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The Isuzu Trooper is a smooth-riding, highly capable sport-utility vehicle. It is priced below the prestige off-roaders, but slightly above the top-selling mainstream SUVs.
In base form, the Trooper S is priced among Explorers, Blazers, and Jeep Cherokees. With all available equipment the Trooper moves toward more luxurious SUVs, such as the Mitsubishi Montero SR and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The Trooper is a big wagon, loaded with luxury equipment. And it's a heavy machine at more than 4600 pounds. The recent rounding off of the front fascia by Isuzu's stylists attempted to hide the "box it came in" styling, but we think Isuzu need not apologize for the square shape of this SUV. Its conservative looks have aged well.
The Trooper's trademark rear cargo doors remain, with a large left-side door that carries the spare tire and a small right-side door.
There's only one model available: the Trooper S.
All Troopers are four-wheel drive. All are fitted with a 3.5-liter double overhead-cam V6 engine that produces 215 horsepower. All come standard with anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes, independent front and multi-link rear suspension, power steering, cruise control dual front airbags, air conditioning and power everything.
Trooper S is available with two major option packages: the $1,400 Performance Package and the $4,300 Luxury Package. Both of those option packages include an automatic transmission and the full-time Torque-On-Demand four-wheel-drive system. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the base Trooper S.
Our test car came with the Luxury Package. This package is distinguished from the outside by a handsome two-tone paint scheme and mesh-style alloy wheels. Smooth leather tightly stretched over five large seats is included, along with a large powered glass moonroof. Though expensive, the Luxury Package also includes the automatic transmission and a sophisticated Torque On Demand four-wheel-drive system.
The Trooper can haul an amazing amount of gear. We made maximum use of this by removing the rear seat cushions and backrests using a couple of socket wrenches. This gave us an enormous empty cargo area that easily swallowed two mountain bikes with wheels attached. It also provided us with yards of floor space that we lined with milk crates containing all our riding paraphernalia. That was for a week's trip to biking Meccas from Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania, to the Virginia coast. It was clearly more space than is needed by just two people.
Even if you're not so ambitious with tools, and if you travel with more than two people, you'll still find a ton of space inside the Trooper, a result of its height. The interior is slightly larger than that of the Montero, a taller wagon than the Trooper.
The interior seems spacious due to the large glass area. This makes it easy to see the corners of the wagon for easy parking and more precise maneuvering off road.
The Trooper comes with dual front airbags. The steering wheel tilts, but I'm tall and needed to leave it in its uppermost position to clear my knees. These same knees often rubbed on the wide center dashboard console. As big as the Trooper feels inside, it's a surprise how little space is devoted to the driver.
The driver and passenger are separated by an enormous floor-mounted center console, which houses the shift lever, transfer case lever, and four cupholders. Still, there's plenty of space to park maps and CDs. Front seat passengers will appreciate the large grab handle within easy reach -- something to hang on to if the driver gets carried away on bumpy roads.
The Trooper's main attractions are an ultra-quiet ride on the highway, and steering that is light, linear and quick--the traits of a luxury car. Trundling down the highway is the best condition for the Trooper, which isn't affected by crosswinds as much as you'd expect considering its height. Wind noise is low for a big wagon.
When you get to smaller roads with twists and curves, you have to slow the big Trooper down more than what makes us happy. There simply isn't enough grip to whip through tight roads like you would in a sedan, or even in some grippier SUVs such as Jeep's Grand Cherokee and Isuzu's smaller Rodeo.
The ride is steady and luxurious, and even on the most pockmarked road surfaces, the live rear axle doesn't bounce around. Suspension damping is excellent, and approaches that of an independent rear setup like you'll find in the Mercedes-Benz ML320.
The smooth-revving V6 is quiet and responsive, but its power seems to get lost in the behavior of its four-speed automatic transmission. The automatic downshifts abruptly when you open the throttle, and it feels like there's a delay between the time you press the accelerator pedal to the time the Trooper takes off. A Power Mode switch on the console allows the engine to rev higher between upshifts, but we found it didn't appreciably improve acceleration performance. There's also a Winter Mode, which lets the Trooper start out in third gear to preserve traction on slick surfaces. Lack of traction is not a problem in the Trooper, however. We've driven Troopers with five-speed manual transmissions, which shift quickly and surely, and prefer this setup to extract maximum power from the 3.5-liter engine.
The brakes work smoothly with little wasted motion in the pedal. They also provide enough feel of the road surface that you can modulate the amount of braking easily. This is handy off-road, especially when you are left-foot braking on slick surfaces. Anti-lock brakes are standard, which you expect in a wagon in this price range.
One curious feature is a switch that folds both side-view mirrors against the doors, with the effect of making the wagon a few inches narrower. A holdover feature from Japan, the power flapping mirrors are useful for tight parking lots or for waving at your friends.
The optional four-wheel-drive system -- called TOD for Torque On Demand -- comes on all models with automatic transmissions. Torque On Demand consists of an electromagnetic-operated clutch that progressively engages the front driveshaft and axles based on signals received from electronic sensors that detect amounts of wheel slip and acceleration.
That means you can leave it in four-wheel drive on dry pavement and the axles won't bind up when you make tight turns in a parking lot. Even with this full-time system, the transfer case lever allows you to engage rear-drive only, the same as the Mitsubishi Montero's full-time system. In rear-drive mode the front hubs disconnect from the front axles, allowing the front tires to spin more freely, saving fuel and wear. A low-range in the Trooper's transfer case locks the clutch, providing the part-time four-wheel-drive preferred by hard-core off-roaders.
Despite the high price of a loaded Trooper, it has a feel of assembly quality that makes you think it's worth the money. The controls work smoothly with positive feedback, sounds are muted, and there are almost no extraneous squeaks and rattles when you charge down a rutted road. Because of the sensitivity of the steering, throttle, and braking controls, you feel better driving the Trooper on icy and greasy roads and trails, confident that you won't inadvertently get yourself stuck.
The top-price Trooper is not as quick as the top luxury SUVs. Toyota Land Cruiser, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mercedes ML 430, GMC Yukon Denali, and Ford Expedition all offer V8 engines. If you value bragging rights, it's hard to justify the Trooper in a market full of monster-motor SUVs. But the Trooper offers a high-quality driving experience and spacious cabin, and you won't feel like you wasted any of the big money its purchase requires.