Good value in a basic hauler. by Don Fuller
With all the upgrading, upscaling and upleveling going on in the truck business these days it would be easy to ignore the fundamental premise of why someone might want a pickup in the first place: to haul stuff around, be reliable and not cost too much money.
It's this back-to-basics concept that defines the Isuzu Hombre and its mission. Not the fanciest, nor the most powerful, nor the most loaded with options, the Hombre offers honest truck-hauling at an affordable price.
The Hombre is a new model on the market, but that doesn't mean it will take time to work the bugs out. The Hombre is built by General Motors, in Shreveport, Louisiana, and is, with some exceptions, a mechanical twin of the Chevrolet S-10 and GMC Sonoma compact pickups. That means it's a proven commodity.
Even though it's mechanically the same as the S-10/Sonoma, it has a different look, as the Isuzu designers have given the Hombre its own front-end styling treatment. It's also contented differently, with an option list that's reined-in somewhat from that offered on the GM models. Put this together and you've got a sensible, reliable pickup that won't rip the seams out of even a modest budget.
The Hombre is offered in two body styles and two trim levels: the regular cab in S and XS trim, and the extended Spacecab in XS trim only.
There are two engine choices: Standard is a 2.2- liter ohv four-cylinder, rated at 118 horsepower and 130 lb-ft of torque, which only comes with a five-speed manual transmission. The optional 4.3-liter OHV V-6 rated at 175 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque is available only on the Spacecab and only with a four-speed automatic transmission.
For this report we examined a Spacecab XS with the V-6 automatic.
Standard equipment included four-wheel anti-lock brakes, driver's side airbag, power steering, AM/FM stereo with clock, and dual auxiliary power outlets. With the Spacecab model and XS trim level the standard equipment list is bolstered with a 60/40 split folding front bench seat, folding center armrest and cut-pile carpeting.
In addition to the three-year/50,000-mile basic warranty, the Hombre is covered with a five-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance program.
Available options are grouped into packages that cost less than those options priced individually. The Preferred Equipment Package includes air conditioning, an audio system upgrade with compact disc player and premium speakers, sliding rear window, tachometer and floor mats; individually, all these items would cost $1496 but in the package they come to $1151. The Power Package consists of power windows, door locks and outside mirrors; individually these items are $630, but the package cost is $530. And the Convenience Package includes tilt steering wheel and cruise control; individually the cost would be $525, but the package cost is $425. The total savings of these three packages together, for example, would be $545, a substantial amount.
The Hombre's mechanical layout is straightforward: in the front, an independent suspension of upper and lower control arms, and in the rear a live axle on leaf springs. There's an optional Performance Package, which is included at no charge on the XS V-6 Spacecab. It consists of heavier-duty springs for increased trailer towing capacity and, if the vehicle is equipped with the four-cylinder engine, a change in the rear axle ratio from 3.73:1 to 4.10:1, which helps with pulling heavy loads. With it, the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) goes up to 4600 pounds, from 4200 with the base four-cylinder and 4400 with the V-6. Trailer towing capacity is 2000 pounds with the four-cylinder engine and 5000 pounds with the V-6.
We think the Hombre offers attractive pricing. The base price comes to only $11,484. The Spacecab XS we drove retails for $17,068. It came with the V-6 and automatic, but not much else -- it didn't even have air conditioning. Even a fully loaded Hombre should be under $20,000, however.
A word here about the V-6 engine: those familiar with the GM compact trucks will note they are offered with a couple of versions of this same 4.3-liter V-6, but they're rated at 180 hp and 190 hp. The Hombre's engine is rated slightly lower than those in the Chevy and GMC models, but it still pulls strongly and with enough torque for the kind of work a truck is likely to experience.
The Inside Story
The interior appointments in the Hombre are about mid-level. The cloth upholstery is decent, the sunvisors extend for extra protection against glare and there are two additional 12-volt power outlets to run a cellular phone, radar detector or other accessories.
Legroom and headroom for the driver and right-side passenger are adequate, except the passenger's footwell has an unfortunate hump we've come to know and hate in other GM-engineered products that accommodates the catalytic converter.
The design of the Spacecab's split folding front bench seat may discourage people from sitting in the middle. The cushion, in the center, is shorter to make space for a dual cupholder that's built into the forward edge of the seat. When the small, center backrest is folded forward it acts as a center armrest, so the cupholders make sense. But if someone is forced to ride in the center, that person won't have either a full backrest or a full cushion, and his or her knees will be over the cupholder.
Behind the front seats of the Spacecab there's a fairly flat floor, so stowing toolboxes or luggage should be easy. In the rear wall of the cab there's a handy compartment that houses the jack and tools.
We have one gripe about the rear of the Hombre's cabin: the side-facing, fold-down rear seats are uncomfortable and awkward for adults and children. This same gripe applies to many extended-cab trucks, including Chevy and GMC compact pickups, Ford Ranger and Mazda B-Series pickups. We prefer a simple, forward-facing rear bench seat, even if it is small, because it makes a much better spot for briefcases and other items.
Ride and Drive
The Hombre feels like a truck, rather than a car with a big box in back. With that in mind, we'll say that it rides and drives like a truck and would never confuse anyone in a blindfold test into thinking it's a luxury sedan. While the ride motions are predictably truck-like when empty, we wouldn't expect it to be much better unless the cargo box was carrying a heavy load.
The Spacecab we drove had a wheelbase of 122.9 inches, and it should ride nicer than the shorter regular cab version with its 108.3-inch wheelbase. Not to say this is bad, mind you, because even the most truck-like of today's pickups would put many a car of the fairly recent past to shame. But, in today's terms, the Hombre is a tool for hauling things and getting the job done.
Handling is predictable and without surprises. Steering feel is about average and the Hombre goes where it's pointed. Driving it around town or down the freeway is easy, but it's unlikely to be a vehicle in which you search out the long way home just because the roads are more fun.
We'll give the Hombre a big gold star for the 4.3-liter V-6 engine. It makes good power and the torque band is very useable, so there's plenty of punch to get you going. Acceleration is peppy, and it feels as if it wouldn't really have much trouble dealing with a loaded cargo box or a 5000-pound trailer.
Anyone expecting the Hombre to be one of those pickups for dressing up and heading off for dinner at the country club could be in for a disappointment. If luxury or sport aren't in this truck's definition, what is? We think it's work and value.
There's a certain honest feel to the Hombre. Behind its plain face and unadorned appearance there's a feeling of quiet ruggedness and dependable durability. This might not be the set of new wheels that gets your heart pounding and your temperature rising, but if you don't want to drop a lot of money and you need an honest truck that will haul some hay, it's worth your time to take a look.
Order our 200+ page magazine of reviews. Send $8.00 (S&H included) to New Car Test Drive, 2145 Crooks Rd. Suite 200, Troy, MI 48084
© 1997 New Car Test Drive, Inc.