM.
It also saved GM money by generating an increase in its compact pickup production. (Because of fixed costs, the more units you can manufacture, the cheaper it becomes to manufacture each unit.)
At first, Isuzu’s S-10/Sonoma clone was available only as a two-wheel-drive, regular-cab model. But this year, the Hombre is also offered with 4wd and the extended cab, which Isuzu has curiously dubbed a “Spacecab.”
What still isn’t available on the Hombre is the range of optional equipment offered on the S-10 and Sonoma, notably the third door on the extended cab model.
Actually, GM isn’t holding out on Isuzu when it comes to giving it vehicles with the optional back door. It just doesn’t have them.
“Between Chevrolet and GMC, we are already using all the third-door models we can build,” explained Dora Nowicki, an S-10 assistant brand manager.
So, maybe Isuzu isn’t getting a third door. It’s still getting a nifty compact pickup in the Hombre. It’s also getting some nice individuating styling touches inside the cab and out.
The exterior changes amount largely to a different front-end treatment. And for my money, the Hombre’s grille design is more attractive and more interesting than the ultraconservative nose on the S-10.
Like the S-10/Sonoma, the Hombre rear-drive truck is offered with a base 2.2-liter four rated at 120 horsepower, and an optional 4.3-liter, 175-horsepower V-6. When equipped with 4wd (as was the case with the vehicle I tested), the Hombre is available only with a 180-horsepower version of the V-6. In most cases, the engines can be fitted with either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic.
Like its GM compadres, the Hombre is a pretty price-competitive guy. The vehicle starts at $11,449 as a base rear-drive four with a manual gearbox. The top-of-the-line model I drove — a 4wd XS Spacecab with automatic — opens at $21,007.
The test truck was a pleasant driver. It was exceptionally quiet by compact pickup standards, producing little in the way of road and body noise. The ride was surprisingly good, given the fact this vehicle was equipped with a heavy-duty suspension. It also steered responsively, and rode and handled well. There was some body roll in the corners, but no more than you would expect from a higher-riding four-wheeler.
Instrument and control placement was well thought out, seat support and comfort was good, and visibility — as is usually the case with pickups — was excellent.
The Hombre Spacecab has rear jump seats that fold out of each side of the cab. Like the rear seats in any compact pickup you care to mention, these are cramped affairs, really intended for use only in a pinch.
The real use for the space behind the front seats is dry, secure cargo storage, not people-moving.
When equipped with 4wd and that husky V-6, the Hombre turns out to be a formidable off-road caballero. It feels agile, and takes a reassuring bite when the going gets rocky and muddy.
The Hombre comes with an exceptionally good warranty, including a 36-month/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper guarantee, a five-year/60,000 mile powertrain guarantee and roadside assistance.
Isuzu Hombre 4X4 XS Spacecab > Base vehicle: Part-time four-wheel-drive, 4.3-liter engine, four-speed automatic transmission, heavy-duty suspension, power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes, antilock braking system, variable-assist power steering, 15-inch alloy wheels, P235/70R15 all-season radials, full-size spare, battery rundown protection, 100,000-mile spark plugs, dual air bags, rear step bumper, theft deterrent system, daytime running lights, intermittent wipers, stereo, tachometer, cupholders, rear jump seats, cargo bed with two-tier loading, detachable tailgate, swing-out quarter windows, folding front bench seat with folding center armrest.
Test model: Air conditioning, upmarket sound system with CD player, sliding rear window, floor mats, tilt steering, cruise control, power windows, door locks and outside mirrors.
Base price: $21,007
Test model: $23,770 (inc. shipping)
EPA city rating: 16
Test mileage: 17.8
Warranty: Three years/50,000 miles bumper to bumper, five years/60,000 miles on powertrain, roadside assistance.