Running with a rough crowd.
by Dan Lyons
Base Price (MSRP) $25,985
As Tested (MSRP) $31,330
Isuzu carves its SUV specialist niche a little wider with the roll-out of a new model, the Axiom. Axiom is math-speak for a self-evident truth, and the process by which Isuzu found this name is noteworthy in itself. Rather than evolving from marketing mavens or focus groups, Isuzu solicited this tag directly from the ranks of cyber-citizenry. More than 46,500 entries were received in the company's website-based naming contest. The winning moniker netted a new Isuzu SUV of his choice for an electrical engineer from the Pacific Northwest.
Axiom fits between Rodeo and Trooper in the Isuzu lineup and borrows more than 70 percent of its components from those two models. Rodeo Sport and VehiCROSS round out the five-model, all-SUV lineup from Isuzu.
Axiom is available with rear-wheel drive (2WD) or four-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive adds nearly $2500 to the retail price.
Two trim levels are available: base ($25,985) and XS ($28,305). The XS model adds leather seating surfaces, a four-way power passenger seat, fog lamps, body side molding, heated front seats, and a power moonroof with sun shade. The moonroof ($900) is also available as a stand-alone option for the base model.
With the ranks of sport-utility vehicles swelling on an almost weekly basis, it gets harder and harder for new entries to set themselves apart from the field. Isuzu has already demonstrated their willingness to go to extremes to make a styling statement with the wild and wacky VehiCROSS.
The Axiom is not that radical, but will still twist heads with its distinctive lines. The low, blunt, battering-ram front end is from the tough truck school of design. The windshield sweeps back quickly into a sport wagon side view: high-waisted, with big tires and wheels pulled close to the corners. The rear end is a sharply beveled, straight up and down affair.
Overall, it's a low-slung, interesting design, with the front shouting, “Truck!” while all other angles whisper, “Hybrid.”
Axiom's cabin is arguably as interesting as the outside design - and less controversial. According to Isuzu, its designer sought “ a European feel with the interior, a crossover between sport-luxury and sport-utility vehicle.” It is without doubt an attractive package. Our test vehicle sported a two-tone tan and black combination of perforated and smooth leather, vinyl, and plastic, with a touch of bright work thrown in.
The design comes up short on function, however. Sound system and climate controls are a mid-dash collision of too many buttons occupying too little space, nothing you'd want to tackle while driving. It seems like it could be cured if Isuzu were to offer a set of steering-wheel mounted auxiliary controls. Switchgear is otherwise easy to locate and operate.
The front seats are quite comfortable and the four-way power driver's seat is adjustable to accommodate all but the very tall. If you're six feet or taller, your legs are going to be varying degrees of folded when sitting up front. We wish the front seats offered more travel.
The second row offers enough head, hip and leg room for two or three adults. The back seats split 60/40 and flip forward easily, allowing the storage capacity to expand from a substantial 35.2 cubic feet (with seats up) to a cavernous 85.4 cubic feet (with seats folded). Cargo is accessed by means of a swing-up tailgate. Taller Axiom owners may find themselves introducing their foreheads to the low hanging hatchback, possibly on a regular basis.
Overall, the up-level XS has a very posh cabin, long trip comfortable and packing every amenity we've come to expect in our trucks.
In town or out in the sticks, Axiom offers good visibility. Rearward visibility is unhampered by a spare tire looming in the rear view mirror because the spare is tucked underneath the vehicle.
Isuzu describes the Axiom as, “a high-performance crossover vehicle built with the ride of a European sedan and the strength of a truck.” That's a tall order for any vehicle to fill, but the Axiom does a decent job of blending car and truck sensibilities. It looks like a station wagon, but it rides more like a truck.
A full ladder frame provides the underpinning for Axiom, and was adapted from the Rodeo. Isuzu opted for body-on-frame construction (as opposed to unibody) for three reasons: strength, reliability and longevity. With eight cross members, it is a suitably stiff chassis. This rigidity allowed the chassis engineers to tune the suspension for the best ride and handling, without having to compensate so much for body flex. Drivers choose between two settings for the suspension: Sport and Normal. Normal feels a little too soft and conducive to bobbing and weaving on bouncy terrain. The Sport setting seems to tidy this up nicely, with no appreciable decline in ride quality. With either setting, rough city streets will transmit road vibration through to the occupants.
Off-roaders will note that the Axiom is equipped with skid plates to protect vital areas below. Nearly 8 inches of wheel travel help the suspension soak up rutted terrain. Engaging the 4x4 low range is a four part process: stop, put the transmission in neutral, stick your foot on the brake and flick the dash-mounted switch.
The standard 235/65R17 Goodyear mud-and-snow tires offer a nice compromise, enough grip for off road traction, but with a tread pattern that's not too noisy on the highway.
Isuzu Axiom uses electronics and technology to aid vehicle handling. Intelligent Suspension Control (ISC) monitors vehicle and engine speed, lateral g-forces and the brake system and adjusts shock valve rates to maximize Axiom's ride and handling characteristics.
Torque on Demand (TOD) processes information from throttle position, axle-mounted speed sensors, and the brake system to prevent wheel slip and enhance control. The torque transfer system works independently of the anti-lock brake system, and works on dry or wet conditions. When the brakes are applied, ABS is in charge, until such time as you take your foot off the stop pedal. The net effect of TOD is to enhance stability on low friction surfaces.
All models come with a 3.5-liter V6. Borrowed from the Trooper, the V6 produces 230 horsepower and 230 pounds-feet of torque, and feels just right for the Axiom. The power flow is smooth and evenly distributed at all engine speeds, with enough in reserve to get you out of a jam if needed. Axiom is rated at a towing capacity of 4500 pounds. Gas mileage is in typical SUV territory, with an EPA-estimated 16/20 mpg city/highway.
The transmission is a four-speed automatic with overdrive; no manual is offered. It's shifts smoothly, and the gearing is well suited to the engine's broad power band. At 65 mph, the engine is turning a decidedly unstressed 2300 rpm.
Axiom is perhaps the most appealing Isuzu to date. It is uniquely styled: neither over the top, nor born to be mild. The interior is car-like in its luxury and appointments, truck-like in its spacious dimensions. In performance, the Axiom skillfully straddles a tricky engineering divide, doing the daily commute or serious off-roading with equal aplomb.
With the glut of new product available, SUV/ hybrid buyers have been getting increasingly sophisticated in their likes and dislikes. The old days/old ways of automakers putting body cladding on practically anything and having it sell have gone out the window. SUVs are a tougher sell now, but Isuzu's Axiom looks (and drives) like it can handle itself in this company.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.