The 1991 Isuzu Impulse is a major departure from its earlier namesake.

As an automobile created around European styling, advanced technology and aggressive performance, this product from American Isuzu Motors goes the sports route in a big way for the '91 model run. And in Impulse XS coupe form, it has all the qualifications to be called a pocket rocket.

The car isn't big. But for its class it is mighty, offering features like a dual-cam, l6-valve engine, a silken five-speed manual gearbox, and a sophisticated suspension system co-developed by Lotus.

The Impulse has a power-to-weight ratio that guarantees something happening when the driver stands on the gas. While its engineering facets are known quantities, Isuzu has packaged them in a manner that results in a sports coupe going forward with verve.

The four-valves-per-cylinder engine displaces 97 cubic inches and puts out 130 horsepower. That display of 1.3 horsepower per cubic inch alone gives ample indication of the car's advanced technology.

It came to the fore when giving the throttle to the 1.6-liter engine in the Impulse XS that Bill Young, vice president of Dan Young Chevrolet-Geo-Isuzu, provided for a test car. The 16-valver was quick to rev, and there was much sound and fury to accompany the acceleration.

Give the coupe its head, and it will whet the appetite of individuals who want to do more than just hold onto the steering wheel.

The XS is ranked as a two-plus-two subcompact, offering at least the potential of carrying two people in the back seats. But the car is small to the extent that full-sized adults will find it difficult to be comfortable in the rear.

The front seats are comfortable, and everything is tightly grouped around the driver as it should be in sports-car form. Isuzu sort of pioneered placing controls on a pod that arcs around the steering wheel. In the XS, controls are within fingertip reach.

There is not a whole lot of low-end torque that goes with 1.6 liters, so slow traffic calls for shifting into third on occasion. In overall driving, a shift pattern of 1-2-4 for moving off the line in urban driving develops. For the suburbs, 1-2-3-5 is more convenient than going through all five gears.

The really spirited types will like the taut suspension. It lets you throw the car around a bit. The ride is firm but not harsh, keeping in mind the XS is not a big sedan. And there are some amenities thrown in to make it a quite usable all-year-round car.

The instruments are sunk a little deep in the instrument panel. I would prefer having them moved out a bit for easier visibility on dark days. And the car's interior designers have put the horn buttons out next to the wheel rim. Unless you are extra careful, you keep running into them at inconvenient moments.

Overall, however, the Impulse XS coupe is quite suited to young singles or as a second car for a family. And it's hard to quarrel with it being a fun car to drive.

1991 Isuzu Impulse XS

Base price: $12,049Type: Front-engine, front-drive, four-passenger, subcompact coupeEngine: 1.6-liter, 16-valve, 130-horsepower, fuel-injected, four-cylinderMileage: 26 mpg (city), 33 mpg (highway)Acceleration: 0-60 in 8.8 secs.Length: 166.1 inchesWheelbase: 96.5 inchesCurb weight: 2,411 poundsOptions: Air conditioning, stereo, carpeted floor matsArea dealers: Dave McIntire, Dan Young, Tom Wood