When I first saw the Axiom at the Los Angeles auto show in January, I thought Isuzu had a real winner on its hands. I was wrong.

The styling remains edgy and interesting, definitely a step away from the generally bland-looking run of sport utility vehicles. Plus, it was boosted by placement in the hit family film Spy Kids, promotions at McDonald’s, and a radio-controlled Axiom toy sold by Radio Shack. But the real Axiom has languished since it went on sale in March. According to Automotive News, only 2,775 Axioms were sold in the six months ending in August. The new SUV hasn’t come close to Isuzu’s monthly sale projections.

Radio Shack probably sold more Axioms than Isuzu.

What’s the problem? According to Automotive News: “The Axiom has become an illustration of how brutal the U.S. market can be when a small player with low brand equity jumps into the overcrowded sport-utility segment of 50-plus vehicles.”

Yes, indeed. That and the return of Joe Isuzu in TV ads that do absolutely nothing to promote the Axiom.

The ads do seem to label Axiom as Isuzu’s entry in the burgeoning niche of luxury hybrid sport utility vehicles, with Axiom functioning as a car, truck, station wagon or minivan. And since nobody takes these things off-road anyway, the ads seem to hint, Axiom compromises boondock abilities for proper road manners.

So, I expected Axiom to be a vehicle with some kind of carlike behavior, maybe something like Ford Escape or Toyota Highlander, which actually are based on car chassis, or the Jeep Liberty, which is built more like a truck. Besides, Axiom touts an adjustable Intelligent Suspension Control that supposedly takes the harshness out while adding stability and control.

I was disappointed. Despite its pretensions to being a sporty SUV that drives like a car, I found that Axiom performs very much like a truck. And not in a good way. The ride is rough and the handling ponderous. The rear suspension is poorly controlled, nearly bottoming out then rebounding unpleasantly over such things as curb cuts and speed bumps. The SUV stumbles over road imperfections and bounces sideways on irregularities in curves.

The suspension has two settings, “comfort” or “sport,” but I referred to them as “mushy” and “harsh.” On the highway, the SUV feels pretty good, gliding along in the comfort setting. But on a graded dirt road, easily passable by automobile, the Axiom felt very harsh and uncomfortably bouncy, no matter which setting it was on.

The easy dirt-road drive up from I-17 to Crown King in the Bradshaw Mountains became a grueling and unpleasant trek because of the rough ride. And the tailgate rattled.

There are good things. The V-6 engine is strong and smooth, and the transmission shifts nicely. Cornering is level and front-end dive under braking is non-existent, thanks to the electronic su spension.

But gas mileage is very poor.

The four-wheel-drive system is easy to use with a simple dial to choose between two- or four-wheel drive, and low-range four-wheel drive. Braking is just fair with some fade evident on the steeper downhill sections of dirt road.

The upgraded leather seats on the test vehicle were quite nice, and the interior is comfortable and accommodating, though legroom could be better for long-legged drivers. The dashboard is very good, with a video array for stereo, climate control, compass and computer functions that actually worked well and was easy to use, a rarity in my experience. The stereo is excellent.

The test Axiom was an XS model, which comes standard with a full array of comfort and convenience features, and a base price of more than $30,000. Base price is $26,595, which is a steep starting point.

Aside from a distinctive appearance and high level of luxury equipment, Axiom h ot performed up to expectations, neither in the marketplace nor on the road.

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