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Axiom: Isuzu Tries to Sell Us Direct Injection

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author photo by Aaron Gold April 2017

Let's face it: The Isuzu Axiom was a bad idea. When it was introduced in 2002, the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 were already well established in the market, and Americans were developing a taste for car-based crossovers, which handled and rode better than traditional truck-based SUVs like, well, like the Axiom. The Axiom's cramped interior and silly front-end styling didn't help much, and while it was a decent off-roader (Isuzu's Torque On Demand 4x4 system really was excellent) that wasn't a huge selling point for American buyers.

But the Axiom did have one very intriguing bit of hardware added just before it breathed its last in 2004. It's something that is now commonplace, but at the time was a novelty: direct fuel injection.

For those unfamiliar, traditional gasoline fuel injection systems spray fuel into the intake manifold just upstream of the intake valves. Direct fuel injection systems spray fuel directly into the cylinder, allowing more precise metering that increases efficiency, lowers emissions and allows the compression ratio to be jacked up without the need for high-octane gasoline. The trade-off is higher cost: It takes a much more robust system to spray fuel directly into the combustion chamber, as the pressures are higher and the injector itself must be able to withstand the heat of combustion. (Diesels, which introduce fuel during the power stroke rather than the intake stroke, have used direct injection for ages.)

Gasoline engines with direct injection are common today, but this technology was almost unheard of when the '04 Axiom was making its way into showrooms. Here in the U.S., only the BMW 760Li and Rolls-Royce Phantom had it at the time. The Isuzu Axiom is credited as the first mainstream production vehicle sold in the U.S. with direct injection, something of which Isuzu was extraordinarily proud. If memory serves, they even promoted it -- to the press, at least -- as the Axiom GDI, for Gasoline Direct Injection. By fitting GDI to their 3.5-liter V6, Isuzu said, they were able to bump up the compression ratio from 9.1:1 to 10.3:1, yielding a 20 hp increase while still running on 87 octane fuel. (The Bimmer and the Roller required premium gas.) Popular Science gave the new engine their "Best of What's New" award for 2003.

Sadly, no one cared. Sales tanked and 2004 turned out to be the last year for the Isuzu Axiom. Incidentally, the Lafayette, Indiana, plant where the Axiom was built switched over to the Subaru B9 Tribeca -- if that doesn't prove that the factory was cursed, I don't know what would.

Direct fuel injection remained a novelty until the end of the last decade, when automakers began to see it as a key element in lower emissions and increased fuel economy. With gasoline prices going through the roof, the costs were finally worth the benefit. I read somewhere that around half of all cars sold today use direct fuel injection, and it's a key element in the new generation of small-displacement turbocharged engines. So when you think of GDI, think of Isuzu and the hapless Axiom, because sadly, there aren't many other reasons to remember it.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Axiom: Isuzu Tries to Sell Us Direct Injection - Autotrader