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2006 Isuzu Ascender reviews

October 11, 2005 10:22 AM EST | Isuzu , SUV's | Email to Friend

View large imageIn addition to strong drivetrains and a roomy interior, the Ascender comes with a generous warranty, which makes it worth considering over its nearly identical Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy cousins.

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

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

What's New for 2006
Minor package revisions and stability control highlight the changes for 2006. See 2005 model

Introduction:
As automakers go, Isuzu has been in a deep rut. A lack of money for both new product investment and marketing has forced Isuzu to rely heavily on its partnership with GM. Both of the company's 2006 product offerings, the i-Series pickup and the Ascender SUV, are derived from existing GM products.

The Ascender is very similar mechanically to the GMC Envoy. It comes in two lengths, with seating for up to seven passengers, many standard features and optional V8 power. Compared to GMC's Envoy, the Ascender has slightly different styling, including a different front grille, restyled front and rear bumpers, special 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 midsize, four-door Ascender SUV comes in five-passenger and seven-passenger versions, each of which is available in one basic S trim level with several upgrade packages: Preferred, LS, Luxury and Limited. Two-wheel-drive S models include standard features such as power windows and locks, and dual-zone manual climate control with rear-seat climate controls. Select the Preferred Equipment Package to pick up a power driver seat, keyless entry and cruise control, or order a four-wheel-drive S model to get them standard. Midgrade LS package models get all of the above, plus 17-inch wheels, a moonroof, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, and an in-dash CD changer. The Luxury package includes monochromatic paint, leather seating, Bose audio and heated seats. The Limited includes upgraded exterior mirrors, automatic wipers, a power passenger seat, power-adjustable pedals and driver seat memory.

Powertrains and Performance:
A 4.2-liter inline six rated at 275 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque is standard on all Ascenders. This engine can outmuscle many of its competitors' V8s, let alone their V6 offerings. Optional on the seven-passenger Ascender is a 5.3-liter V8. It generates 300 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque and includes Displacement-on-Demand technology, 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.

Safety:
All Ascenders come with four-wheel antilock disc brakes and stability control. Side curtain airbags are optional. 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 five-passenger Ascender should appeal to smaller families who don't need 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 seven-passenger 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 engine is impressive enough on its own, so there's no going wrong with either of the Isuzu's engine options. Unfortunately, numb steering and an overly soft state of suspension tune make the Ascender feel ponderous during hard cornering. Less enthusiastic driving generates a smooth, comfortable ride.

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