The new Isuzu Stylus XS is one car that must be driven to excess to be appreciated.

After five days and 500 miles I figured out what the Stylus XS is all about: It loves to be driven hard, revved to the limit and shoved rudely into corners.

To drive the Isuzu normally is to miss the point of this car, which, if I am reading the situation correctly, is to give the person of modest means a car he or she can play with during and after the commute to and from the office.

Driven conservatively, the Stylus is a fairly solid, moderately boring Japa

nese sedan. However, it undergoes a complete transformation when the tachometer needle approaches the 7,700 rpm redline. The engine growls and roars, and the car happily endures prolonged spirited driving.


Isuzu's 1.6-liter engine is logging many miles these days. It can be found under the hood of the red-hot Geo Storm, a car Isuzu builds for Chevrolet and the Storm's brother, the Isuzu Impulse. A heavily modified turbo charged version of the engine is under the bonnet of the new $39,000 Lotus Elan sports car.

The test car was equipped with a five-speed transmission. If you are the type of driver who likes to extract the maximum performance from all four cylinders, then only a manual transmission will do in the Stylus. However, the car's manual gearbox, clutch and shifter could stand some refinement.

In fourth gear at about 4,500 rpm, the engine sounds buzzy and you instinctively shift into fifth. Problem is, if you need a quick burst of speed, you have to downshift to fourth gear or even third because 4,500 rpm in fifth gear equals about 45 mph and there's no power. Also, the shifter clunked when engaging first gear.

The clutch is very inflexible: It's either engaged or disengaged- there's little middle ground and that makes smooth shifting difficult. However, one doesn't notice these traits when driving the car hard.

Automotive magazineshave tested the Stylus XS and clocked 0 to 60 mph times in the nine-second range. You might think that isn't too impressive, but the Stylus is a four-door sedan equipped with a fairly small engine, only 97 cubic inches. Viewed in that context, it still isn't stellar performance, but it is respectable. So is 27 miles per gallon, which is what I logged in combined city-highway driving using the air conditioner.


The Isuzu wears a British Racing Green badge that proclaims ''Handling by Lotus.'' The English sports car company has done an excellent job with the car's suspension system. In fact, the Stylus' ride and handling were the car's best features.

Though the Stylus has stiff springs and shocks, it doesn't shudder and rattle over rough terrain. When winding up the engine in first or second gear you'll experience minor torque steer, but it isn't too bad.

The car sticks to the road even in the tightest of curves without so much as a protest from the tires. You might experience a bit of understeer, but it's difficult to lose control.

The XS features four-wheel power disc brakes and power steering, which I rate as good and excellent, respectively.

The Stylus XS is loaded with a fair amount of standard equipment and power accessories.

Power windows, door locks and mirrors, air conditioning and a superb AM/FM cassette come with the package as do alloy wheels, fog lamps and a spoiler on the trunk lid.

I never could get used to the awkward placement of the window switches. They are located on the door armrest and are not lighted and not easy to use unless you search for them.

The cloth bucket seats were comfortable, and rear passengers are apt to find enough head-and legroom to stay happy. The rear seat splits and folds forward for extra storage space. The trunk is a bit on the small side and is somewhat shallow. It will hold the equivalent of three grocery bags and not much else.

The test car had a nasty gremlin. An electrical problem in the fuel-injection system caused the vehicle to stall. A trip to the dealership sidelined the car for two days. The problem was fixed, but another soon surfaced. Sometimes the idle speed stuck at 2,500 rpm before slowing returning to normal.

It's clear that Stylus XS isn't for everyone. It is intended for those who like sports car performance in a small sedan and don't mind a few uncivilized mannerisms.