by Dan Carney
In 1993, Isuzu abandoned the car market, in favor of the truck/ SUV market, where the company had met with better success. Isuzu had tried, and failed, to compete with Toyota, Nissan and Honda as a full-line car company. But the 1980s, a time when all it seemed a car needed was a Japanese nameplate, were over. And the companies like Isuzu and Subaru trying to compete head-on with Toyota were hurting.
The Isuzu Trooper had been the Japanese Jeep Cherokee through the ‘80s, and the company diversified with a string of popular SUVs, such as the Rodeo and the Amigo that helped put an SUV in every American driveway. But the golden age of the SUV — when four doors on a four-wheel drive truck platform was a license to print money — is over. Competition has made the vehicles more competent, refined, and carlike. So Isuzu finds itself touting an SUV for its carlike features.
The Axiom’s angular, industrial styling is a departure from the macho brush-basher styling employed on most SUVs. The more carlike look is reminiscent of Cadillac’s current design theme, and the Axiom looks a bit like a smaller Escalade, at least from the front. The 17-inch alloy wheels are attractive, and wear tires with a carlike tread pattern. This bit of common sense improves on-road ride, handling, gas mileage and noise, at the expense of off-road capability.
Isuzu’s newest SUV retains the trucklike body-on-frame construction of its predecessors, even while competitors move toward unibody construction for its advantages in rigidity and space efficiency. The only obvious clue to the Axiom’s separate frame is its high floor. Combined with the low, flat seats, the Axiom’s leg room can feel cramped. However, the door frames open to the floor, unlike unibody designs that need a high door sill to maintain rigidity. With no lip to step over, the Axiom isn’t as hard to get into as its high floor would suggest.