Isuzu Trooper ♦ Vehicle Test ♦
In an age of new, exciting off-roaders that talk the talk but all too often fail completely to walk the walk, the good old Isuzu Trooper is a reminder that there’s still a place for 4x4s that do the simple things right. Built on a traditional chassis, with a traditional two-speed transfer box and traditional live rear axle, the Trooper is a serious truck with a giant towing weight and prodigious off-road ability.
But the reason people started making soft-roaders was that ‘real’ 4x4s were too compromised on the road. Which leaves the Trooper and its like in a sticky situation; they represent the old guard and, next to the trendy looks of a modern pretender, it’s all too easy to sneer at their massive slab-sidedness.
So, how does a 4x4 like the Trooper stack up next to the exaggerated family cars with which it must now share the stage? Well, what we have here is the popular combination of five-door body and 3.0-litre diesel engine, in Citation trim – this was once at the top of the range, but rather confusingly now sits in the middle, between Duty and Insignia.
The diesel unit got a load of updates for 2002, designed to make it quieter, cleaner and smoother-running, as well as making it better at start up. On the latter score, you still need to prod the throttle to make it fire, but once it lumbers into life it settles down immediately.
Most important, the throttle spring has been redesigned for better pedal control when off road. Isuzu made much of its ‘hair-trigger’ response when the engine was new, but the old model was prone to lurching while you were trying to ease it over obstacles with minimal gas; this has been completely cured, and the Trooper is now uttely obedient as you squeeze the throttle to keep the engine sweet, even as you drop below the 2000rpm at which max torque is developed.
As a result, this is now a supremely tractable vehicle, even on standard tyres. You can keep it in the highest possible gear and just tease the loud pedal to keep it moving forward – there’s no need to use wheelspin to get yourself through, unless you decide to tackle the sort of ground that’s frankly foolhardy in road trim.
As it was, our Trooper made short work of mud, ruts and wet grass side-slopes without ever once registering a protest. A limited-slip rear diff helps here, though it takes severe terrain indeed to throw the back axle out of balance.
At the front, independent wishbones are not the stuff of great articulation, but the Trooper’s set-up allows enough to cope without messing itself up for the road. It’s not the briskest of drives but, once you’ve wound it up, the front and rear anti-roll bars are a welcome ally – and they help make it a rock-solid tow vehicle, too, which is what most people are thinking about when they buy one.
If you don’t want to tow and you don’t want to go off-road, the Trooper looks big, cramped and expensive next to more modern rivals. But as a real 4x4, it only takes a few miles before you appeciate why it continues to thrive after all these years. Competent, comfortable and as strongly built as ever, it delivers the goods without wasting time on image-building – if you’re after a convincing all-round 4x4, this is still a compelling choice.
What you’re paying for here is world-class off-road engineering; this is no toyed-up funmobile, but it’s a 4x4 great.
+ Superbly built, brilliant for towing and completely capable off-road
- No beauty; old-style 4x4 thirst, and less kit than you might expect