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The Isuzu Trooper is a big, 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's main attractions are an ultra-quiet ride on the highway, and steering that is light, linear and quick; these are 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 such a big vehicle.
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 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 M-Class.
The smooth-revving V6 is quiet and responsive. But the Trooper is not as quick as the top luxury SUVs. Toyota Land Cruiser, Land Rover Discovery, 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 Limited in a market full of monster-motor SUVs.
Also, the Trooper's 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 this price range.
One curious feature is a switch that folds both side-view mirrors against the doors, with the effect of making the Trooper 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, 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 for serious off-road driving.
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.
Isuzu Trooper offers a high-quality driving experience and spacious cabin. The top-level Trooper Limited model lacks the V8 found in other luxury SUVs. If roominess and a smooth ride are high priorities, the S and LS models should leave you feeling you spent your money wisely.