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2006 Isuzu i-Series reviews

March 10, 2006 08:53 AM EST | Isuzu , Trucks/Pickups | Email to Friend | Comments (0)

View large imageThe Isuzu i-Series is a decent truck but it's outclassed by the latest offerings from Dodge, Nissan and Toyota in the important areas of power, interior room and overall fit and finish.

Pros
Handles well on- and off-road, simple controls, side curtain airbags available on both body styles, generous powertrain warranty.

Cons
Not much low-end torque, no six- or eight-cylinder engine option, low tow ratings, subpar build and materials quality, limited availability of customizing options.

What's New for 2006
After a five-year hiatus, a compact pickup returns to the Isuzu lineup. Called the i-Series, the truck comes as either an extended-cab or crew-cab body style. Mechanically, it's very similar to the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon compact pickups.

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 corporate partnership with General Motors. This shows up in Isuzu's latest offering, the new i-Series compact pickup.

Built on a tough ladder frame chassis, the i-Series comes in two distinct body styles, is available with either two- or four-wheel drive and is powered by either a four- or five-cylinder engine. The suspension consists of a solid rear axle with leaf springs and an independent coil spring front suspension. If any of this sounds familiar, it's probably because the i-Series is basically a re-skinned version of General Motor's compact pickup, which currently serves duty as the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. The Isuzu differs in a few trim pieces, options and, most importantly, its powertrain warranty. The warranty for the i-Series is 7 years or 75,000 miles, while the GM warranty is a more common 3 years/36,000 miles. If you're planning on buying a GM compact pickup and owning it for a long period of time, you'll want to keep the Isuzu's warranty advantage in mind.

There are two versions of the i-Series. The i-280 is an extended-cab pickup with a four-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive. The i-350 is a crew cab only, and it comes with a more powerful five-cylinder engine and four-wheel drive. Extended-cab models feature small reverse-opening rear doors on both sides for easier access, while the larger crew-cab models offer four normal doors and a 60/40-split-folding rear seat that can accommodate three adults. Side curtain airbags are available that provide head protection in the event of a side impact.

On paper, the i-Series offers all the necessary ingredients to satisfy the majority of compact truck buyers. The problem is that the i-Series feels cheap, even in a class of vehicles where functionality and value come before upscale accommodations. The doors are lightweight and tinny, and the first thing you'll notice when you slide behind the wheel is how low-grade the dash looks and rough the upholstery feels. Out on the road, neither the four- or five-cylinder engine provides acceleration on par with V6 and V8 engines offered by the Dodge Dakota, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. If you're shopping for a small pickup, make sure you explore all the options before settling on the i-Series.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The i-Series comes in extended- and crew-cab body styles. The extended-cab model has a 6-foot bed, while the crew cab gets a 5-foot bed. There are three basic trim levels: i-280 S, i-280 LS and i-350 LS. The i-280 S is an extended-cab configuration, and comes with air conditioning, an AM/FM stereo, vinyl seating and vinyl floor covering. An S Plus Preferred Equipment package adds carpeting, cloth seats, rear jump seats with storage compartments, a CD player and tinted windows. The LS model adds power windows, locks and mirrors; keyless entry; tilt steering wheel; cruise control; six speakers; and bucket seats. The Luxury package includes a six-disc CD changer, traction control (2WD only), a locking rear differential, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, foglamps, a sliding rear window and side curtain airbags. The i-350 LS is equipped much the same as the i-280 LS. An available Limited Package for the i-350 LS adds a six-disc CD changer, dual power heated seats, leather upholstery, auto-dimming rearview mirror, sliding rear window and a moonroof.

Powertrains and Performance:
A 2.8-liter, four-cylinder engine is standard on the i-280 and is rated at 175 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque. The 3.5-liter inline-five engine is included on the i-350 and offers 220 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, but a four-speed automatic is also available on all models. The i-280 is rear-wheel drive and the i-350 has a four-wheel-drive powertrain. The i-350's 4WD system is push-button shift-on-the-fly and offers low-range gearing. Maximum towing capacity, at 4,000 pounds, is relatively meager for this class of truck.

Safety:
Roof-mounted side curtain airbags are optional on both body styles. Four-wheel antilock brakes are standard, and traction control is optional on 2WD trucks. In government crash tests, the similar Chevy Colorado earned four stars (out of five) for both the driver and front passenger in frontal-impact testing, and four out of five stars in side-impact testing for front passengers, and five stars for rear passengers.

Interior Design and Special Features:
Trucks may have gotten more hospitable in recent years, but don't expect anything fancy in the i-Series' cabin. Materials range from average to substandard in quality, and build quality is inconsistent. On the plus side, simple rotary climate controls and a large stereo faceplate make the interior seem instantly familiar as soon as you get in. The gauges are similarly basic, but functional in their design.

Driving Impressions:
The inline engines are reasonably refined, but their lack of off-the-line punch and odd exhaust notes are disappointing compared to the larger V6s offered in competitors. Shifts from the four-speed automatic are firm and well timed, and the five-speed manual gearbox is about as good as you're going to find in a compact truck. The suspension tuning is on the soft side, but the i-Series handles well for its class.

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