Isuzu Ascender Road Test
Isuzu Ascender: What’s in a Name?
We don’t like to test large SUVs because of the safety issues and the environmental concerns. However since they continue to sell well we decided to test one of the lesser-known models to see how they match up to name brand competition and thus an Isuzu Ascender ended up in our garage. Two things became apparent immediately. First this is essentially the same vehicle as the General Motors Envoy and Trail Blazer but with a better warranty. Secondly even with the six-cylinder engine we were hard pressed to get 12 mpg. That meant that with the huge 23-gallon tank we were barely able to go 250 miles before shelling out over $50 for unleaded fuel. Of course this is typical of all large SUVs.
So where does that leave a potential buyer? Well the Isuzu offers a great warranty a nice range of standard features good cargo space and not having to worry about seeing a similar vehicle too often.
Mom’s view: The last time we tested this product we got it stuck in the mud just four inches of mud because the optional running boards got hung up rendering the optional four-wheel drive system useless. This time we had 20 inches of rain and snow and I am glad to report no problems.
I must pause here so as not to sound overly negative about the Isuzu. The reason is that mp preference for vehicles that have crisp handling and that is not one of the traits of the Isuzu. So that colored my perception of this vehicle. When considered as a family workhorse for those who don’t understand the greater utility and economy of a minivan the Ascender works fine. The seat heater work well the vehicle’s heater works well and the cargo space is quite generous. An interesting note is that the Ascender comes in a regular-length version with 2-row 5-passenger seating and in extended-length form with 3-row 7-passenger seating. The seven-passenger models offer a six cylinder and optional eight-cylinder engine. Both require copious amounts of regular fuel but the seven-seat model has a 25-gallon tank while the other gets one that is about 4 gallons smaller. Regardless you are going to need it all as the 4-speed automatic transmission just does not have the number of gears necessary to maximize fuel economy.
The Ascender is available with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive that can be left engaged on dry pavement and has low-range gearing. Other safety features include antilock 4-wheel disc brakes optional head-protecting curtain side airbags that cover the 1st and 2nd seating rows OnStar assistance and traction control for some models.
One of the most bothersome Isuzu features was the power window controls that are difficult to activate if you have long fingernails. In addition the rear hatch handle seems as if it is always dirty due to its open location above the rear bumper. Finally the cup holders are too shallow for large drinks or wide coffee cups. None of these items by themselves would be enough to remove the Isuzu from consideration but they clearly indicate that there is a need for more women to be involved in product development. I also noted that the turning radius is considerable and the large C pillars and high rear window limit rear and side visibility.
Young working woman’s view: The five passenger four-wheel drive Ascender we tested was listed at about $28000 (US) but it had $7000 in options making it more expensive than some of the luxury SUVs that have a similar seating capacity. The option packages are so large that they make individualizing the Ascender nearly impossible. You have a Featured Equipment Package with keyless entry side mirror defrosters privacy glass cruise control special body cladding an anti-theft system vanity mirrors overhead console cargo cover and floor mats. That is a very difficult package to ignore for $1900 and if you add $500 for the roof rack and side air bags and you have a well-equipped vehicle. But wait there’s more. There is a LS equipment package for $2500 that features a power moonroof upgraded stereo limited slip differential and alloy wheels. And for $3204 you get leather a BOSE stereo system heated seats adjustable pedals and a compass and temperature gauge. There is a discount if you get all the options of $1517. Although we usually stick to the MSRP I have little doubt that the Isuzu dealers are going to put together an attractive deal since the competition is fierce and this model is essentially the same as the plentiful Envoy and the Trail Blazer.
For me as a businesswoman it comes down to value. The Ascender comes with Isuzu’s 3-year/50000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and 7-year/75000-mile powertrain warranty vs. the competitions 3-year/36000-mile coverage. Isuzu also provides roadside assistance for seven years or 100000 miles and a rust through promise up to 72 months or 100000 miles so these are all in its favor. So if that is what you want this Ascender is a good choice. Ultimately I can see no reason to consider the Isuzu unless you have a local dealer however I would not snub the Ascender because of name recognition.
College attending male’s view: I had my songs played on the radio for the first time and got a check for 24 cents. My career is beginning to take off and my dad feels that my stage name Simple Thoughts is very appropriate (www.simple-thoughts.net). Until that time when I am in full flight this Ascender is simply not on my list. It is heavy cumbersome to drive has little feeling needs constant steering wheel input when on all but the smoothest of roads and has a sub-standard stereo system and speakers.
On the good side of the ledger the interior is generous in size the 60/40 split seat fold easily and you don’t have to even remove the head rests as they automatically-fold out of the way. However instead of a flat load floor with all seats folded the Ascender’s floor is slanted and uneven. This Isuzu is strictly a price vehicle in my book. If you can get a good deal on it don’t depend on using a SUV as a babe magnet have a habit of owning them for a long time so depreciation is not a problem and don’t drive enough miles to be bothered by the poor gas mileage you might just want to give this model a drive.
Dad’s view: The 4.2 liter six-cylinder Ascender is underpowered with a full family onboard even thought it is rated at 270 horsepower when you get to 6000 rpm. The 5.3-liter V8 has more energy but it comes at a steep premium of nearly $1500. Despite my best efforts to get good fuel mileage I was hard pressed to get much more that 12-mpg in city driving. There is a Displacement on Demand feature that is said to increase gas mileage by about 2 mpg but face it this is not the type of vehicle to own if you are remotely concerned about conservation. Acceleration is adequate but hardly significant. Indeed the best part of the Ascender is its highway ride. There its soft suspension is not overly taxed and turning the stereo up a notch can hide the considerable wind rush so typical of boxy SUVs. Unfortunately unless you opt for the deluxe stereo package don’t expect much quality from the base unit.
The switchgear except for the window controls is easy to master and the many setting for the windshield wipers was a real plus in the rainy weather we experienced while testing this Isuzu. The height of all SUVs make their high headlight placement a concern when coming up behind someone at a stoplight and also when going through foggy weather. The lower the placement of your lights the better they are for reducing bounce back glare in the fog. That is why foglights are best placed under the bumper. The Isuzu’s headlights and foglights were inadequate in the rugged weather we faced.
I thought the seats were marginal but I like firm support. It would be good to take this model on a long run to see if are comfortable. There is good legroom in back and front and power adjustable pedals are an option. The second row seat is split and easy to tilt downward to expand the cargo bay. We didn’t test the seven-passenger model but statistics indicate that it does offer well above legroom for even the third row seat. A rarity these days.
Sometimes you have to spend more time evaluating the little things in such a vehicle to decide if it is really what you need. For example the Ascender has a full size spare that we always enjoy having however it is mounted under the vehicle where it can become problematic should you need to reach it in inclement weather. It has Front independent suspension with double wishbones coil springs all around a rear multi-link suspension and four-wheel disc brakes with front and rear vented discs. All of these are well proven components but the set-up is neither fish nor fowl as it provides a ride that is too fluffy for roadways and not lenient enough for stout off-roading. The 4-speed electronic automatic transmission with overdrive has a lock-up feature oil cooler and shifts well on level roads but when challenged when pulling a trailer or with a full load onboard it lets you know it is searching through its limited selection of gears to get the slow revving six-cylinder on boil. The one size fits all 3.42 axle ratio doesn’t help much either. The more torque endowed V8 with its impressive 325 horsepower requires a bit more fuel but may be worth it if you live in mountainous terrain or travel heavy with this 4500 pound SUV that has a towing capacity of well over two and a half tons. The interior volume is listed at 80.1 cu.ft or 43.7 cu.ft with the seats up. This is above average. Inside there are three 12V DC power outlets dual zone front air conditioning and thankfully no optional DVD monitor so that the children have three good choices when traveling: pay attention read or sleep. All of this makes if a much better vehicle than the Trooper it essentially replaces.
A survey of owners of the Ascender captures the rational for buying this Isuzu quite clearly. Over and above the good financial deal offered those who have put their money where their garages are continually reflect on having a different vehicle than others are repeat Isuzu owners and wanted something “smaller” than the Suburbans Expeditions and Hummer H2s they had purchased before. All of them had three complaints about the Isuzu which interestingly was our main ones poor gas mileage seats and road feel.
Family conference: The Ascender is as good as most of the competition and the longer warranty is certainly a consideration. However there are not that many dealers so if you travel extensively make sure that if something does go wrong you can get it serviced. Since this SUV is so similar to those from GMC and Chevrolet it would behoove the shopper to compare them in every way.
Written by The Car Family