Isuzu has specialized in sport utility vehicles since 1993, when its last passenger car left the market. After producing the Rodeo, Trooper and Amigo through the 1990s, Isuzu added yet another SUV to its lineup for the 2002 model year. Named in a contest that drew 17,000 entries, the Axiom displays a more curvaceous body than some of its SUV competitors. The Japanese automaker calls the Axiom its most sophisticated SUV.
Designers of the Axiom were looking to obtain sedanlike qualities, said Scott Hyde, Isuzus executive manager of product planning. These qualities include nimble handling, comfort, appealing performance and dimensions that allow easy control. Body-on-frame construction is used, along with stiffened engine and transmission mounts. Isuzus Intelligent Suspension Control system is a standard feature.
Only a few changes have been made to the 2003 Axiom, led by a new and less expensive entry-level model. A new rear spoiler has been installed, and the interior is now upholstered in new gray cloth. An engine immobilizer has also been added.
Manufactured at a Lafayette, Ind., plant that also turns out Subarus, the Axiom went on sale in April 2001 and came equipped with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive (4WD). Base and upscale XS editions are available. Isuzu expected to sell approximately 22,000 Axioms in 2001 and 32,000 annually thereafter. Automotive News reports that only 5,581 units were sold during 2002. The Acura MDX is considered the Axioms principal competitor.
The Axiom rides a 106.4-inch wheelbase, measures 182.6 inches long overall and stands 67.2 inches tall. The SUVs styling began with a series of Isuzu concept vehicles from the 1990s, including the Zaccara and ZXS, which flaunted a knife-edge design. The Axioms sheet metal is said to be nearly identical to what was used on the ZXS.
The Axiom features an arched roofline and sculpted wheel arches over geometric-shaped, six-spoke, 17-inch aluminum wheels. The bold grille displays gaping air intake slots. Isuzu claims that the Axiom has a lower center of gravity than typical SUVs, but its ground clearance remains ample. The front bumper is positioned at a height similar to that of passenger cars to minimize damage during a collision. A power moonroof is optional.
Seating for five occupants in the Axiom is standard. The SUV is equipped with four-way power adjustment for the driver and a split, folding rear seat with fold-down armrests. Isuzu says the Axioms interior is more like a European sedan than an SUV, and it follows a sculpted theme comparable to its exterior. Because the vehicles hip line is lower than usual and matched by a higher belt line, the windowsills are somewhat high.
Standard equipment includes cloth and vinyl upholstery, heated power mirrors, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry and a cassette stereo with a six-CD changer. Leather upholstery, heated front seats and a power passenger seat are standard in the step-up XS version. The Axioms cargo volume totals 85.4 cubic feet when the backseat is folded down.
Under the Hood
Isuzus 230-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine teams with a four-speed-automatic transmission. The second-generation Torque-on-Demand 4WD system automatically transfers power away from wheels that are slipping and incorporates a Low range for offroad treks. A second-generation Intelligent Suspension Control uses multiple sensors that adjust shock-absorber damping at 17 different settings to suit various road conditions, and a dashboard switch selects either Sport or Comfort mode. The Axiom can tow as much as 4,500 pounds.
Dual front airbags and antilock brakes are standard. All-disc brakes are installed on 4WD models. Side-impact airbags are not offered.
In addition to noticeable looks, the Axiom promises a generally appealing if not quite perfect road experience. Drivers can expect rather brisk yet smooth acceleration from a standstill. The Axioms performance is also energetic for passing and merging. Excellent automatic-transmission response is another bonus, but a lot of downshifting takes place when the Axiom is subjected to serious upgrades. Shifts are clearly felt but arent distracting.
Despite a relatively firm suspension, the ride is quiet and pleasant with hints of a sport sedan. But when the pavement gets unduly harsh, so does the ride, which yields more jostling than some occupants may prefer. Changing from Sport to Comfort mode in the suspension produces a noticeable difference.
Firm cushioning and moderately supportive seatbacks make the front seats satisfying, but the second-row seats are less spacious and better suited for two people rather than three. Rear legroom is ample and foot space is adequate, though a passengers knees are forced a bit upward. The Axioms tan and black leather upholstery looks and feels good.