While the sport-utility boom has meant huge sales and profits for many car makers, one brand that benefitted only modestly is Isuzu. Their Rodeo and Trooper SUVs just never struck gold with buyers. In fact, some critics, as well as part owner General Motors, want Isuzu out of SUVs completely. But the folks at Isuzu are determined. And the SUV they hope to ride to the promised land is the eye-catching Axiom. Has Isuzu’s time finally arrived? The folks at Isuzu call the 2002 Axiom a vehicle for the 21st century. And in keeping with that theme, the name Axiom was chosen from nearly 47,000 entries in a Website naming contest. Now that’s pretty forward thinking stuff! And that line of thought is fairly evident in the Axiom’s sleek, head turning exterior. Derived from the ZXS concept car, a massive louvered grille and fascia, topped by cat’s eye headlamps, fronts a profile with a rising shoulder line and tapered roof line that spans a modest 106.4 inch wheelbase, the same as the Rodeo chassis on which Axiom is based, before meeting at the vertical, one-piece hatch at the rear. But underneath the Axiom’s svelte 21st century skin, you’ll find plenty of traditional SUV engineering. Rather than provide Axiom with a unibody chassis like some competitors, Isuzu chose to heavily modify the Rodeo’s more rugged body-on-frame. The box-section ladder-frame is braced with 8 cross members for added rigidity. It connects to the road via a front independent unequal length A-arm suspension with torsion and stabilizer bars. While at the rear is a 5-link, coil spring design, also with standard stabilizer bar. The whole package is, in turn, governed by the second generation of Isuzu’s Intelligent Suspension Control. A dedicate CPU receives input from a multitude of sensors, and in turn adjusts shock absorber damping to control dive, squat, and body roll. There’s also a switch for selecting “comfort” or “sport” suspension modes. Riding on standard 17 inch alloy wheels wrapped in 65 series rubber, the Axiom delivers a solid, secure ride that is more sport sedan than sport-ute. The engine-speed sensitive rack and pinion steering is responsive, with a nicely weighted feel, but it could use a little more precision for turn ins. Powering the Axiom is the Trooper’s 3.5 liter, all-aluminum twin-cam, 24-valve V-6, but up-rated to 230 horsepower with 230 pound-feet of torque. A variable intake, pent-roof combustion chamber design and numerous low-friction tweaks make for smooth power delivery. With 200 pound-feet of torque at just 1200 rpm, and a precise drive-by-wire throttle, the Axiom is off the line smartly with a good 0 to 60 time of 9.3 seconds. And although torque peaks at 3000 rpm for off-road use, there’s still plenty of oomph left in the upper reaches of the powerband for pavement passing. The Axiom comes in 2-wheel and 4-wheel drive. 4X4s are equipped with Isuzu’s Torque- On-Demand 4-wheel drive system. This full-time set up runs in rear-wheel drive until wheel slip is detected. Then up to 50 percent of the torque goes to the front wheels. Ample ground clearance and a transfer case with low-gear makes the fashionable Axiom very off-road capable. Although, as our friends at AMI AutoWorld Weekly point out, ” The Axiom is comparatively nimble…but the suspension is designed more for a smooth-pavement ride than for boulder-hopping.” But then, when is the last time you took your SUV on anything rougher than gravel? The Axiom’s interior accommodations are anything but rough. Available in base and XS trim, our XS tester came with comfy and supportive heated leather seats with 4-way power for the driver. A power passenger seat is optional. The driver faces a leather-wrapped, tilting steering wheel, and a snappy looking gauge cluster that still conveys data in a concise, straightforward manner. To the right, the Multi-Information Display is a little more confusing however, with info for the stereo, climate controls, trip computer, clock, and digital compass. The controls for the stereo, with cassette and console-mounted 6-disc changer, and the automatic climate controls, are also integrated into a single unit. And although climate controls are silver, and audio are black, their close proximity takes some getting used to. Rear seating is adequate and comfortable for two adults, but three across is still a squeeze. On sale in April, the 2002 Isuzu Axiom will sport a price of $25,985 for a base 4X2. XS 4X2s start at $28,305. A base 4X4 will be $28,465. With XS trim bringing the 4X4 to only $30,785. Now, Webster defines Axiom as “a self evident truth.” And with its eye catching styling, rugged build quality, and pleasing interior layout, it’s pretty evident to us that the 2002 Axiom is the kind of bold step Isuzu needs to catch buyer attention like it caught ours.
Engine: 3.5 Liter Twin-cam 24-valve V-6
Torque: 230 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 9.3 Seconds
EPA Mileage: 16 MPG City 20 MPG Highway