You can look it up. Axiom: “A self-evident or universally recognized truth.” Now the truth is, I have not been much of an Isuzu fan. Saw too many friends, neighbors, and relatives suffer in the early 1990s with God-awful Troopers, tinny rust buckets that didn’t run very well for very long. Allow a change of heart. The new truth is, the Axiom has taken me by complete surprise. This is one rugged, powerful, solidly built SUV; a great combination of truck toughness, sporty luxury, and eye-popping engineering.

The eye popping starts when you first see it – and it does grab attention. I wrote recently that a wave of insect-like, exoskeletal vehicles was headed our way. Hear the buzz: This is one of them. From its truck-like, well-clad grille, along its sharply angled sides and roofline, it looks downright armored. There’s your exterior toughness. Inside, it’s a roomy swath of luxury. Spacious leather buckets up front with firm leg and torso bolsters hold you firm and high. The rear seat holds three adults with plenty of space. Headroom is expansive and there is ample space behind the back seat for gear and goods.

The ergonomics are well planned, with window and door controls on the driver’s side armrest; cruise control and four-wheel drive buttons on the dash just left of the steering wheel; and audio and climate control buttons big and easy to use placed at center dash. Myriad information is offered by a central screen, but I found it to be a bit confusing, offering up more than I wanted to know or could keep track of. And this being New England where the roads twist and turn ceaselessly, I still don’t understand the value of a compass (in this case a huge one) that tells me whether I am heading north, east, or southwest.

Isuzu has positioned the Axiom in the SUV/sport luxury market, and it’s a fine fit. To get there, they took the Trooper and the Rodeo, mixed and matched and fine-tuned, and produced a car that has some of the better traits of each and even better traits of its own. You get the ladder frame and the bouncing rear axle from the Rodeo, and you get the engine and transmission that move the Trooper. But in both instances, the package is upgraded. That means the ladder frame, with eight crossmembers, is stiffer in order to cut flex. And the 3.5 liter engine, with its intake and exhaust tuned, cranks out 230 horsepower as opposed to 215 in the Trooper.

I’ve found that 220 horsepower seems to be the cutoff point for engines that are asked to push mid-sized SUVs; push them up hills or push them as they haul moderate loads and midsize trailers. This engine does the job quite well, smooth and quiet in takeoff with a great sense of heavy torque kicking in not long after you top 1,000 RPMs. Further, when the Axiom is rolling along the highway, the engine settles in for an almost effortless haul, quiet in the cruise, forceful when asked to pull out to pass.

The automatic transmission (no standard available), aided by e lectronics, is a perfect fit for the Axiom’s mission. Grade-sensing logic software feeds information to the transmission so it does not “hunt” for the right gear when climbing or descending. The sensors tell it to stay in a low gear to hold you back on the descents or, again, to stay low and not upshift in steep climbs. The latter prevents that annoying habit of some automatics of shifting up into a gear it can’t maintain, shifting down, then up, then down. . . .

Also central to the drivetrain in the four-wheel-drive model is a Torque on Demand system that distributes torque front and rear as needed. Under normal conditions, the rear wheels do the driving in the Axiom. Torque on Demand sensors “predict” wheel spin, even as it monitors throttle, brake pedal, and the ABS system, and sends as much as half the torque to the front when needed. Both the grade-sensing system and the Torque on Demand were easily in evidence in a test over steep and stumpy logging roads – and also on lon climbs and descents on highways and country roads.

The ride, adjusted through “sport” and “comfort” settings, was stable and predictable. Because this is, after all, a truck, the ride is stiffer than a car, even in comfort mode. Keeping that ride controlled is the Axiom’s Independent Suspension Control System. Simply put (if such a thing is simple), this is a monitoring system that watches speed, engine RPMs, brakes, and G-forces. Using a hydraulic circuit system, it adjusts oil-pressurized shocks to control damping rates. The effects on the overall suspension – torsion bar, shocks, stabilizer bar up front; multilinks with coil and shocks in the rear – are solidly noticeable. Stop it fast, even on a downhill slope, and there is minimal nose dive. Turn it quickly to avoid a stump or rock, and body roll is easily controlled. Turn it quickly in a passing maneuver on the highway and it controls body roll for you. It is one taut, smooth system.All this, and a decent price, too.

Consider that in the XS 4-wheel drive tested you get all these things standard: limited slip differential, leather, heated four-way power driver and passenger seats, six-disc CD changer with eight speakers, power sunroof, fog lamps, auto-dimming rearview mirror, skid plates, all that electronic wizardry for suspension, traction, and transmission, keyless remote entry, and overhead console. For this, you pay just over $30,000 – not bad at all by today’s luxury SUV standards. No, this is not a lineal descendant of the tinny Troopers I so despised. I may even have to try out today’s Trooper to see how far it has come.

Nice touch: The four-spoke, tan-and-black, leather-wrapped steering wheel. Feels solid, says luxury. Annoyance: The loss of the storage space in the center console to the CD changer. In a rig this big, Isuzu should be able to find a more discrete spot, while saving the space for storage.

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