Isuzu pulled the plug on its Amigo compact sport-utility vehicle in the mid-1990s. But it was relaunched a year ago with a redesign and some major fixes.

Chief among consumer gripes about the old Amigo: The fold-down soft top was a turn-off. With any convertible, it seems, it's the vehicle you want your friends to own, but you wouldn't like one in your driveway. So buyers can now get a hard-top Amigo in addition to the traditional soft one. But is a limited-use, two-door sport-utility vehicle worth the almost-$25,000 price tag? Maybe.

She: We're mixing cultures here, aren't we? The Japanese christened their sport-utility with a Spanish name that means friend. Well, I think that's a good choice. In fact, the Amigo is like an old friend who not only got a face lift, but corrected some character flaws. I love the hard top, which only comes in black. It gives the Amigo a secure, solid and quiet feel. But I worry about paying $24,435 for a vehicle with a virtually useless back seat.

He: That's because you're looking at it all wrong. Think of the Amigo as a coupe, and it's probably worth the money. In fact, these compact sport-utilities are really the coupes of the '90s for young singles. You get that sporty feel, plus you get to sit up high. And you can't argue with the 3.2-liter V-6 on our test car. It makes 205 horsepower and, mated to the four-speed automatic transmission, makes for a pleasant combination whether you're out on the open road or stuck in city traffic.

She: I gave the Amigo three stars, but just barely. I think it's a terrific vehicle for a single person who doesn't need to haul kids or a lot of gear. And who demands a cargo tie-down hook located between the feet of the rear center passenger. But there are compromises that won't appeal to everyone. You have to pay extra for air conditioning. You have to be a gymnast to get into the back seat. And, yes, the Amigo does have two sunroofs - a rarity in this segment - but they're the pop-up kind that have the plastic panels that you screw in and out - a real pain.

He: I still find your driving more of a pain than any flaw in the Amigo. In fact, your lack of smoothness behind the wheel just accentuated the fact that with the Amigo's short wheelbase, you feel every bump in the road and jerk of the wheel.

She: You were just mad because we didn't get to go off-roading in the Amigo. And it would have been fun because it's built for more punishment than I gave it with my "lack of smoothness." The Amigo's got standard skid plates and about 8 inches of ground clearance. That makes it very competitive with sport-utilities such as the Jeep Wrangler. In fact, it might be a cut above the competition. The Amigo manages to blend roominess, power and off-road agility.

He: The off-roaders will like the extra shift lever on the console to change into 4-low. And city slickers will probably appreciate the push-button on the dashboard to shift from 2WD into 4WD. Actually, I don't see why Isuzu just didn't simplify things and put both those functions into a single switch on the instrument panel, like some of the competition does.

She: I would have given the Amigo a higher grade if it would have made more of a commitment to safety. There's a nod there - standard anti-lock brakes and things such as front height-adjustable seat belts which are a blessing for shorter drivers like me. But there aren't side air bags or any feature that would extend Amigo beyond the pack when it comes to safety, such as adjustable pedals.

He: I like the fact that it's bigger than most of its two-door competitors, including the Kia Sportage, the Chevrolet Tracker and the Toyota RAV4. And it's not much smaller than a two-door Explorer or Blazer. With its recent redesign, the hard plastic top and that lusty V-6, the Amigo is one of the better buys in this market niche.

1999 Isuzu Amigo

Anita's rating: above average

Paul's rati above average

Type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, five-passenger sport-utility vehicle

Price: Base, $20,250; as tested; $24,435 (including $495 destination charge)

Engine: 3.2-liter V-6; 205 hp at 5,400 rpm; 214 lb-ft torque at 3,000 rpm

EPA fuel economy: 17 city/21 highway

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan (*Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower depending on coverage and driving record.): $1,127

Where built: Lafayette, Ind.

What we liked: Amigo is competitive next to Kia Sportage, Suzuki Vitara, even Jeep Wrangler; new permanent black plastic top makes for security and quiet interior; cheerful exterior; push-button four-wheel drive system; standard safety features like anti-lock brakes; powerful 3.2-liter V-6 engine

What we didn't like: Expensive for a limited-use, two-door sport-utility; you'll pay extra for air conditioning, intermittent wipers, power windows and locks; back seat is hard to access - and no way it fits five; Amigo would benefit from more handles; it's got two sunroofs, but they're the cheap kind; no side air bags