Isuzu i280 LS 2WD
EPA Ratings: 20 city/27 highway
Observed Mileage: 22.38 mpg
Engine Size/type: 2.8L DOHC 16-valve inline-four
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Horsepower/torque: 175 hp at 5,600 rpm / 185 lb-ft at 2,800 rpm
Base MSRP/As Tested: $18,989/$20,866

OK, OK, we can read the hate mail already, "What are you guys, a bunch of import-lovers? How come you don't have any domestics in this comparison?" Let's get something straight. The Isuzu i280 is a virtual clone of the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, and it's as close as we could get to a four-cylinder Colorado, since there were none available in the GM press fleet. As far as Ford, we contacted both Ford and Mazda for a four-cylinder Ranger or B-series but also found none available.

The first impression driving this truck is its distinctly American feel. Both the Toyota and Nissan have an unmistakably Japanese character, although all three of these trucks are built in the USA. Likewise, the i280 rolls down the same assembly line as the Canyon and Colorado in Shreveport, Louisiana. Maybe it's the boxy, hard plastic in the interior, the familiar GM radio controls and gauges, and the marshmallowy ride. But, we're not here to bag on the beleaguered General or its affiliates--just to give you the straight-from-the-gut impressions.

First off, the positives: One staffer said the i280-350/Colorado/Canyon triplets were his favorites from a styling standpoint and look the best when customized. Indeed, the Isuzu and the other GM compacts have a macho, squared-off look that was missing from the S-10. With a few upgrades, it's definitely a head-turner. The powertrain overall works well. The clutch is firm, and the shifter is satisfyingly direct with short throws for a truck. With the largest and most powerful engine of the group, essentially two thirds of GM's excellent DOHC Vortec 4200 inline-six, the engine has ample midrange torque to scoot the Isuzu around with vigor on the flats and has a surprisingly aggressive, though not intrusive, growl.

Though not as zingy as the Nissan engine, it seems a little more willing to rev than the Toyota, staying relatively smooth all the way to redline. However, the upper gears are a little on the tall side, as evidenced by a lazy 2,500 rpm at 80 mph in Fifth gear. Consequently, any freeway passing maneuvers, especially on an uphill grade, require a shift into Fourth. Even maintaining speed on an uphill grade requires a downshift. Using the upshift light on the dash as a cue, one staffer squeezed an astounding 25 mpg out of the truck. Averaged with the more aggressive driving prior to the first fill-up, the combined average was 22.38 mpg, making it the mileage champ in this group by a hair.

Unlike the ingot-like solidity of the Nissan and the characteristic tightness of the Tacoma, any significant road irregularities sent a noticeable wobble through the Isuzu's chassis. Even passengers commented on the overall loose feel of the truck. But, if you're looking for a cushy cruiser in your commuter truck that gets good mileage to boot, this is your ride.