Isuzu says it doesn't build cars-just trucks. We're not so sure. Its new Axiom sport/utility features a steel box-section frame-just like a truck-yet it drives like a car-based SUV. On curvy roads the Axiom (a name chosen in an Internet contest) handles as smoothly as a sedan, thanks in part to the use of coil springs in the rear, instead of the more trucklike leafs. The downside is that the Axiom's tail can be easily bottomed-out off-road.
Power comes from the same 24-valve 3.5L DOHC V-6 used in the Trooper and VehiCROSS, but with 230 hp instead of 215. Torque is rated at 230 lb-ft. Two-wheel drive is standard, and Isuzu's Torque On Demand four-wheel drive with a low-range transfer case is optional. Coupled to a four-speed automatic, the only transmission offered, the stout V-6 provides more than adequate acceleration.
But value is where the Axiom really shines. About $26,000 gets you 4WD, skidplates, power windows and locks, a six-CD changer, heated leather seats, sunroof, climate control, Isuzu's Intelligent Suspension Control active handling system, four-wheel disc brakes, and some pretty spacey styling. Two important features (available on many midsize Axiom competitors) are missing: a third-row seat (Axiom seats five) and rear A/C. Still, its carlike ride, aggressive look, and eager engine make the Axiom Isuzu's best offering to date.