More and more people are buying trucks for what marketing gurus call "personal use," which means using a truck like a car for daily transportation. Lost in that is the main reason pickups were designed in the first place: To haul stuff around. In the old days, pickups were supposed to be reliable and not cost too much money.
It's this back-to-basics concept that best defines the mission of the Isuzu Hombre. Not the fanciest, nor the most powerful, nor the most loaded with options, the Hombre offers honest truck hauling at an easily affordable price.
Isuzu's Hombre was introduced just last year, but that doesn't mean it requires more time to work the bugs out. The Hombre is built by General Motors, in Shreveport, La., and is a mechanical twin of the Chevrolet S-10 and GMC Sonoma compact pickups. So it's a proven commodity.
The primary difference is that Isuzu has its own styling treatment for the front of the Hombre. Also, fewer options are available than those offered on the GM models. The result: A sensible, reliable pickup that won't rip the seams out of even a modest budget.
Four-wheel drive has been added to the Hombre line this year.
The Hombre is offered in two body styles, regular cab and the extended Spacecab. It comes in two trim levels, S and XS. Two engines are available. The standard 2.2-liter ohv 4-cylinder engine is rated at 120 horsepower and 140 foot-pounds (lb.-ft.) of torque. A 4.3-liter V6 produces 240 lb.-ft. of torque and is rated at 175 hp on two-wheel-drive models and 180 hp when working with four-wheel drive. Transmission choices are five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.
We examined an Isuzu Hombre Spacecab XS with the V6, automatic transmission and two-wheel drive.
Standard equipment includes four-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS), dual airbags with passenger-side deactivation switch, power steering, and AM/FM stereo with clock. A battery run-down protection device has been added this year along with a theft-deterrent system. Four-wheel-drive models come with four-wheel disc brakes; two-wheel-drive Hombres are equipped with front disc, rear drum brakes.
An optional sliding rear window provides access to the bed, which is particularly handy when outfitted with a cap. Our Spacecab XS came standard with a 60/40 split folding front bench seat, folding center armrest and cut-pile carpeting. In addition to its generous warranties, the Hombre is covered with a five-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance program.
The Hombre's mechanical layout is straightforward: In the front, an independent suspension of upper and lower control arms, and in the rear, a live axle on leaf springs. There's a heavy-duty suspension available that consists of heavier-duty springs for increased trailer towing capacity and, if the vehicle is equipped with the four-cylinder engine, a change in the rear axle ratio from 3.73:1 to 4.10:1, which helps with pulling heavy loads. With it, the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) goes up to 4600 pounds, from 4200 for the standard cab and 4400 with the Spacecab. Trailer towing capacity is 2000 pounds with the four-cylinder engine and 5500 lbs. with the V6, or 5000 pounds with the V6 in a Spacecab.
Buyers should find Hombre prices attractive. Our Spacecab XS with V6 and automatic came to $17,875; it did not come with air conditioning, which would have added $835.
The Hombre's V6 engine pulls strongly, offering good torque for pulling and hauling. It produces more power than the V6 engines in either the Ford Ranger or the Dodge Dakota, and more torque than any of the import-brand compact pickups.
The fuel-injected 2.2-liter overhead-valve four-cylinder engine has been improved for 1998. Power has been increased slightly, while induction noise has been reduced.
The Isuzu Hombre sports an all-new interior this year with redesigned seats, instrument panel, trim and console. The new instrument panel houses a speedometer, trip odometer, and fuel level, oil pressure, voltage and coolant temperature gauges. A tachometer is standard on four-wheel-drive models and an option on two-wheel-drive XS models.
Interior appointments in the Hombre are about mid-level, but still offer sufficient creature comforts. The cloth upholstery is nice and the sun visors have extensions to provide extra shielding against the sun. Two additional 12-volt power outlets are provided to run cellular telephones, radar detectors and other accessories.
Legroom and headroom for the driver and right-side passenger are good, except the passenger's foot well has a hump that accommodates the catalytic converter. Still, front-seat room is generally roomy and comfortable for all but the largest people.
In the back of the Spacecab is a fairly flat floor with only a slight center hump, so stowing toolboxes or luggage should be easy. In the rear wall of the cab there's a handy compartment that houses the jack and tools. Like the compact pickups from Chevy, GMC, Ford and Mazda, the side-facing, fold-down rear jump seats are uncomfortable and awkward for adults and children. We prefer a simple, forward-facing rear bench in extended cab pickups, even if they're small because even if not used for people they make handy spots for briefcases and other items.
The Isuzu Hombre feels more like a truck than a car with a big box in back. It rides and drives like a truck, and it certainly won't confuse anyone in a blindfold test that it's a luxury sedan. The ride motions are truck-like, particularly when unloaded. We didn't load it up, but we'd suspect the ride might not get enormously better unless its cargo box was carrying some fairly serious weight. For all that, the Spacecab we drove had a wheelbase of 122.9 in. The regular cab version is on a shorter 108.3-in. wheelbase, so the longer Spacecab probably has a better ride quality than its shorter sibling.
Not to say this is bad, mind you, because even the most truck-like of today's pickups would put many a car of a couple of decades ago to shame. But, by today's definitions, the Hombre is a tool for hauling things and getting the job done, not impressing the parking valet at the snooty restaurant.
Handling, as it applies in a truck sense, is predictable and without surprises. Steering feel is about average, and the Hombre goes where it's pointed. Driving it on the city streets or open highway is an easy no-brainer, but it's unlikely to be one of those vehicles in which you purposely search out the long way home just because the winding roads that way are more fun.
We give the Hombre a big gold star for the 4.3-liter V6 engine. It makes good power and the torque band is very useable, so there's plenty of punch to get you going. Acceleration is peppy and brisk, and it feels as if it wouldn't really have much trouble dealing with a loaded cargo box or one of those 5000-pound trailers. Or maybe even both at once.
Anyone expecting the Hombre to be one of those pickups for dressing up and heading off for dinner at the country club might be in for a disappointment. If "luxury" or "sport" aren't in this truck's definition, what is? We think it's "work" and "value."
There's a certain honest feel to the Hombre. Behind its plain face and unadorned appearance there's a feeling of quiet ruggedness and dependable durability. This might not be the set of shiny new alloy wheels that gets your heart pounding and your temperature rising, but if you don't want to drop a lot of money and you need an honest truck that will haul some hay it's worth your time and money to take a look.
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