Full 2008 Isuzu Ascender Review
What's New for 2008
Now in its last year, the 2008 Isuzu Ascender carries over with minimal changes. Among those are newly standard side curtain airbags and reconfigured option packages.
In the past few years, a lack of new product and marketing investment has left Isuzu struggling on the fringes of the light truck market. In fact, the end of the road is now in sight: 2008 will be the company's last year for its i-Series pickup and Ascender sport-utility vehicle, with plans to leave the U.S. consumer market altogether in early 2009. Given the company's negligible sales last year, we don't think many consumers are likely to notice.
Soldiering on in its final year and carrying over mostly unchanged in the people-carrying department is the capable but aging 2008 Isuzu Ascender. Introduced five years ago and based on GM's midsize truck-based SUVs like the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, the Ascender offers slightly tweaked styling -- including a different front grille and bumpers, unique lighting and Isuzu-specific wheels -- as well as minor interior fabric and trim variations. Without third-row seating or a V8 engine option, the 2008 Isuzu Ascender appeals mostly as a reasonably priced value proposition with solid GM-engineered credentials. Considering its low price point and long list of standard features, the Ascender generally matches up well at the lower end of the midsize sport-utility segment. Those looking for the best deal should plan on comparison shopping, however, and keep an eye on final price and warranty terms, as some competitors have extended their coverages into Isuzu's formerly exclusive territory.
If you typically carry no more than four or five and don't mind its unrefined truck-based origins and equipment -- or you are specifically looking for a capable and relatively economical medium-duty tow vehicle or all-weather/4WD SUV offering good value -- then a 2008 Isuzu Ascender is a viable choice. Just remember that Isuzu's runner-up status means that your resale value down the road will likely be poor. Unless you can score a screaming deal, we suggest checking out the Ford Explorer or the Toyota 4Runner instead if you're mainly interested in a truck-based SUV.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Isuzu Ascender is a well-equipped midsize SUV available in basic S trim and a choice of either rear-wheel or four-wheel drive. S models include 17-inch wheels, dual-zone air-conditioning with rear-seat controls, velour cloth upholstery, 60/40-split-bench rear seat, tilt steering wheel, power windows and locks, and a CD stereo.
Most Ascenders are also equipped with the Preferred Equipment Package, which adds rear privacy glass, power mirrors, body-side moldings, power driver seat, remote keyless entry, cruise control and other minor conveniences. The available midlevel LS Package adds more function with a limited-slip rear differential, a sunroof, heated outside mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a six-disc CD changer. The fully loaded, top-of-the-line Luxury Package provides color-keyed bumpers and exterior trim, leather seating with power/heated front seats and driver-seat memory, power-adjustable pedals, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a premium Bose audio system. LS and Luxury models may also be equipped with optional satellite radio.
Powertrains and Performance
The Isuzu Ascender is available with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. All Ascenders are powered by a 4.2-liter inline six-cylinder rated at 285 horsepower and 276 pound-feet of torque. It's mated to GM's proven but aging four-speed automatic transmission. Regardless of drivetrain, EPA-estimated fuel economy is rated at 14 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway. Properly equipped, Ascenders are solid medium-duty workhorses able to tow up to 5,800 pounds.
All 2008 Isuzu Ascenders include antilock disc brakes, stability/traction control and head curtain side-impact airbags. Government crash tests resulted in three out of five stars for driver-side frontal-impact protection and four stars for the front passenger. It fared much better during government side-impact testing, receiving a solid five stars for both front and rear occupants. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing was less impressive, resulting in an "acceptable" rating for frontal-offset impacts and only a "marginal" score -- the second lowest of four rankings -- in side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The five-passenger Isuzu Ascender holds the most appeal for young families or other value-conscious utility seekers who don't require three full rows of seating. Upscale leather and wood trim are available through the Luxury Package; however, other GM-sourced interior materials are bland and average at best. If the Ascender's lack of refinement doesn't bother you, there are more than 80 cubic feet of maximum cargo space with the rear seat folded -- about average for its segment. With the rear seat up, the Ascender's rear compartment reasonably accommodates two adults -- though the narrow rear door openings can make ingress and egress a bit awkward. Also, despite generous legroom, a low-mounted rear seat cushion forces larger folks to sit with their knees in an uncomfortably high position. Small item storage space is another weak point.
As with the rest of the vehicle, the 2008 Isuzu Ascender's driving dynamics are a mixed bag. The Ascender offers a solid road-going presence and well-cushioned ride, but on-road handling and steering quality lag behind other more evolved and well-rounded midsize SUVs.