Road Test: 2006 Isuzu i350
By: Mike Magda, Editor Posted: 03-14-06 09:08 PT
© 2006

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No question Isuzu is on the last drops of a life support tube from General Motors. The only two new vehicles available at the country’s 300 Isuzu dealerships are the Ascender, which is a rebadged Chevy Trailblazer, and the i-280/1-350 pickups, which most people think are knockoffs of the Chevy Colorado.

In reality, the Isuzu came before the Colorado. For the first two months of 2006, Isuzu sold fewer than 800 vehicles, and that includes a few leftover Axioms and Rodeos. Pickups made up 283 of those sales, but the Isuzu trucks are not the lowest selling pickup of the year. Believe it or not, somewhere in the back row of a dealership lot four customers found that perfect 2003 Chevy S-10 they’ve desperately been seeking the past three years. But what’s harder to believe is that Subaru is selling more pickups than the Isuzu right now.

The sad note to this pending eulogy is that the Isuzu pickups have a couple of noticeable advantages over the Colorado and should draw more attention. And truck customers should know that Isuzu was the lead engineer in the partnership with GM that developed the new GMT 355 platform, which serves the Colorado and GMC Canyon. Isuzu was responsible for packaging, interior design, establishing the quality and cost targets, tech specs and structure of the new truck. Isuzu and GM shared responsibility for styling and common component design. In 2001, the teams started individual programs and developed separate powertrain strategies.

Isuzu got a big jump on Chevy and GMC, releasing its Thailand-built version foreign called the D-Max in Thailand in May of 2002. GM’s siblings weren’t introduced until August 2003. The D-Max sold more than 100,000 units in Thailand its first year and now commands 40 percent of the Thai pickup market. What a difference a few thousand miles makes. Of course, the D-Max is available with five engine choices in Thailand, including three turbo diesels.

In the US, there are only two choices for the Isuzu pickup. The i-280, which is an entry-level 4-cylinder, 2-wheel-drive extended cab, and the i-350, a mid-level 4WD crew cab powered by the inline-5 engine. Very few options are offered for either model, which are built along side the Chevy/GMC trucks in GM’s Shreveport, Louisiana, assembly plant.

The i-350 LS is basically a 4WD Chevy Colorado with the LT2 trim level and a few options. Overall it’s a well-balanced package with locking differential, side-curtain airbags, ABS, CD player, air conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel, bucket seats, automatic transmission, power mirrors/locks/windows and a fullsize spare as standard equipment. The optional Limited package costs just over $1,800 and features leather seating, 6-disc CD changer, power/heated front seats and sliding rear window.

Our test truck was the i-355 LS with a MSRP of $27,358. The only option was a bedliner at $278. Total sticker with destination: $28,297.

The most noticeable difference between the i-350 and the Colorado is the different looking grille. The Colorado we tested had a diamond-mesh texture split by the familiar bar and Bow Tie logo. The i-350 has an egg-crate foundation accented by bold chrome bars. The double-deck headlights common to both trucks force an unfortunate handicap on the Isuzu. The grille crossbar and the headlamp dividers are offset. On the Colorado, the cross bar stretches smoothly between headlamps.

The Isuzu has a grille surround that includes the dividers between the headlamps, but the grille crossbar doesn’t match up. Take a few seconds to look up the Isuzu D-Max on the Internet and you’ll find a wider grille and taller headlights for a cleaner, integrated if not luxurious look that is much sharper than the Colorado or even GMC Canyon. Are you starting to get the picture why the foreign Isuzu pickup is doing better than the American version? Three diesels, nice looking front end.

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