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Isuzu has a new flagship for its fleet of sport utility vehicles for 2003. The Isuzu Ascender replaces the venerable Trooper. Ascender is new for Isuzu, but it isn't a completely new vehicle. Instead, it's a slightly modified version of the Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT and GMC Envoy XL introduced in the spring of 2002.
Ascender appears to be a good deal for both Isuzu dealers and their customers. Isuzu dealers get a proven new product to sell. Isuzu customers get an SUV that's roomier and more powerful than last year's Trooper. Ascender's base price is only $544 more than the Trooper's.
Best of all, the Ascender comes with Isuzu's three-year/50,000-mile basic warranty, a new seven-year/75,000-mile roadside assistance program, and seven-year/75,000-mile powertrain coverage. The Chevrolet and GMC versions of the vehicle are covered by a three-year/36,000-mile warranty program.
With the introduction of the Ascender, all 2003 models Isuzu sells in the U.S. are built in the U.S.
Our 2003 Isuzu Ascender had rear-wheel drive. It rode on BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A tires, which are mud-and-snow rated yet we found them to be extremely quiet, even at highway speeds.
With its standard, 275-horsepower in-line six-cylinder engine, the Ascender has no trouble ascending to highway speeds. In-line six-cylinder engines are naturally balanced, and usually run quietly and have exceptional longevity. This engine provides 275 pound-feet of torque and 275 horsepower and that makes it even more powerful than many V8 engines. It's a wonderful engine. It's thirsty, however, rated at 20 miles per gallon on the highway and only 15 mpg in town. However, we think its aging GM four-speed transmission prevents the engine from achieving its full potential. This Hydra-Matic automatic, used in the TrailBlazer, Envoy, and other GM products has proven itself over the years and miles, however.
Opting for the V8 engine boosts Ascender's towing capacity to 7,200 pounds.
Ascender comes standard with a premium suspension setup with Bilstein monotube shock absorbers. Our two-wheel-drive Ascender was smooth and comfortable, in town or on the highway. Its rack-and-pinion steering was sure and its four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, with 12.8-inch vented discs at every corner, never wavered.
The 4WD version, which comes standard with traction control, can be set in automatic mode and distributes power to the four wheels as needed. The driver can also select 2-Hi for rear-wheel drive. For driving off road, the 4-Hi mode provides for a 50/50 front/rear split in the engine's power. Shift into 4-Lo and the Ascender can ascend steep grades, plow through deep snow, or slog through slimy mud. We have enough experience with the four-wheel-drive versions of the GM-badged models to be confident of the Ascender's off-road and towing capabilities.
Isuzu Ascender is among the best of the mid-size sport-utilities. Its standard inline six-cylinder engine is much more powerful than the Trooper's V6 (275 horsepower versus the Trooper's 215 hp). Ascender is a significantly larger vehicle that provides three rows of seats and room for two more people or nearly 20 more cubic feet of cargo. Yet the base price of the 2003 Ascender is less than $600 more than the 2002 Trooper's.
So it would seem the choice between the Trooper and the Ascender should be an easy one. However, there is a more difficult choice that awaits potential buyers, though in this case we're talking about the potential buyers of the Chevy TrailBlazer or GMC Envoy. Do they go ahead and buy a TrailBlazer EXT or Envoy XL, or do they opt for the virtually identical Isuzu Ascender with its longer warranty?