Full 2007 Isuzu i-Series Review
What's New for 2007
A larger and more powerful 185-horsepower 2.9-liter inline four-cylinder is now available with an automatic transmission in the i-290; the more powerful i-370 crew cab now features a larger 242-hp 3.7-liter inline five-cylinder that replaces last year's 3.5-liter engine.
Despite its decades-long alliance with industry giant General Motors, tiny Isuzu has existed on the fringes of the light truck market -- and been left for dead in the sales and branding department -- for quite some time. In fact, a lack of money for new product investment and marketing in the last few years has forced Isuzu to rely almost entirely on its partnership with GM. If it weren't for the current i-Series truck and Ascender sport-utility vehicle derived from existing products, it's conceivable Isuzu might have already been relegated to the retailing graveyard of American automotive history.
The capable-but-lightweight 2007 Isuzu i-Series truck was introduced last year to help revitalize the Isuzu lineup and mostly carries over, based on and mechanically similar to GM's compact/midsize pickup Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon twins. To differentiate them, the i-Series has slightly tweaked styling -- including a distinctive, in-your-face chrome grille and Isuzu-badged wheels -- as well as minor interior fabric and trim variations.
The i-Series is available in two basic versions with distinct body style options: the extended-cab-only i-290 pickup with four-cylinder power and rear-wheel drive, and the i-370 with a significantly more powerful five-cylinder engine. The i-370 also available with an extended-cab or crew-cab body and rear-wheel or four-wheel drive (crew-cab only).
On paper the 2007 Isuzu i-Series offers most of the right stuff to satisfy a majority of small truck shoppers. Unfortunately, when climbing in for real it feels cut-rate at nearly every touch point and comes up lacking, even in a class of vehicles where functionality and value come before upscale appointments. The doors are lightweight and hollow-sounding when shut, and as you slide behind the wheel its compromised dash, upholstery and fit-and-finish quality project a decidedly low-rent persona. On the road, both i-Series models ride and handle well enough and offer more power and responsiveness, but both still lag behind their V6- and V8-powered competition when extra oomph is ordered up for work or play.
The Isuzu i-Series appeals mostly as a reasonably priced value buy or a decently engineered GM spin-off. However, even considering its lower price of entry, generous standard features and extended powertrain warranty, the i-Series struggles to keep up with its more refined compact/midsize competition. For most buyers in this segment, we suggest sticking with a top compact or midsize pickup such as the Nissan Frontier or Toyota Tacoma.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2007 Isuzu i-Series extended-cab body has a 6-foot bed, while the crew cab provides additional rear-seat room in exchange for a 5-foot box out back. The i-290 offers three trim levels adorning its extended cabin: S, LS and Luxury. The i-370 foregoes the base S level entirely and is split between uplevel LS and Limited models. i-290 S models have air-conditioning, cruise control, a vinyl split-bench seat and not much else. Understandably, most buyers upgrade to the S with Preferred Equipment Package, which adds carpeted floors, cloth seat trim, rear jump seats with storage compartments, rear privacy glass and a CD/MP3 stereo.
Up a notch, the midlevel LS model adds front bucket seats, powered accessories, remote keyless entry and six-speaker sound. Stepping all the way up to the Luxury level includes more safety, comfort and convenience with a locking rear differential, foglamps, a sliding rear window and a six-disc CD changer. Depending on body style, checking off the Limited or Luxury box takes the i-370 further uptown with leather seating, power/heated front seats and an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a six-disc CD changer.
Powertrains and Performance
The Isuzu i-Series is a two- or four-wheel-drive truck powered by one of two now more powerful engines: a 2.9-liter inline four-cylinder rated at 185 hp and 190 pound-feet of torque, or a 3.7-liter inline five-cylinder now rated at 242 hp and 242 lb-ft of torque. The four-cylinder can be had with the standard five-speed manual transmission or available four-speed automatic, a proven-but-aging GM design; the five-cylinder is mated only to the automatic. Now with more power, we found that both engines are solid -- if not especially economical -- performers. When it's time to work or play, Isuzu i-370s can only tow up to a modest 4,000 pounds -- though an even weaker 3,100 pounds is the upper limit with i-290s.
The i-370's available on-demand four-wheel-drive system uses an electronically controlled shift-on-the-fly front differential to engage those wheels immediately when slippery conditions are encountered. And owing to its forgiving and capable body-on-frame truck heritage and two-speed transfer case with low-range gearing, a 4WD crew cab i-370 can still handle conditions from slippery snow and ice to slimy, wet boat ramps to adventures far off the beaten path, winding up at steep and rocky mountain peaks -- unlike most FWD/AWD car-based crossover utes that might dare to compete.
All 2007 Isuzu i-Series trucks include four-wheel antilock braking and tire-pressure monitoring; traction control is available on 2WD vehicles and roof-mounted curtain airbags are available on most models to help provide additional head protection in the event of a side impact. In government crash tests, the i-370 earned a top five-star rating for both driver and front passenger protection in frontal-impact testing. In the side impact test, the truck earned four stars for front passenger protection and five stars for rear passenger protection. In IIHS testing, the i-Series received a "Good" rating in frontal offset collision testing.
Interior Design and Special Features
Trucks may have gotten more accommodating in recent years, but don't expect anything extra-fancy inside the Isuzu i-Series. The quality of materials ranges downward from acceptable to below average, and build quality is spotty, too. On a brighter note, large and simple climate and stereo controls make adjustments a snap and help the interior feel familiar as soon as you climb in. Extended-cab models feature small reverse-opening rear half-doors on both sides for access to the back, and two tiny, don't-even-think-about-it jump seats inside. Larger crew-cab models offer four regular-size doors and a standard 60/40 split-folding rear bench seat that can accommodate three adults when upright.
On the road, the 2007 Isuzu i-Series, like its GM relatives, offers a solid presence, reasonably refined, if modest, power, a well-cushioned ride and surprising agility, but still falls short of more powerful, evolved and well-rounded compact/midsize trucks. i-Series' inline engines are acceptably refined and deliver adequate, efficient power fine for simply getting around -- just don't expect much in the way of surplus grunt or top-end power, or any more than lightweight towing capability. Shifts from the four-speed automatic are firm and timely, though, and the throws of the five-speed manual gearbox are among the best we've found in a smaller truck. We find the i-290's suspension tuning is on the soft side, and the i-370's ride just a bit less so -- but both trucks handle and steer surprisingly well and rate above-average compared with their peers.