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1995 Isuzu Trooper

The current Isuzu Trooper bears a resemblance to the original, but it sits in such a different market niche that we won't get a fix on the latest luxo model without reference to the old ones.

The first Trooper was a derivative of a Japanese army personnel carrier, hence the name. It was big, squared off, tough, simple and cheap. Power came from a slow but willing Isuzu inline four-cylinder engine. Later, there was an optional V6, a GM cast-off that was equally slow and less willing.

The second generation, introduced in 1991, is bigger, rounded off, tough, more complicated, and more costly. The Isuzu engine is a far too-exotic double overhead cam, multivalve 3.2 L V6.

This one is endearingly enthusiastic; still slow.

Now we can add a Trooper Limited to the proliferation of luxotrucks. The 1995 Limited is even more complicated — and, expensive! Order a Limited and you pay one price, no option list

required, all inclusive save the federal air conditioning tax ($100) and that fool destination charge ($745). Total? A whopping $46,840!

That is a take-no-prisoners topped-out bottom line, right up past the Explorers and Grand Cherokees and into the rarified zone occupied by Land Rover's Discovery. Is it worth it? Read on.

The elder Trooper had broad market appeal, selling equally well to young marrieds and the backwoods brigade. It was also a hit with quirky, iconoclastic types who saw it as a load-friendly, look-at-me-I'm-not-like-you, alternative to a Saab.

Buyers of the Limited appear to be struck from the same bent mold, only wealthier. According to a GM source, these folks can afford a Discovery or a terminally loaded Eddie Bauer Explorer, but want something different and "prefer to have a designer's name on their clothes, not on their cars."

Oookay, now that we have that straightened out, we can ask what they get for their 50 grand. (Don't forget the taxes!)

There is a two-tone metallic paint scheme for starters, a dead ringer for the treatment adopted by Mazda when the MPV was upscaled with a "Limited" model.

In the roof we find the largest single-panel power sunroof I've ever seen. Nice.

An extensive standard equipment list includes dual front air bags, air conditioning, four-wheel antilock disc brakes behind fancy aluminum wheels, heated mirrors, heated front seats, an

anti-theft alarm, washer-wipers for the headlamps, skid plates, a limited slip differential, a sound system, and the requisite "power group." All of which the Limited should have for all of those dollars.

Not surprisingly, the seating surfaces are swathed in leather. And, although both the front buckets and the 60/40 split recliner rear bench have a no-nonsense firmness to their cushioning, the seats are supportive and retain their comfort on a long drive. Yes, there are a pair of head restraints on the bench. Inexplicably, while the driver's seat is six ways adjustable, the passenger has to make do with just four.

The trooper's instrument panel is superb, very businesslike, although lacking the curvy grace adopted by some of its rivals. There are good indicator lamps for everything. The gauge complement includes a full sixpack of proper white-on-black analogue dials. The clock is located near the centre of the dash, readable from most seats in the cab. All of the knobs and buttons can be operated with gloved fingers, except for those on the predictably fiddly radio.

The passengers are supplied with a bunch of grab handles, for ease of ingress and exit (stepin height is 52 cm) and to help maintain the riders' composure during those difficult offroad

moments. The driver, inexplicably again, doesn't fare as well. No left-foot dead pedal to brace against.

Of two unique touches, one deserves a wry smile. Electric fold-away side mirrors for those really tight trails? When I become rich enough to own a Trooper Limited, I'll have someone to fold the mirrors for me.

I'd like to bring the other item to the attention of every automaker in the universe. The remote fuel door release is on the dash! With the other controls! Off the floor and out of the salt and grime! For this relief, much thanks.

Many prospective Trooper buyers will be seduced by its minivan0sized cargo area. Rear seat up, the floor is 108 cm long, 136 cm at its widest, and about 102 cm between the wheelwells (42.5 by 53.5 by 40 inches).

The door still is made up of a 75/25 pair of side-hinged openers. Just by itself, the 75 per cent side swings wide to reveal a hole 94 cm high and 89 cm wide at the base. Ground to cargo floor liftin height is 74 cm.

The floor contains the only cheezy feature on the whole machine. There are four tie-down hooks, particularly helpful with a large load space. But they are crude in design and are mounted on top of the carpet, requiring the addition of four vulnerable chrome ribs to hold the luggage above the hooks.

Too bad, because the rest of the Limited's interior is well crafted and carefully screwed together. That said, I must point out that the interior is a quilt-like array of many patches and panels. The result, I guess, of layering upgrade upon upgrade.

Nevertheless, the sheer volume of visual detail seems to meld into a pleasant whole that has an unremittingly Oriental-car feel to it. An aspect underscored by the assortment of bilingual

info stickers — English and Japanese.

Moving to more dynamic concerns, I am pleased to report that some gains have been made with the Trooper's ride and handling. When introduced, the current version displayed some truly

annoying harshness on the highway every bump, every joiner strip. I don't know what they did, but it's gone.

Earlier models also suffered from too much body lean, but the '95 received thicker antiroll bars that are noticeably helpful. It remains, however, one big truck. In a corner the Trooper still leans, and it pushes its front tires with a vengeance.

I guess you can tell that I'd like to be friends with this big 4×4. Unfortunately, there are some serious barriers to our friendship.

The Limited's engine is rated at 190 h.p., up from 175 h.p. on the lesser models. The engine tries so hard, but simply does not get the job done. Even with the able assistance of a well

matched electronic auto transmission, the high-tech V6 is irritantingly wrong for a vehicle this heavy. Slow to come to speed, it struggles to maintain a highway cruise, slacking back at every hill or gust of headwind.

When I attempted an acceleration test, I picked a spot with an almost imperceptible rise in the road. When I employ this site, I always run it both ways and average the readings. The difference is rarely more than half a second. The Trooper took a long 13-plus seonds one way, and more than 15 going back. Borrring.

At that, the 2268 kg trailer rating is a bit of a joke, don't you think?

And then there's the continuing problem of a part-time four-wheel drive system that doesn't even shift on the fly — unforgiveable in a market where full-time and push button 4WD are the mode. A new system is promised for next year but we've heard that from Isuzu before.

Kind reader, I hate to leave you on a downer, but until these glaring deficiencies are corrected, the Trooper can't be my friend. And, there is no way the Trooper Limited can be worth 50

grand.

*

Cam McRae, who writes on light trucks and vans, prepared his assessment based on week-long driving experiences in a vehicle supplied by the manufacturer or importer.

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