2003 Isuzu Ascender

Mark Gillies
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The badge on the front may say Isuzu, but this is really a GMC Envoy XL in a Japanese party dress. It is a very subtle frock, though, as only the badging, lights, grille, and bumpers differ between the Isuzu and the GMC.

In some ways, this isn't a bad thing (particularly if you're an Isuzu dealer and need new vehicles to sell). The Envoy XL seats seven comfortably, has GM's excellent 275-horsepower, 24-valve DOHC, 4.2-liter in-line six or 285-hp, 5.3-liter OHV V-8 engines mated to a syrupy four-speed automatic, and drives pretty nicely. The highway ride, in particular, is really good for a truck.

If you're into big trucks and don't mind the slightly gawky exterior, then the Ascender doesn't look a bad deal. Until, that is, you open the door and realize that you're plunking down a minimum of $28,000 for a vehicle that has the interior quality of my daughter's Barbie car. Aside from the questionably colored interior trim on our two-wheel-drive Ascender, the interior seems even more low rent than its GM equivalents. The Ascender LS we drove was $32,321, with some desirable items such as traction control, alloy wheels, power front seats, and a decent stereo, but without all-wheel-drive, remember. Or the V-8 engine. Or leather. (Decidedly nasty mouse-fur seating is standard.) Or a DVD entertainment system, to keep the back-seat critters happy, which isn't even on the options list.

What's odd, of course, is that Isuzu is having to sell rebadged GMCs, when its marketing schtick is that it's the truck company. Didn't GM used to sell rebadged Isuzu pickup trucks? Perhaps the once proud Japanese company is in even more trouble than we are led to believe.

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