2007 Isuzu i-Series Pickup Truck Review

Introduction to the Isuzu Truck

Rear View of the 2007 Isuzu i290 Truck. © Isuzu

Yes, Isuzu is still in the pickup truck business, selling their version of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon compact pickup (which they helped design). Isuzu's version is a likeable truck, but the model range is limited. Is the Isuzu i-series the truck for you? Read on. Base price (Isuzu i290 S) $17,674, price as tested $19,462, EPA fuel economy 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway (automatic).

First Glance at the Isuzu i-Series Truck

The Isuzu i-series is often perceived -- not quite correctly -- as a warmed-over General Motors product. While the i-series is more-or-less identical to the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, the fact is that Isuzu did have a hand in the truck's development. The deal was that Chevy and GMC would have first shot at selling the truck in North America while Isuzu would sell a slightly different diesel-powered version called the D-MAX in the Asia-Pacific region, which they have done with great success.

Isuzu started selling the i280 and i350 in the US in 2006, though sales were a fraction of those of the Colorado and Canyon. Part of the problem was lack of choice. The i-series came in just two versions: The four-cylinder manual-transmission extended-cab 4x2 i280 and the five-cylinder automatic crew-cab 4x4 i350. Chevy and GMC continued to sell their versions of the truck with a wide variety of cabs/bed/engine/transmission/driveline combinations.

For 2007 things have improved slightly. The four-cylinder Isuzu now offers an automatic transmission, while the five-cylinder model comes in both extended and crew cabs as well as with a 4x2 driveline (though the 4x4 is only available as a crew cab). It's an improvement, though Chevy and GMC continue to offer a much broader range. Both trucks also get larger engines and new names: i290 and i370, reflecting their 2.9 and 3.7 liter engines.

In the Driver's Seat

The S-model I drove costs $17,674 for starters and is pretty basic -- we're talking vinyl seats, no carpet and an AM/FM radio, though air conditioning and 4-wheel antilock brakes are part of the standard spec. My test truck had the Preferred Equipment Package, which contains must-haves (cloth seats, carpets, rear jump seats) and nice-to-haves (CD/MP3 player, floor mats, tinted windows) for a reasonable $699. But the automatic transmission was pricey at $1,089, and the bottom line -- just shy of $19,500 -- was pretty steep for a truck with manual door locks and crank-up windows. For features like that, you'll have to step up to the LS model.

The i290's extended cab has rear-opening doors on both sides for easier access to the second row, where you'll find two fold-up jump seats with 3-point belts and LATCH child seat anchors. Like most compact pickup back seats, these are best suited for kids, preferably very small ones that aren't prone to complaining. About the nicest thing I can say about riding back there is that it beats walking, though only if the distance in question is more than fifty miles. Fold the seats up, though, and under each you'll find a handy plastic tool box that also flips forwards to provide flat load floor.

For 2007, the i-series offers side curtain airbags, a rarity in pickup trucks. They are optional on LS-model extended-cab Isuzus and standard equipment on the i370 with crew cab.

On the Road in the Isuzu Truck

By far the high point of the i290 is its engine. At 2.9 liters, it's huge for a four-cylinder engine, and it shows in the numbers: 185 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque, the latter peaking at a usefully low 2800 RPM. Those numbers represent an increase of 10 hp and 5 lb-ft over last year's 2.8 liter engine.

It'd be easy to mistake the i290's off-the-line performance for that of a six-cylinder truck. The truck loses some of its get-up-and-go at highway speeds, though passing acceleration (50 to 75 MPH) is still perfectly adequate. Just be careful in the rain: the four-banger has enough torque to spin the rear wheels, even under moderate acceleration.

The i290 has a payload capacity of just over 1500 lbs; towing capacity is 2,100 lbs with the manual trans and 3,100 with the automatic, more than enough to haul a small boat, a couple of ATVs, or a utility trailer. Bed width is 4' 9"; bed length is 5' for the crew cab and 6' for the extended cab. Movable support cables allow the tailgate to be held half-way open and bear weight in this position.

The i290's steering is light; handling is what you'd expect from a modern pickup truck, good but not sporty. The ride is choppy but comfortable and remarkably quiet at highway speeds. As mentioned earlier the i290 comes with standard antilock brakes but lacks advanced safety electronics such as electronic stability control, which is just starting to make their way into competitors' products.

Journey's End

Finding an Isuzu dealer is tough nowadays, and once you get there your choices are limited. Chevrolet and GMC have more stores and offer the same truck with a broader selection of features. The biggest difference, aside from the unique grille, is the warranty. Isuzu offers 3 years or 50,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper coverage; Chevy and GMC offer 3 years or 36,000 miles. Isuzu's powertrain warranty and roadside assistance coverage lasts 7 years or 75,000 miles, while Chevy/GMC's is 5 years or 100,000 miles. Which one is better depends on how you use your truck.

Price-wise the i290 with the Preferred Equipment Package is in the same general ballpark as a Toyota Tacoma 4x2 Access Cab, but the Toyota is arguably a more modern truck. And while build quality is definitely improving at General Motors, if I wanted to buy a truck that'd last for 200,000 miles or more, you'd better believe it'd have Toyota written all over it.

Personally, I like the i290. I think the engine is top-notch and I love the quiet ride at highway speed. It's sensibly-sized, easy to drive and very maneuverable. And while I know it's basically the same as a Chevy or a GMC, the elitist in me likes being one of only a handful of people driving a new truck with an Isuzu badge. But my inner realist usually wins out over my inner elitist, and my inner realist knows that as good as the Isuzu i290 may be, it simply isn't the best way to spend your money. If only Isuzu would bring over the diesel-powered D-MAX… now there's an Isuzu I'd be willing to spend my money on!