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Remember When Isuzu Was a Dumping Ground for Weird Rebadges?

These days, the only way to get an Isuzu with that new-car smell is to hire movers who happen to have one of the Japanese automaker’s box trucks in their fleet.

Isuzu plied its compact cars, off-roaders and pickups for decades in the US, nearly always as a fringe brand that was in the right place at the right time for the initial SUV boom of the early 1990s. The company built cars under contract between the world wars and emerged under occupied Japan in the late 1940s as a heavy-duty truck builder that tried to dip its toes into the new-car market with a series of short-lived agreements with Subaru, Mitsubishi, and Nissan in the late 1960s.

Cash-flush General Motors swept in to acquire 34 percent of the company in 1971, and it was GM that would set the tone for Isuzu’s next 40 years before the automaker pulled its passenger vehicles from the US market at the end of 2009. Isuzu’s fortunes followed those of GM, more or less, starting with the captive-import rebadged Chevy LUV pickup — which was really an Isuzu wearing a bowtie — and continuing through the automaker’s early Geo lineup, which included the Isuzu-based Geo Storm.

Isuzu would forever be linked to rebadged vehicles until its final model year in 2009. Let’s drive down memory lane to reminisce some of the, uh, finer Isuzu rebadges. Hey, if you want a bargain, you might find one here.

Isuzu Hombre

Isuzu Hombre/Chevrolet S-10

Isuzu made its own pickups, but it turned to GM when it wanted to replace its internally developed truck in the mid-1990s. Sold from 1996 through 2000, the Hombre was built in Louisiana (to skirt hefty import duties) and was available in a far more limited lineup than its Chevy and GMC siblings.

For instance, the base Hombre S cost just $12,000 in 1998, but it counted cupholders, daytime running lights and a tailgate among its luxuries. A radio, carpeting and power features were all optional. Find an Isuzu Hombre for sale

Isuzu Oasis

Isuzu Oasis/Honda Odyssey

Easily the oddest rebadge in this lineup was the Oasis, which was a Honda Odyssey with — you guessed it — Isuzu badges. Isuzu got the Oasis in return for supplying Honda with Rodeos (rebadged as Honda Passports) and Troopers (rebadged as Acura SLXs). It was not a great deal for Isuzu, which sold approximately one Oasis for every 33 Odysseys that were moved out of Honda showrooms.

The Oasis is probably best known for its bizarre service as a New York City taxicab in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Hey, the Oasis was a Honda after all, and they held up fairly well to rigorous livery service. Find an Isuzu Oasis for sale

Isuzu Ascender

Isuzu Ascender/Chevrolet TrailBlazer

During the last few years when Isuzu sold vehicles in the US, its showrooms had two models: the Ascender and the i-Series pickups. The Ascender was a mashup of the GMT360 SUVs produced by GM. It had bits of the TrailBlazer, the GMC Envoy, and the Oldsmobile Bravada, and its lineup was initially fairly ambitious, with two wheelbases, straight-6 and V8 power, and a choice of 5- or 7-passenger capacities.

For 2007, the writing was on the wall, and the lineup was trimmed to just the standard 5-passenger model with two option packages, and that was about it. Working in its favor was a slightly more comprehensive warranty compared to those of its siblings, and discounts for buyers who happened to live near Isuzu dealers were substantial. The Ascender makes a decent used buy today thanks to its weak resale value. Find one on AutotraderFind an Isuzu Ascender for sale

Isuzu i-Series

Isuzu i-Series/Chevrolet Colorado

Latching onto the Apple i phenomenon that began with the original iMac in 1998, the i-Series pickups boasted names more akin to highways that loop around big cities. The lineup initially consisted of i-280 (there are actually five Interstate 280s), i-350 (there’s no Interstate 50, so there is no connector), i-290 (there are three, most notably the Eisenhower in the Chicago area), and the i-370 (a mere 2.54-mile jaunt around Gaithersburg, Maryland).

Fun facts about Highway history aside, the i-Series was a memorable pickup lineup only because of the available 3.5- and 3.7-liter inline-5 engines, which weren’t especially good, but they were at least unique.  Find an Isuzu i-290 for sale or Find an Isuzu i-280 for sale or Find an Isuzu i-350 for sale or Find an Isuzu i-370 for sale

Rest in peace, Isuzu. It feels like we hardly knew you and your many personalities.

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  1. Arguable the best vehicles I ever owned– 1990 Pickup and a 1997 Rodeo– excess of 200K on each!
    Sad they couldn’t stay in the U.S. market with their passenger vehicles….
  2. You could also mention the home market Isuzu Aska. The first generation, it was based of the 1980s GM J-car, the second was a rebadged first generation Subaru Legacy, and the final generation was related to the Honda Accord.

  3. The Colorado/Canyon/ i-series / Hummer H3T all built on a variation of the isuzu dmax platform developed in partnership with GM… So technically the Chevy’s GMC etc are the rebadged versions…. Also the I in the name stands for the inline engines… that being said the i-280 is a 2.8ltr , the i-350 = 3.5ltr and so on… 

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Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz is an author specializing in helping in-market consumers get the most bang for their buck -- and the best car, while they're at it. When not virtually shopping for new and used cars, Andrew can probably be found under the hood of a vintage classic that's rapidly losing fluids.

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