My first impression of the 2002 Isuzu Axiom was that it looked like a wagon on some kind of motor vehicle growth hormone.

There were four doors, five seats and a nice, roomy rear cargo area riding on sports-car-type wheels and positioned behind an aggressively styled, multi-tiered front end that looked ready for the drag strip.

I didn't know whether to take the Axiom to the grocery store or challenge National Hot Rod Association Funny Car champ John Force to a quarter-mile run.

My reaction was not unique. Auto reviewers of every stripe have been trying to pin down Isuzu's new long-roof sport-utility vehicle -- with little success.

The word, "axiom" is generally defined as a universal truth. The vehicle, "Axiom," defies definition.

It's an SUV; it's a big wagon built on an Isuzu Rodeo platform; it's a crossover that handles like a sedan; it's a crossover that can be whatever you want it to be, and on and on.

My time in the Axiom left two impressions: It's fast, and I felt every bump it hit.

The tested Axiom XS with four-wheel drive, a "Torque on Demand" system distributing torque where its most needed and a 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 230 horsepower certainly did not lack for power. In fact, it blasted around just about anything on the road and straightened out sharp corners better than most SUVs out there.

It's not that I mind bumps, but the Axiom did have a knack for unfailingly sending them up through the 17-inch all-season tires and into my tailbone.

At first, I thought it was just the "sport" mode of the suspension. And Isuzu touts Axiom's Intelligent Suspension Control system, with sensors monitoring vehicle speed, engine revolutions, braking and lateral G-forces and smoothing out the ride accordingly.

No dice. "Sport" mode or not and with all due respect to sensors, I did not notice that much difference in Axiom's ride over the long haul.

Bottom line: The ride is more truck-like than sedan-like, which is really no big deal out of a vehicle that you expect to take on off-road terrain with the enthusiasm of an SUV. If the "intelligent" suspension made any difference at all, it was holding the line on hard turns.

Inside, the dash layout was clean and simple; the amenities were pleasant. The standard interior package included automatic climate control, four-way power driver's seat with lumbar adjustments, an eight-speaker AM/FM stereo and cassette sound system with six-disc CD changer, 60/40 split rear bench seat with reclining and folding features and an automatic-dimming rearview mirror.

One of the best features in the Axiom is the dash-centered driving information screen. It actually looks different than what one finds in most vehicles. A pointed compass shows direction in three-dimensional style, plus you can get readings on the sound system, time, outside temperature and various mileage-based data.

An option package on the t ested model included leather/heated seats, a four-way power passenger seat, a power moonroof, fog lamps and chrome body side molding.

The manufacturer's suggested retail price of the XS with 4WD is $30,785, which might make some swallow hard. But there are some perks to be found behind the hardware.

The 10-year, 120,000 mile limited warranty on the powertrain ranks as one of the best in the industry. And the six-year/100,000-mile limited anti-corrosion warranty also is a plus -- although it probably has more appeal on the rock-salt-laden wintertime roads of the Midwest and Northeast.

Isuzu promotes the Axiom as a vehicle "in violation of the status quo," and that certainly is part of its appeal. Not a lot of SUVs look like it, and the power package makes it a more-robust performer than most.

If you crave a wagon but want something with a taller roofline, more cargo-carrying capacity and serious horsepower, the Axiom is probably right up your alley.

And if holding the line on the household budget is a concern, the Axiom can be had for less in other trim levels. The two-wheel drive model starts at $25,985; an XS 2WD goes for $28,305, and the basic 4WD Axiom begins at $28,465.

2002 Isuzu Axiom XS
Vehicle type: Five-seat, four-door, four-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicle
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6 with 230 horsepower at 5,400 revolutions per minute and 230 pounds/foot torque at 3,000 rpm
EPA fuel economy: 16 miles per gallon city; 20 mpg highway
Transmission: Four-speed automatic with overdrive
Cargo volume: 35.2 cubic feet with rear seat up; 85.4 cubic feet with seat folded down
Length: 182.6 inches
Wheelbase: 106.4 inches

Maximum towing capacity: 4,500 pounds (with trailering package)
Final assembly site: Lafayette, Ind.