Reasons for such a pathetic response are numerous, but most revolve around the fact that the Isuzu trucks may be the lamest example of rebadging to date. Based on the unimpressive and, frankly, uncompetitive Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon twins, the i-Series trucks wear a unique grille, specific stick-on badges, and, here’s a stretch, center hubcap covers and a steering wheel cover that read Isuzu. Even the headlights and taillights are the same. Apparently management’s recipe for success (so far apparently not exactly on track with the Ascender SUV, a GMC Envoy with similar lack of individuality) is to have the GM delivery truck stop off at the scant scattering of Isuzu dealers with a few pickups and some boxes of click-on parts and stickers.
Ah, but there is one saving grace. Each 2006 Isuzu i-Series pickup sold, surely to number in the tens if not hundreds, is backed by a three-year/50,000-mile basic warranty and seven years or 75,000 miles of powertrain coverage, with rust-through protection for five years or 100,000 miles. And base prices for the i-280 and i-350 are lower than equivalent Chevy Colorados and GMC Canyons, despite recent price reductions on both General Motors models.
Like those exact models with which it now competes, the Isuzu i-Series pickup comes equipped with one of two engines. The base i-280 model, available in extended cab guise only, features a 2.8-liter, dual overhead cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine offering a respectable 175 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 185 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,800 rpm. A standard five-speed manual transmission delivers power to the rear wheels, though a four-speed automatic is optional. EPA fuel economy is rated at 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway for the manual and 17/23 mpg for the automatic. Each Isuzu i-280 rides on an independent front suspension and live rear setup with leaf springs, with stopping power provided from front vented discs and rear drums. Steering is of the power rack-and-pinion variety. Base i-280 S models, starting at $17,649 including a $660 destination charge, feature 15-inch alloy wheels riding on General 225/75 tires, antilock brakes, air conditioning, a basic AM/FM radio, rear step-up bumper, cruise control, tilt steering, and a locking tailgate. The i-280 LS, with a base price of $19,649, adds rear jump seats, cloth seats and carpeting, CD and MP3 players, power mirrors, manual lumbar support for the driver, and floor mats. The base S model can be ordered with the Preferred Equipment Package, including an upgraded radio, carpeting, rear jump seats, floor mats, and cloth seats. LS buyers have the option of the LS Package, with power windows and door locks, upgraded cloth seats and interior trim, and more; or the Luxury Package and its side-curtain airbags, locking rear differential, traction control, leather steering wheel, six-disc CD changer, sliding rear window, and other luxurious features.
Drivers wanting a bit more space and four-wheel-drive functionality will need to look at the 2006 Isuzu i-350. This crew cab pickup is powered by a 3.5-liter, dual overhead cam, 20-valve, five-cylinder engine pushing 220 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and cranking out 225 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,800 rpm through a four-speed automatic transmission. Each i-350 comes equipped with that tranny, a four-wheel-drive system with a two-speed transfer case and automatic locking hubs, and LS badging, as well as an independent torsion bar front suspension and a live rear with leaf springs. The EPA rates fuel economy at 17 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. In addition to the standard features found on the i-280 LS, the Isuzu i-350 adds a locking rear differential, power windows and door locks, a 60/40 split folding rear bench seat, skid plates, and side-curtain airbags, all for the asking price of $28,018, including the $660 destination charge. A Limited Package adds leather seats, a six-disc CD changer, front power and heated seats, an exterior temperature gauge and compass, and a sliding rear window.
Our driving time took place in a 2006 Isuzu i-280 LS with a sticker price of $20,867. That included a dealer-installed bedliner, the Preferred Equipment Package, and the LS Package. For the better part of a week and hundreds of miles, we traipsed about Southern California’s city streets and highways, commuting and running errands in our copper orange tester.
2nd Opinion - Blackett
To its credit (and the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, for that matter), the 175-horsepower engine under the i-280’s hood provides adequate acceleration, and easily cruises along with quick-moving traffic, provided you’re talking about a perfectly flat road surface. Highway passes and slight inclines beg for a downshift to third or fourth gear, and hopes for a granny gear might arise if one maxes out the 1,532-lb. payload or 3,200-lb. tow rating. You can wring that four banger out to redline for a bit of spirit, but the motor’s raucous and unrefined nature will be giving you second thoughts. Much like those drivers will be thinking should they attempt any lively driving with this Isuzu, since the steering is mostly devoid of road feel, the tires squeal aplenty and the body rolls all over – driver and passengers alike will feel as though they’re still riding the waves even after returning to the sand of the beach. Granted, small $20,000 pickups are meant more for light hauling and commuting than apex-carving, but the Isuzu i-280 takes poor handling to the extremes. Thankfully, the brakes, though a bit touchy, worked well and were easy to modulate.
Hop inside the 2006 i-280 to find wide but flat front seats with integrated headrests. Over a 300-mile run to see some amateur racing in central California, a front passenger and I made it without any comfort complaints and enjoyed the rubberized center armrest, tilt and rubberized steering wheel, and sufficient leg and head room. Had we made the same trip on the rear jump seats, however, I most certainly would have different views to report. The seat bottom folds down, the seat back is fixed to the rear cab wall, and the result is a space that’d be inhospitable for even small children. Plus (and this slays me) our truck lacked a sliding rear window (that requires opting for the $1,569 Luxury Package) and all i-280s come with fixed rear side windows – fresh air be damned. Though the rest of your body may be immobilized in the rear seats, you can still shift your eyes from side to side to survey the 2006 Isuzu i-280’s interior quality. In our test truck, we noticed large gaps between the doors and dash, a loose passenger door switch panel, loose A-pillar covers, and some rattling from the center armrest. Though the materials were mostly hard plastic, everything else seemed to be firmly planted. The exterior build was much the same, with huge gaps where the headlights, hood, and grille met, and large gaps around the taillights. It seems that Isuzu won’t be benefiting from GM’s purported focus on tighter gap tolerances.
And that brings us full circle, back to question of why someone would buy this truck – the engine is average, the ride is average to below average (for this type of vehicle), and build quality is lacking. But, yes, there’s that impressive warranty which, when you think about it, addresses none of those concerns, with the possible exception of repeatedly popping a loose interior door switch panel back into place…free of charge, of course.
2nd Opinion - Perry
The Isuzu i-280 is really what I had expected. No glitz and no glam, just a basic, get-the-job-done vehicle. The four banger under the hood is surprisingly smooth at freeway speeds. In fact, on more than one occasion I found myself cruising along in fourth gear oblivious to the fact I was still in fourth gear and not fifth. The engine is that smooth. No high revving buzz here. With the manual transmission the four-cylinder provides plenty of get up and go but I would be very afraid to equip the i-280 with the optional four-speed automatic.
The interior is simple yet comfortable and the cloth seats are supportive and come equipped with a manual lumbar support adjustment. All knobs and switches are clearly marked and easy to read. The stereo offers both CD and MP3 capability, a plus I didn’t expect to find on a truck in this price range.
The only big negative I found the 2006 Isuzu i-280 to possess was the tendency to follow every groove in the pavement and exhibit a floating sensation. Constantly correcting the steering to compensate for this became tedious. I’m sure dumping the standard issue General tires in favor of better rubber would resolve this issue. Another less annoying issue was the inability to enter the back seats (if you can call them that) from the passenger side. The seatback doesn’t tilt forward enough to allow access, so all passengers must enter via the driver’s side. Over time, this could get annoying.
Based on the Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon, the Isuzu i-280 should be given more consideration by truck buyers simply due to the warranty. With the Colorado and Canyon trucks only offering three-year/36,000-mile warranties, the Isuzu i-280 shines with a seven-year/ 75,000-mile powertrain warranty. That alone should seal the deal.
2nd Opinion - Wardlaw
This new 2006 Isuzu i-280 reminds me of that old red pickup. It’s basic but pleasing in a purposeful, no-frills kind of way, even though our test model was equipped with niceties such as power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry, and a decent sound system with a CD player. The sticker price is under $21,000, but everyone knows nobody pays sticker, which means the local Isuzu dealer, desperate to sell you anything on the lot, is gonna deal and you’re out the door for well under 20 grand.
At that price, this makes a nice choice. A bedliner, alloy wheels, and a chrome grille dress up the outside, and the cabin is constructed of decent materials that fit well together. Rear access doors open to reveal jump seats for kids, or they can be flipped up to create a roomy storage area.
The 2.8-liter inline four isn’t going to win any drag races, but it’s torquey and the manual five-speed is easy to shift, so you get down the road just fine. The soft urethane steering wheel is nice to grip, and the seats are reasonably comfortable even if the driver’s bucket lacks a height adjuster. The brakes are hard to modulate – I never did get used to their grabby nature – and if you attempt to pitch the i-280 into a corner with too much speed you’re going to be rewarded with tire howl and plenty of body roll. Ride quality in town is fine, likely smoother with a load in the bed, and four visible corners make it simple to park.
Bare-bones trucks aren’t popular with consumers, but plenty of people who use pickups the way God intended will find this i-280 appealing. And with a warranty that’s longer than the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon on which it is based, why wouldn’t you give the Isuzu a try?
Price of Test Vehicle: $20,867 (including a $660 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 2.8-liter inline five-cylinder
Engine Horsepower: 175 at 5,600 rpm
Engine Torque: 185 lb.-ft. at 2,800 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Curb weight, lbs.: 3,346
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 20/27 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 18.8 mpg
Length: 207.1 inches
Width: 67.6 inches
Wheelbase: 125.9 inches
Height: 64.9 inches
Leg room (front/rear): 42.2/23.1 inches
Head room (front/rear): 39.6/37.9 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Payload, lbs.: 1,532
Max. Towing Capacity, lbs.: 3,200
Competitors: Chevrolet Colorado, Dodge Dakota, Ford Ranger, GMC Canyon, Honda Ridgeline, Mazda B-Series, Mitsubishi Raider, Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma
Photos courtesy of Ron Perry