Graded: Isuzu SUVs

Welcome to Graded. Here we discuss legendary marques, models, or trim packages and affix a letter grade to a selection of vehicles falling under that topic. The grades mean nothing and are completely arbitrary. I fully encourage you to tell me what I got wrong and how you would grade them instead. Have some fun with it.

Isuzu is a company that has been around since 1916 and is still going strong today – a major player in diesel-powered trucks of all sizes, the word over.

But a lot of North Americans can be forgiven if they think Isuzu didn’t come to be until the 1980s and shutdown sometime in the 2000s. That is because those were the years Isuzu sold passenger vehicles in North America, mostly under the General Motors umbrella.

Although Isuzu did sell some passenger cars during that time, the brand’s real strength was in SUVs. Trooper and Rodeo were two nameplates synonymous with sport utility vehicles through the ‘80s and ‘90s. And who can forget the VehiCROSS? We haven’t. Nor have we forgotten about any of the 11 Isuzu SUVs graded below.

1981 Isuzu Trooper 3-Door Soft-Top
AutoLobotomy Grade: B-

The original Trooper came as a three-door soft-top with proper off-road gear like locking hubs. Power was lacking which wasn’t a problem on the trails but was an issue on the highway.  

1987 Isuzu Trooper 5-Door Wagon
AutoLobotomy Grade: C+

By 1987 the Trooper had received a refresh to look more contemporary. Power concerns were being address, but the 2.6-liter engine wasn’t exactly a powerhouse. To me, this is the classic Trooper look, even if it is lacking a bit of the early SUV’s off-road capabilities.

1990 Isuzu Amigo
AutoLobotomy Grade: A-

The Amigo was the three-door version of the Rodeo. It was the fun family member with its flared fenders, removable rear roof and meaty tires. Early models also sported some pure ‘90s vinyl badging.

1991 Isuzu Rodeo
AutoLobotomy Grade: B+

The Rodeo was a defining SUV for Isuzu during the ‘90s, cashing in on the SUV craze that took America. I personally find it to be one of the best-looking SUVs of the early ‘90s, even if it initially was underpowered.

1994 Isuzu Trooper RS
AutoLobotomy Grade: B

The three-door Trooper was renamed the Trooper RS in the mid-1990s, still available as either a convertible or a hardtop. Power, a long-standing issue for Isuzu SUVs, was finally being addressed and the RS could be had with a 190 hp V6.

1997 Isuzu VehiCROSS
AutoLobotomy Grade: A

I’ve already professed my love for this SUV, so it should come as no surprise that it is my favourite Isuzu.

1998 Isuzu Rodeo
AutoLobotomy Grade: B

The second-generation Rodeo had more power, more comfort and more luxury. Styling was similar to most of its contemporaries at that time, making it get lost in the crowd a little bit.

2000 Isuzu Amigo Soft-Top
AutoLobotomy Grade: B+

The second-generation Amigo still brought the fun with V6 power, a manual transmission and a convertible back half. The styling was a bit toned down though compared to the original Amigo.

2000 Isuzu Trooper
AutoLobotomy Grade: B

The last of the Troopers, the refreshed models featured an upright, premium look to them. Power by this point came from Isuzu’s 3.5-liter V6 that made a decent 215 hp. I do like the classy looks of these Troopers.

2003 Isuzu Axiom
AutoLobotomy Grade: C+

Designed to take the crossover boom head-on, the Axiom was really just a traditional SUV in crossover clothing. Stuck straddling in between the two, it only lasted three short years and never really caught on. Other than its unique styling, there isn’t much to this SUV.

2005 Isuzu Ascender 7-Passenger
AutoLobotomy Grade: C

One of six, yes six, GM SUVs all built on this same basic body, the Ascender wasn’t really an Isuzu as it was just a rebadged GMC Envoy. The seven-passenger version was unusually long, but at least it did have V8 engine option.

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