A smooth, roomy ride in the slow lane.
by Phil Berg
Base Price (MSRP) $27,170
As Tested (MSRP) $35,333
2001 is Isuzu Motor Ltd.'s 85th year, and the company is marking the occasion with a special Polar White Pearl Anniversary Edition Trooper. Also for 2001, Isuzu has re-introduced a two-wheel-drive Trooper at every trim level.
All Troopers are big, smooth-riding, and highly capable sport-utility wagons. The basic Trooper S is priced among the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Blazer, and Jeep Cherokee; while with all available equipment the Trooper Limited moves closer to the luxury-SUV range, along with the Mitsubishi Montero and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Three trim levels--S, LS and Limited-continue for 2001, although now each is offered with two- or four-wheel drive. All 2WD Troopers come with a four-speed automatic transmission, while the 4WD S ($27,620) model alone can be ordered with a five-speed manual gearbox. Regardless of trim, four-wheel-drive automatics feature Isuzu's full-time Torque-On-Demand (TOD) system.
All models are fitted with a 3.5-liter double overhead-cam V6 engine that produces 215 horsepower. All come standard with anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes, independent front suspension and a four-link rear axle, power steering, cruise control, dual front airbags, air conditioning and power everything else. A 2WD S starts at $27,170.
LS, for $28,765, adds an in-dash six-CD changer, fog lights, privacy glass, leather-wrapped steering wheel and color-keyed fender flares. Limited models (starting at $32,813) are distinguished from the outside by a handsome two-tone paint scheme and 12-spoke alloy wheels. Smooth leather seating surfaces tightly stretch over five large seats, and a large, powered glass moon roof includes a sun shade. Add an even $2,000 to the prices above for 4WD.
The Anniversary Edition, not yet priced at press time, includes all LS equipment plus 12-spoke alloy wheels with white-accented openings; beige leather and woodgrain trim for the interior; an eight-way driver's seat and four-way passenger seat; Nakamichi stereo; and beige heathered floor mats.
Trooper is a big SUV, loaded with luxury equipment, and heavy at 4200-4600 pounds. A recent rounding off of the front fascia by Isuzu's stylists attempted to hide the "box it came in" styling, but we think Isuzu need not apologize for the square shape of this SUV. Its conservative looks have aged well.
The Trooper's trademark rear cargo doors remain, with a large left-side door that carries the spare tire and a smaller right-side door.
The Trooper can haul an amazing amount of gear. We made maximum use of this capability by removing the rear seat cushions and backrests with a couple of socket wrenches. This gave us an enormous empty cargo area that easily swallowed two mountain bikes with their wheels attached. It also provided us with yards of floor space that we lined with milk crates containing all our riding paraphernalia. That was for a week's trip to biking Meccas from Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania, to the Virginia coast. It was clearly more space than is needed by just two people.
Even if you're not so ambitious with tools and travel with more than two people, you'll still find a ton of space inside the Trooper-mostly a result of its height. Yet the Trooper's interior is slightly larger than that of the Montero, which is taller still. Trooper's interior seems even more spacious due to the large glass area. This makes it easy to see the corners of the vehicle for parallel parking and more precise maneuvering off-road.
The Trooper comes with dual front airbags. The steering wheel tilts, but I'm tall and needed to leave it in its uppermost position to clear my knees. These same knees often rubbed on the wide center console. As big as the Trooper feels inside, it's a surprise how little space is devoted to the driver.
The driver and passenger are separated by an enormous floor-mounted console, which houses the shift lever, transfer case lever, and four cupholders. Still, there's plenty of space to park maps and CDs. Front-seat passengers will appreciate the large grab handle within easy reach if the driver gets carried away on bumpy roads.
The Trooper's main attractions are an ultra-quiet ride on the highway, and steering that is light, linear and quick-traits more often associated with a luxury sedan. Crusing down the highway is the best job for the Trooper, which isn't affected by crosswinds as much as you'd expect considering its height. Wind noise is low for such a big vehicle.
The ride is steady and luxurious, approaching that of some more sophisticated SUV's with all-independent suspension-the Mercedes-Benz M-Class comes to mind. Even on the most pockmarked surfaces, the Trooper's live rear axle doesn't bounce around, and suspension damping is excellent.
But on secondary roads with twists and curves, we had to slow down more than we would have liked. The big Trooper doesn't have enough grip to whip through tight turns as you would in a sedan, or even in some sportier SUVs like Isuzu's own smaller Rodeo.
The smooth-revving V6 is quiet and responsive. But the Trooper is not as quick as the top luxury SUVs. Toyota Land Cruiser, Land Rover Discovery, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mercedes-Benz ML 430, GMC Yukon Denali, and Ford Expedition all offer V8 engines. If you value bragging rights, it's hard to justify the Trooper Limited in a market full of monster-motor alternatives.
The Trooper's power seems to get somewhat lost in the behavior of its four-speed automatic transmission. The automatic downshifts abruptly when you open the throttle, and it feels like there's a delay between the time you press the accelerator pedal to the time the Trooper takes off. A Power Mode switch on the console allows the engine to rev higher between upshifts, but we found it didn't appreciably improve acceleration performance. There's also a Winter Mode, which lets the Trooper start out in third gear to preserve traction on slick surfaces. Lack of traction is not a problem in the Trooper, however.
We've driven Troopers with five-speed manual transmissions, which shift quickly and surely, and prefer this setup to extract maximum power from the 3.5-liter engine.
The brakes work smoothly with little wasted motion in the pedal. They also provide enough feel of the road surface that you can modulate the amount of braking easily. This is handy off-road, especially when you are left-foot braking on slick surfaces. Anti-lock brakes are standard, which you expect in this price range.
One curious feature is a switch that folds both side-view mirrors against the doors, making the Trooper a few inches narrower. A holdover feature from Japan, the power flapping mirrors are useful for tight parking lots or for waving at your friends.
The optional four-wheel-drive system, called TOD for Torque On Demand, consists of an electromagnetic-operated clutch that progressively engages the front driveshaft and axles based on signals received from electronic sensors that detect things like axle speed and throttle position.
That means you can leave it in four-wheel drive on dry pavement and the axles won't bind up when you make tight turns in a parking lot. Although this is technically a full-time system, the transfer case lever has a position for rear-drive only (as on the Mitsubishi Montero's full-time system). In rear-drive mode the front hubs disconnect from the front axles, allowing the front tires to spin more freely, saving fuel and wear. When you shift the transfer case into low range, the electromagnetic clutch engages fully, providing the locked-up four-wheel-drive preferred for serious off-roading.
A loaded Trooper costs serious money, but the truck's high quality of assembly seems to justify the price. The Trooper feels like it is worth what you spent. The controls work smoothly and with positive feedback, sounds are muted, and there are almost no extraneous squeaks or rattles when you charge down a rutted road. Because of the sensitivity of the steering, throttle, and braking controls, you feel better driving the Trooper on icy and greasy roads and trails, confident that you won't inadvertently get yourself stuck.
Isuzu Trooper offers a high-quality driving experience and spacious cabin, although the top-level Trooper Limited lacks the V8 power found in other luxury SUVs. If roominess and a smooth ride are high priorities, the S and LS models should leave you feeling you spent your money wisely.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.