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Review: 2005 Isuzu Ascender

June 28, 2005 11:38 AM EST | Isuzu , SUV's | Email to Friend

View large imageCapable, roomy and packing optional V8 power, the Ascender's longer warranty makes it worth considering over its nearly identical Chevrolet and GMC cousins.

Strong six- and eight-cylinder engines, simple interior design, plenty of passenger and cargo room, long warranty.

Spongy suspension, numb steering, low-grade interior materials, odd exterior proportions, poor expected resale value.

What's New for 2005
New options include XM Satellite Radio and a side curtain airbag system (available midyear). The 5.3-liter V8 now includes Displacement-on-Demand technology to improve fuel economy and is rated for five more horsepower this year for a total of 300.

As automakers go, Isuzu has been in a rather deep rut as it's dropped two of its three product offerings in the last year. Americans are still buying plenty of trucks and SUVs each year, yet, Isuzu, a company that sells only SUVs in America, has had disappointing sales. A lack of money for both new product investment and marketing has forced Isuzu to rely heavily on its partnership with GM to offer its only product in the U.S., the Ascender. This SUV comes in two lengths, with seating for up to seven passengers, many standard features and optional V8 power. The Ascender is actually a reskinned GMC Envoy. The overall body shape is identical, though it does have slightly different styling front and rear, including a different front grille, restyled front and rear bumpers, new headlights and taillights and different 17-inch wheels. The five-passenger model is equivalent to the regular Envoy, while the seven-passenger model is modeled on the Envoy XL. To achieve its seven-person capacity, the extended-length Ascender offers a third-row seat that, according to Isuzu, can comfortably accommodate two 6-foot-2-inch, 190-pound adult males. Fold the second- and third-row seats flat, and the bigger Ascender really shows its advantage, offering up to 100 cubic feet of cargo space -- that's almost 20 cubic feet more than a seven-passenger Explorer. The Ascender certainly one-ups the competition when it comes to seven-passenger comfort and overall cargo capacity. Combined with the powerful engines, it makes quite a case for itself in this hard-fought segment. In most areas, the Ascender matches up favorably. But as it's pretty much the same truck as the Envoy and Envoy XL, we suggest comparison shopping between these vehicles, paying particular attention to final price and warranties. Also bear in mind that given Isuzu's uncertain future, resale value is likely to be lower on the Ascender.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The Ascender SUV comes in five-passenger and seven-passenger versions, each of which is available in three trim levels: base S, midlevel LS and high-line Limited. Two-wheel-drive S models include standard features such as power windows and locks, and dual-zone climate control with rear-seat climate controls. Select the Preferred Equipment Package to pick up power-heated mirrors, a power driver seat, keyless entry and side airbags, or order a four-wheel-drive S model to get them standard. Midgrade LS models get all of the above, plus 17-inch wheels, a moonroof, automatic climate control, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, an in-dash CD changer, a power front-passenger seat, OnStar and rear-seat audio controls. The Limited includes upgraded exterior mirrors, running boards, automatic wipers, leather seating, heated front seats, driver-adjustable pedals (in the seven-passenger version) and a premium Bose audio system.

Powertrains and Performance:
Bracing horsepower comes via the sport-ute's standard 4.2-liter inline six. Rated at 275 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque, this engine outmuscles many of its competitors' V8s, let alone their V6 offerings. On LS and Limited versions of the seven-passenger Ascender, a 5.3-liter V8 is also available. It generates 300 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque and includes Displacement-on-Demand technology (DoD), which saves fuel by using only half of the engine's cylinders while cruising. Both engines come with a four-speed automatic transmission, and both two- and four-wheel-drive configurations are available. With the V8, the Ascender can tow up to 7,100 pounds.

Side airbags for front passengers are standard on LS and Limited models and optional on the S. Side curtain airbags are available as a midyear option. All Ascenders come with four-wheel antilock disc brakes, and 2WD LS and Limited models get traction control. Government crash tests of the Ascender's five-passenger Envoy twin yielded three out of five stars for frontal impact protection and a perfect five stars for side impacts (when equipped with side airbags). The IIHS rated the SUV "Marginal" (the second lowest of four) in frontal offset crash testing.

Interior Design and Special Features:
The "smaller" Ascender should appeal to those people not needing a full three rows of seating. Interior materials and detailing are similar to those of the Envoy, which is to say below average, though the Limited trim adds leather and wood trim. Should you need to haul stuff, the big Ascender has 22.3 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third-row seat. With the second- and third-row seats lowered, it has 100 cubic feet of capacity, considerably more than most midsize SUVs.

Driving Impressions:
The standard 4.2-liter is impressive enough on its own, so there's no going wrong with either of the Isuzu's engine options. Unfortunately, the suspension isn't quite so competent, as it tends to feel overly soft when cornering and rough in off-road situations. Less enthusiastic driving generates a smooth, comfortable ride.

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