From the Archive: 1989 Isuzu Amigo XS 4WD Test

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From the June 1989 issue of Car and Driver.

The charge in this case is aggravated cuteness with intent to commit market domination. Disturbingly frequent in to­day’s sport-utility market, this offense can be blamed in large part on the Suzuki Sam­urai. When it first wheezed its way onto the scene, the Samurai single-handedly rein­vented its class. Who could have predicted that a stiffly sprung, underpowered, em­bryonic Jeep clone would survive more than a year in the sport-utility niche—let alone set a new sales record every 10-day reporting period? Of course, the Consum­er Reports hoo-ha [the magazine deemed the Samurai “not acceptable”] temporarily slammed the brakes on the Samurai’s rising sales curve, but by then the damage was already done. The market had realized that cute­ness, with a dash of macho thrown in to cut the sweet taste in your mouth, sells. And sells big.

This phenomenon, it seems, is only a reflection of a national shift in conscious­ness. The traditional macho image has been torpedoed and replaced by a non­threatening, idealized “nice” persona. Consider one of our nation’s biggest moneymaking role models: Tom Hanks, the lovable geek who couldn’t (or wouldn’t want to) punch his way out of a kin­dergarten brawl. Even Arnold Schwarz­enegger has quit ripping people’s hearts out with his bare hands and is doing com­edy with a four-foot-tall sidekick. What’s going on here, anyway?

It seems that we are in the dawn of the age of “nice.” What exactly is “nice,” you ask? Well, a Ford F-350 dualie pickup is not nice. It’s brutal. A Range Rover, on the other hand, is very nice. A Lambor­ghini LM002 is not at all nice, but a Suzuki Sidekick with a candy-striped can­vas top and a surf rack is exquisitely nice. In other words, a “nice” truck is the equivalent of a guy who never misses a date with his Soloflex machine but does origami to relax.

Look at the name of this new Isuzu sport-utility vehicle: “Amigo.” It’s a nice, friendly name, isn’t it? That should tell you something right off. Isuzu didn’t decide to call its new off-roader “the Eviscerator,” did it? Nor did it choose something along the lines of Sturm Pan­zer, Wild Hog, Dirt Ruler, Desert De­stroyer, Dune Whacker, Killer Drone, or anything else that could possibly be construed as not being nice.

But take a look at the Amigo’s shape. This is not the body of a 98-pound weak­ling. It’s got what weight lifters call a “ripped” look—lots of clearly defined bulges. The Amigo has huge fender flares and chunky B-pil­lars that are about 50 percent wider than they need to be. One of the Amigos we drove even had humongous, yard-high Bridgestone Desert Dueler off-road tires. Okay, “Desert Dueler” may not sound all that nice, but it’s a smoke­screen. Deep down, this is a nice truck.

By now you should realize that the Amigo is the truck equivalent of Tom Selleck, a big hunk of a guy who could take you apart without breaking a sweat but who’d rather barbecue or take a med­itative walk on the beach. This is the age of muscle and fitness, and looks are everything. You don’t have to play the part, but you sure have to look it. The Amigo certainly looks the part.

True to the doctrine of brawny exteri­ors and Twinkie fillings, however, the Amigo is only an average performer. The base engine for the two-wheel-drive model is a carbureted 2.3-liter four-cylin­der rated at 96 hp. Optional in the two-­wheel-driver and standard in the four­wheel-drive edition is a port-injected 2.6-liter four-banger that puts out 120 hp.

Neither of these powerplants will dispel the notion that this is a nice truck for nice people. Our test Amigo was a four-­wheel-drive version with the 2.6-liter four-cylin­der engine and a five-speed manual transmission (the only gearbox available on any Amigo). So equipped, it acceler­ated from 0 to 60 mph in a leisurely 15.3 seconds and reached a top speed of only 89 mph. But that’s okay: nice buyers don’t go rat-racing around the neighbor­hood or squeal rubber or set a blistering pace on the highway.

The Amigo comes with two front seats and an optional rear bench seat that ups the passenger capacity to four. It also of­fers several neat rear-hatch configura­tions. And this brings us to a point that requires some clarification. As delivered, the Amigo is considered a pickup truck by the feds and the import-tax collectors. And, in fact, the Amigo lacks a cover for its rear hatch when it arrives at the dealer. Without a cover, of course, the Amigo would turn into a wading pool during the first rainstorm, so Isuzu sells a canvas top and a hard-plastic hatch cover as dealer options—mandatory options unless you’re fond of wading pools.

The two-seater’s Hatchgate option in­cludes a plastic lid that covers what would normally be the pickup bed. The lid has a lock to secure whatever you stow back there. The storage area is plenty roomy, though like a pickup-truck bed it’s devoid of carpeting or other padding. The storage area is double-walled, how­ever: loose bowling balls will prang the hell out of the inner skin, but the dents won’t show on the outside. That’s nice.

The four-seater, which Isuzu consid­ers an option package and not a separate model, can be equipped only with the re­movable canvas-nylon top. (The soft top also fits the two-seater.) So outfitted, the Amigo transforms itself into a nice, nifty­-looking convertible.

To us, the four-seat, soft-top Amigo is the hot setup. The extra passenger-car­rying capacity is a big bonus, and the soft top is easy to snap on and off. (The two­-door’s plastic Hatchgate can only be re­moved with tools.) Unfortunately, the rear bench seat isn’t the quick-detaching kind. The seat bolts into place, and re­moving it requires time, tools, and sweat. We think any vehicle that purports to be as nice as the Amigo should have a plug-in rear seat. That would be really nice.

The Amigo is available in two trim lev­els: S and XS. The S package includes re­clining bucket seats, tinted glass, and a full-size spare mounted on the tailgate. The XS package includes those items and also adds a spare-tire cover, a ta­chometer, an adjustable steering column, and in­termittent wipers.

The interior, which is available only in black with gray trim, is a pleasant place. It’s dressed in honest-looking plastic, it looks clean, and it’s comfortable. The seats are handsome and supportive, the instrument panel is neat and logical, and the thick steering wheel is, well, nice. Spend some time in the cabin and the word “civilized” will keep coming into your mind. Our only major complaint is that the billboard-sized B-pillars consid­erably restrict rear-quarter visibility.

Compared with its closest competitors in the macho-cute sport-utility niche, the Suzuki Sidekick/Geo Tracker twins, the Amigo is a monster. It’s 5.9 inches wider and 21.7 inches longer (25.6 inches for the XS 4WD model), and it sits on a wheelbase that’s 5.1 inches longer. The Amigo also offers an extra inch and a half of ground clearance.

The wider stance and longer wheel­base mean that the Amigo’s ride and handling are more carlike than the Side­kick/Tracker’s. The Amigo’s ride is sup­ple over all but seriously choppy pave­ment, and the suspension handles most paved surfaces with ease.

With only anemic engine choices avail­able, the Amigo doesn’t offer many per­formance giggles per mile—but there are compensations. The ability to enjoy open-air touring is one of the biggest pluses. And with its 9.5-inch ground clearance, four-wheel-drive system, and 21.9-gallon fuel tank, the Amigo XS 4WD can reach places where the search par­ties will never find you.

Although we aren’t experts at dune booming, our off-road experience with the Amigo was positive. The 146 pound­-feet of torque produced by the 2.6-liter four may not seem like much, but com­bined with the torque multiplication of the two-speed transfer case it’s enough to float the Amigo over medium-to-large hills, trample over rocky washes, and clamber up serious grades. The manually locking front hubs are only a minor inconvenience.

Isuzu has done a masterful job packag­ing and marketing the Amigo. As a fun sport-utility vehicle, this brawny-looking machine clearly ranks as the standard-bearer in its class. Granted, the Amigo is down on power. But for the money ($8999 for the base 2wd edition, $12,969 for the full-tilt XS 4WD), it offers much more room and heft than the Tracker or the Sidekick. The Amigo has the looks, the versatility, and the price to make it one of the most attractive sport-utility ve­hicles on the market.

To put it another way, it’s really, really nice.



1989 Isuzu Amigo XS 4WD
Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear/4-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door pickup


Base/As Tested: $13,228/$14,653
Options: air conditioning, $750; sound system, $385; manual sunroof, $250; floor mats, $40

SOHC inline-4, iron block and aluminum head, port fuel injection
Displacement: 156 in3, 2559 cm3
Power: 120 hp @ 5000 rpm
Torque: 146 lb-ft @ 2600 rpm 

5-speed manual


Suspension, F/R: control arms/rigid axle
Brakes, F/R: 10.4-in vented disc/10.4-in disc
Tires: Michelin XC All terrain M+S


Wheelbase: 91.7 in
Length: 168.1 in
Width: 70.1 in
Height: 65.7 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 54 ft3
Cargo Volume: 31 ft3
Curb Weight: 3440 lb

30 mph: 4.0 sec
60 mph: 15.3 sec
80 mph: 37.8 sec
1/4-Mile: 19.6 sec @ 68 mph
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 18.8 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 28.4 sec
Top Speed: 89 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 216 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.69 g 


Observed: 16 mpg

City/Highway: 16/19 mpg 


Source: Reviews -


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