Versus the competiton:
The first time you wheel a 1998 Trooper off the road, you’ll know that what you’ve got isn’t just another of those sport-utilities with a tough look that can’t do much in the dirt.
The Trooper has been sort of like the Japanese Land Rover – boxy, beefy and capable of slogging through all sorts of nasty terrain. Isuzu has made some effort to soften the Trooper’s utilitarian looks and improve it mechanically. There’s a classy looking, chrome-trimmed grille out front and a quiet, ultra-smooth, high-tech engine under the hood.
But aim the Trooper’s nose where the pavement ends and you’ll find that it’s very capable of serving as pack mule for camping trips deep into the woods, as well as for the daily commute to work.
Isuzu engineers reworked the Trooper’s engine and four-wheel drive system for the 1998 model year.
The engine still retains the dual overhead camshafts and 24-valve layout of previous years, but its size has been enlarged from 3.1 to 3.5 liters, and horsepower has been increased from 190 to 215.
Torque – the measurement of the force that actually spins the wheels – is up from 188 pound-feet to 230. Torque is important when the going gets rough off the road. The engine needs to be able to deliver plenty of power at low speeds in soft sand, mud and other types of bad terrain.
I found that the Trooper is a real trooper when it comes to off-road driving. First, you reach down and shift into low range, then you press a button on the dash to engage the Torque on Demand system. It provides traction to the front wheels based on the road surface. If the rear wheels begin to slip, for instance, the front wheels will get more power. The system works seamlessly.
Our test Trooper came with a four-speed, automatic transmission. The shifts were smooth and well-timed. A button on the console allows the driver to shift into “Power” and “Winter” modes. The Power mode lets the engine rev higher before the transmission shifts gear. This marginally improves low-speed acceleration. The Winter mode lets the Trooper start in second gear, which helps prevent the wheels from slipping on snowy roads – not much of a problem around these parts.
The suspension system is a bit too soft for my tastes. The body can lean a bit when you take a corner quickly. But the Trooper deftly handles bumps in the road. Off the road, the Trooper remains easy to control over small hills and through thick sand. The power-assisted steering has a tight, firm feel. And the four-wheel, anti-lock disc brakes stop the vehicle quickly.
FIT AND FINISH
There’s one thing I don’t like about the Trooper: its width. This vehicle is engineered for the Japanese market, where the roads are narrower than here and where parking is a good bit tougher.
Surprisingly, the Trooper isn’t as wide as the lower-priced Isuzu Rodeo, and it makes you feel a bit claustrophobic. The Trooper needs to be about four inches wide r.
The Trooper is aces in most other areas. The cloth-covered seats in our test vehicle were comfortable and offered plenty of support. You stay planted in them when the vehicle drives over big bumps.
The rear bench seat can be folded forward quickly and easily, almost doubling the amount of cargo room available. Because the spare tire is mounted on the tailgate, the cargo area is long and flat. A heavy rubber mat protects the carpet.
Up front, the Trooper gives the driver and front passenger an excellent view of the road. The gauges, though fairly plain, are easy on the eyes. The dash layout is conventional, except for the CD player. There is only one slot in which to insert a CD – as usual – but the player takes six CDs. It’s much more compact than any other six-disc player I’ve seen.
Our Trooper came well equipped. Standard items included air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and door locks, cruise control, rear windshield wiper and washer and more.
To me the Troo per has more of a trucklike feel than many other sport-utilities. But that’s not a bad thing. Frankly, I like the fact that the Trooper has remained tough under the skin. Our dark red test vehicle was screwed together well, and everything worked perfectly.
If you want to be a poseur, you’d drive a Lexus RX300 or a Subaru Forester – sharp-looking vehicles that look like sport-utilities but really have no business off the road. The Trooper offers the fancy looks and the rugged performance for a reasonable price.
1998 Isuzu Trooper
Base price: $27,800.
Safety: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes and side-impact protection.
Price as tested: $31,075.
EPA rating: 15 mpg city/19 mpg highway.
Truett’s tip: The 1998 Trooper may look a bit snazzier than previous models, but under the skin it remains true to its original mission. This is a rough, tough, off-road vehicle, not some gussied-up pretender.