From: 1999 Manila International Autoshow, Manila, Philippines
When you mention the word “Isuzu”, most Filipino’s will think the lamented name “Elf” (a light to medium commercial-duty truck series, more on that later also known as the N-Series to the rest of the world), “Hi-Lander” AUV, “Crosswind/Sportivo” AUV, and most of all, its venerable “Diesel Engines” for Jeepney’s. In the US, well… let’s say mainly by their SUV’s like the hot-selling but now discontinued Rodeo, same goes with its hip Amigo/Rodeo Sport, its GM-made Ascender, its bland Hombre pickup and most of all, its popular N-Series commercial trucks. Isuzu and Mitsubishi have their stranglehold on Diesel-engines back in Asia, It’s just like Camry and Accord in the US. It’s a never-ending battle of crude fuel, but alas! Isuzu has a lot more popular fan base globally including in the U.S., on which the Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD w/ Duramax Turbocharged Diesel series of engines are made by a collaboration between Isuzu and General Motors. Unfortunately, Isuzu and their SUVs went away in North America as they finally withdrew the market with the exception of their N-Series models.
Well, enough about the company as a whole here; we are talking about this particular SUV. Personally, I’m not keen on bulky SUVs and Crossovers much, especially the big ones that most Americans drive. These big, bulky, and thirsty SUVs that most Americans prefer are just tasteless! SUVs for me are the Toyota Land Cruiser series, Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero/Shogun series, Nissan Patrol/Safari series, Toyota 4Runner/Hilux Surf, Nissan Pathfinder/Terrano series, and last but not the least the Isuzu Trooper/Big Horn. The Trooper is one of the iconic tall-box SUV that came out on JDM-land, this SUV was born back in the mid-’80s in response to the Pajero, Safari, and the Land Cruiser 70 series. Although due to its size and price, it’s mainly a toe-in against the legendary Pajero, in which it’s a good thing, it’s basically more affordable than the Land Cruiser and the Patrol/Safari duo.
As I look around at the Isuzu Trooper (then new), I always see it as a runner-up compared to the Pajero. Sure they’re basically the same; both have side-hinged rear doors, both have spare tire hanging on the same rear door, both are tall and big (for Philippine standards), both are roomy at some point, and both are highly capable going off-road. I do like these two SUV’s, they have the purpose of doing their job, not messing around with the likes of…lets say Ford’s Expedition or Chevy’s own Tahoe. But the Trooper doesn’t have the same charm as the Pajero, nor it didn’t win as many trophies, and the Mitsu sells a lot more globally.
When I got acquainted with the Trooper; I do like its conservative styling (it was just revised back then with a new front fascia) and its “just right” size quotient. I’m beginning to like it as a whole. As I enter the Trooper’s generous cockpit, I like its seating position, although it has that tall commanding feeling that I wasn’t accustomed to back then. On the other hand, it’s more comfortable than any newer (and fatter) SUVs in the US.
The dashboard buttons are simple and in a logical location within reach, no cluster-crap of a mess of modern CUVs/SUVs now possesses. The cloth fabric seats were comfortable as well, it delivers sufficient comfort levels for long trips across provinces or counties for that matter, the leather seats that were featured on the US version at the 2001 LA Auto Show were somewhat slippery and it loses that side support that I longed for from the Pinoy-spec version.
But unlike the US versions two-row seating configuration on later models, which it can seat five. The Pinoy-spec seats at an amazing nine passengers! The first two rows have adequate room but the rear two-in-each-side bench seats are only reserved for four mini-me sizes which it was like a carry-over item from its equally cramped Hi-Lander/Panther AUV. But originally, older models of the Trooper featured a three-row seven-seat configuration like the rest of the world has.
The Trooper was powered by a then-all new Isuzu’s 4JX1-TC 3.0L 4-cylinder 16-valves direct injection turbocharged with intercooler diesel engine (on which later on as of this writing, this particular engine is the least reliable engine made by Isuzu). When I hit the accelerator and wow, for the moment where it feels like it had more power than most Philippine-market sedans at that time (a Ford Lynx 1.6 for example, more on that soon). The powerband is broad, smooth, and very un-diesel-like demeanor on which it’s amazing in my book.
This SUV is well mannered on the concrete surfaces at the CCP complex in Manila, many SUVs similar to this are like pogo-sticks in comparison. When we were directed towards the dirt spot (on which a vacant backlot with certain amounts of rough gravel and mud); I was delighted on the capabilities of the Trooper, it will drift on command at the dirt as long as you engage the high-range 4 wheel drive mode (you can engage it from 2WD to 4H 4WD up to 100km/h or 62 mph).
Adding to all this delightfulness is the availability of a proper gearbox. That’s right, 5-speed manual transmission with the proper three pedals on the driver’s floor. Take note that 5-speed manual trannys are on an endangered species list in the SUV world these days especially in the US of A, on which can be very disappointing in my opinion. Although its gears are a bit long and notchy, its a huge relief than driving any slush-boxes that are now common in today’s vehicles.
Some minor gripes that I noticed on its spectacularly engineered SUV, was getting into this vehicle was a chore even for my 6’1 stature (I was 17). The step-in height can be a little too high for an average Filipino, especially with the lack of those handy grab handles that the Pajero offers. Luckily, the side step boards are a standard-issue on vehicles like this in PI. Plus the twin bench seats at the far back are completely useless when you’re taller than 5’2 in. In addition, the excellent Pioneer 6-disc CD changer in the back by the side facing twin bench is endangered of being stepped on! That very CD changer is exposed in plain sight right where its bolted on the cargo floorboard!
The steering lacks the on-center feel and slow to respond during transitions at the parking lot. And lastly (I know I can nitpick here but I can’t help it), what’s up with the rear-end design of this particular Trooper!? I already like the old rear-end that was adapted from the US-spec version, but how come Isuzu Philippines screwed up by changing the rear-end design to the Euro-spec version, it looks very awkward and somewhat ruins the clean slate styling of the Trooper. Plus it omits the standard rear step board integrated into the bumper.
Here are a couple of examples comparing different specs.
As I left the country in 2000, Isuzu revised its rear-end back to the US-style rear-end. The difference compared to the old model is its turn signal is clear compared to pure amber’s:
But this SUV has the benefits that outweigh the gripes. It’s a marvelous machine, it automatically ranks one of the top 10 of my list of the one of the best SUVs I’ve ever driven.
This is Taste Test (short test drives), a collection of short test drives on which was given the opportunity by your’s truly to drive certain vehicles for no more than 1 hour or less. Mainly these cars are test driven within at certain events (ie. auto shows), automotive dealerships, or friends letting me drive their vehicles. Since I don’t have any press/journalistic privileges, this is all I can come up with.