I work at Subaru-Isuzu Automotive, where we build the Isuzu Rodeo and Amigo. This being the case, I also get a company discount on the Isuzu Trooper, even though it's built in Japan, so we decided to check one out at the local dealership. We test-drove a black Trooper LS 4wd
, with an impressive array of standard features, and optioned with a cargo mat, front hood guard and a power moonroof.
About the standard features. All models have a 4-speed automatic transmission as standard equipment, except for the "S" 4wd, which has a 5-speed manual transmission. (the AT is optional, though) The "basic" S model comes with power remote heated AND folding mirrors, 6-speaker cassette stereo, cruise, air, keyless entry, power windows, rear defrost, tilt steering, 4-wheel disk brakes with ABS, alloy wheels and a full-size spare, among other things. The LS ups the ante with standard cd changer, power seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and a limited-slip differential. The Limited goes nuts
with leather seats, fake wood trim, chrome mirrors and an altimeter...which would hopefully always say you're at ground level?
Base MSRP on the LS 4wd is $30,650 according to Edmunds Automotive, and the model we tested was optioned up past $32,900.
The S is cheaper, and the Limited is more expensive, of course.
Styling is rugged and refined at the same time. The Trooper is boxy and tall, yet without being chunky like a Hummer. Fender flares and the full-size spare tire carrier on the rear doors give cues to the off-road ability, but chrome accents and aero bumpers align themselves with the road-going crowd. If you like your vehicles more Volvo than Taurus,
you'll probably like the Trooper. Inside, the main instruments are legible and clear. Interior materials feel high-quality, and switches have a dampened feel -- no "GM clicky-clicky" when you put on the turn signal.
However, the multitude of buttons
and switches in the LS we tested were a bit confusing to figure out for the first-time driver. To tote up the different buttons arrayed across the dashboard: Auto 4wd button, rear washer button, rear wiper button, cruise control button, foglight button, moonroof switch on the headliner, winter mode button, power mode button, button for left and for right seat heaters, button for folding the mirrors, button for heating the mirrors, rear defrost button, doorlock button, 4 window switches, mirror adjustment switch, 20-25 assorted tiny buttons on the radio, and more on the separate cd player, and about 10 buttons on the HVAC control. With the exception of the radio, all of the various buttons were large and easily reachable,
though not necessarily well labelled...how many pictograms can they invent, anyway? While a Trooper owner will become more familiar with the controls of their vehicle as they own it longer, the sheer number of buttons may make it easier to inadvertently hit the wrong one if your hand gets jostled while reaching.
The seats are subject to individual interpretation. I thought they were a bit too narrow and somewhat unsupportive, while my wife thought they were great. (she's narrower than I am) I found the driving position comfortable
and natural, with all controls easy for me to reach and the instruments easy to read. Driver, front passenger and rear passengers have plentiful room in all aspects -- leg, head and shoulder -- a definite asset of a square design. Grab handles abound, and my 8-months-pregnant wife had an easy time entering and leaving the passenger seat. The power seat controls are located on the side of the seatcushion and are easy to use, and the driver's seat will go WAY up high to give you that "on top of the world" feeling
as you look out the windshield.
And visibility is a strong point of the Trooper. The thing has a massive greenhouse area, and huge outside mirrors. Keeping track of traffic around me was never a problem with the great visibility
this SUV affords. The inside mirror is only good for traffic directly behind the vehicle, as it looks down the loooong tunnel of the cargo area, but the outside mirrors cover all areas to the sides well. The optional moonroof is also exceptionally large, and when fully open makes the Trooper feel almost like a convertible, opening up an area almost 3' square and extending back to the rear seat area.
All this greenhouse comes at a price though. The sun shining in through all that glass, especially the moonroof when it's closed but the shade is open, heats up the Trooper's interior
in a blink. In 70-degree weather we found ourselves starting to swelter whenever we came to a stop in traffic, and had to open a window...which then cooled the interior off almost instantly as we moved. These hot-cold swings were easily the largest source of discomfort for us in the Trooper's cabin, but the air-conditioning system is powerful and quick to counteract the sun's heat, as I suspect it would really need to be in the summer months.
The Trooper has plenty of power for road use, and though I didn't get the chance to go offroad with the dealer in the backseat, I suspect the 215-horsepower 3.5-liter V6
engine would be up to the task. For being a large vehicle, the Trooper was good at the "point-'n-squirt" of traffic, yet walked right up to 70mph to merge onto the freeway. The SUV was quiet and smooth at freeway speeds, the only real noise coming from the wind passing around the square body. A passing Winnebago did nothing to upset the Trooper on its suspension, and accelerating 70-80 was easily accomplished even without selecting the "power" mode on the automatic transmission. When engaged, the transmission kicked down a gear instantly upon throttle acceleration, but even without the kickdown, the Trooper had enough power to accelerate well. The drawback to this power is the gas mileage, rated at 15mpg in town and only 19mpg on the highway.
The Trooper has a 22.5 gallon gas tank to give it an estimated 428 mile cruising range on the highway. The Trooper's engine can happily digest 87 octane regular unleaded, but at $1.45/gallon, it'll cost over $30 to fill up from empty.
A real surprise is the Trooper's agility in slow-speed situations
like parking lots. The Trooper is a shade over 15 feet long, but has a 38-foot turning radius -- it can almost turn around in twice its own length. As a comparison, our Volvo sedan has a 36' turning radius, and is a MUCH smaller vehicle. Parking the Trooper is a snap with the nimble steering and large mirrors; all corners are either visible or easily estimated with the basic square design, and after the test-drive, I easily backed it into its spot on the Isuzu lot.
On the road, the handling is about like you'd expect, though. Lots of lean when cornering,
and a manageable amount of understeer. Consumer's Union mistakenly said that the Trooper can tip over, and they're being sued for their mistake. This SUV never felt like it was going to tip over, but neither did it inspire me to really cut an apex with it. The ride is best described as smooth. Most road irregularities just float under the Trooper, though regular expansion joints start a gentle rocking bounce the reminds one that it's still not a car. Hard braking brings out a LOT of nosedive as a tradeoff for the compliant ride.
The pedal is firm, however, and provides an abundance of stopping power, as well as good tactile feedback to allow easy modulation of the brakes.
The Trooper's "Torque-On-Demand"
automatic 4wd system takes a bit of explaining. The Trooper normally rides in rear-wheel-drive. At any steady speed up to 60mph, you simply press the "auto 4x4" button on the dash, and an LED pictogram on the dash shows the amount of torque being sent to the front wheels. On the road, this translated as a slight increase in steering effort, and not much else. Full-throttle acceleration with TOD engaged passed along a small "surging" sensation as torque was routed to the front wheels in bursts. When engaged, TOD acts like an all-wheel-drive system,
keeping the Trooper in rear-wheel-drive the majority of the time, until slip is detected, and power is routed to counteract it. The system also has a 4x4 low range, which acts like regular low-range four-wheel-drive.
The term "storage area" doesn't really do the Trooper justice. It has a "cargo hold."
It's a cavern back there. The rear seats are split 60/40, and either section can flip and fold easily. The seatback folds forward, and then the seatbottom lifts and folds toward the front seats for a flat cargo floor from the rear doors up nearly to the front seats. That's 90 cubic feet
of cargo hold, and there's storage bins under the rear seats that're accessible when they're flipped foward, and hidden when they're not. The rear seats also have built in child-seat top tether mounts, a center armrest, and adjustable head supports.
So in a sort of summation, the Trooper has plenty of power and the gas mileage to show for it. It has a smooth ride, and the body roll to show for it. It has magnigicent visibility, and the heat to show for it, but the HVAC to counteract it. It has a square design and the practical functionality to show for it. It has loads of features, and all the buttons to show for it. Isuzu also offers an unheard-of 10-year/120,000 mile drivetrain warrantee, 3-year/50,000 mile basic warrantee, 6-year/100,000 mile rustthrough warrantee and 5-year/60,000 mile roadside warrantee. All in all, the Trooper comes in ahead of the game,
in my opinion. If I were in the serious market to buy an SUV, I think I'd consider the Trooper.