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SEE ALSO: Izuzu Buyer's Guide

1998 Isuzu Amigo

by Carey Russ

In the movie "Romancing the Stone", there is a scene in which the hero and heroine, stuck in the jungle and desperate to get out, ask a grizzled old character for transportation. "All I have," he says, "is my little burro." With visions of a long journey on the back of a donkey, the heros reluctantly agree. And are surprised when the "little burro" turns out to be a hot-rod 4x4 truck.

The "little burro" came to mind within the first hundred yards of driving a new 1998 Isuzu Amigo. Like the original Amigo of years past, the new one is a two-door version of Isuzu's Rodeo sport-utility with a partial soft top. Like the Rodeo, it is built at Isuzu's Lafayette, Indiana plant. And the new Amigo has all of the structural and comfort advantages of the new Rodeo. It also has the engine choices of the new Rodeo - a standard 2.2-liter, 130-horsepower 4-cylinder that should give it performance parity with any competitors and an available 3.2- liter, 205-horsepower V6 engine that gives it considerably more potent performance than any other small sport-utility. The "little burro", so equipped, is very close to being an SUV muscle car, 1990' s style.

The 1998 Amigo shares basic styling with the newest Isuzu Rodeo, and is more contemporary-looking while showing strong continuity with the original. It has a 5.2-inch longer wheelbase and 2- inch wider track than its predecessor for better stability on and off the road and much-increased interior room. Even with all of its attitude and style, the Isuzu Amigo is truck-tough. A box-section ladder frame provides a sturdy foundation, and galvanized steel shields for the underside of the radiator and fuel tank add protection off or on the road.

The 4x4 V6 Amigo kept me entertained during my week with it. Just a bit larger than other small SUVs, it had plenty of room inside and wasn't too big or unwieldy outside. It fit in small parking spaces and should fit down narrow 4-wheel drive trails as well. No power problems with the V6, either. "Amigo" is Spanish for "friend", and the Isuzu Amigo is a very friendly little vehicle.

APPEARANCE: In style, the 1998 version of the Isuzu Amigo is an evolutionary update of the original. It is a short two-door SUV with large, prominent wheels and tires. Think of it as an all-terrain sports coupe. The new Amigo is a little larger and more rounded at the edges and corners than the old one, but the "blister"-style fender flares, egg- crate grille and rectangular headlights, and partial soft top are still very familiar. The jaunty partial soft top promises fun, and its large plastic windows allow for good visibility.

COMFORT: "All-terrain sports coupe" could describe the Amigo's interior, too. Style and materials are similar to those found in sporty cars in the Amigo's price range. The driver and front passenger have supportive, well-bolstered sports-type bucket seats. A tilt-adjustable steering wheel with a comfortably-thick rim would not be out of place in a sports coupe. If the exterior styling is evolutionary, the new instrument panel is not. It is modern and carlike (that sports coupe, again), flowingly styled with good instrument and control placement. If there is a place where the Amigo is not "sports coupe", it's the rear seat. Rear-seat passengers have more room than in any other small SUV, or than in some compact sedans. A locking glove box, covered console box, and door pockets provide useful storage. The standard sunroof is of the manual pop-up variety, and the convertible top is manually operated.

SAFETY: The 1998 Isuzu Amigo 4x4 V6 has dynamic safety cage construction, side-guard door beams, dual air bags, a rollover bar, and 4-wheel antilock disc brakes.

ROADABILITY: Small sport-utility vehicles often have a choppy, bouncy ride that is closer to that of a short-wheelbase Conestoga wagon than a car. Not the Amigo, amigos. The increase in chassis rigidity and wheelbase and improvements in suspension design make for a very reasonable amount of comfort, especially considering the Amigo's relatively short wheelbase and high stance. It doesn't corner like a sports car, but can be shifted into 4-wheel drive high range on the fly at speeds under 60 mph. A standard roll bar can prevent headaches, and 4-wheel antilock disc brakes help the Amigo stop better than most SUVs.

PERFORMANCE: The new V6 is lighter, more compact, and more powerful than that in previous Isuzus. In the Amigo, it is offered only with 4-wheel drive and a 5-speed manual transmission, definitely a sport-oriented package. The Amigo's relatively light weight and the engine's 205 horsepower and 214 lb.-ft. of torque make for acceleration at a rate not normally found in small sport utilities. Long, but smooth, shift throws let the driver know that the Amigo is a truck. When called upon to work, it can tow up to 4500 lbs.

CONCLUSIONS: The new V6 Isuzu Amigo combines a fun-in-the- sun convertible style with serious performance and towing abilities.

SPECIFICATIONS

Base Price               $ 19,350
Price As Tested          $ 24,005
Engine Type              aluminum alloy dual overhead cam, 24-valve V6
Engine Size              3.2 liters / 193 cu. in.
Horsepower               205 @ 5400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)           214 @ 3000 rpm
Transmission             5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length       96.9 in. / 168.0 in.
Curb Weight              3675 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    17.9
Fuel Capacity            17.7 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded regular
Tires                    P245/70 SR16 Bridgestone Dueler 684
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear   independent double wishbone /
                         solid axle with multi-link location
Ground Clearance         8.2 inches at differential
Drivetrain               front engine, on-demand four-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      18 / 21 / 19
0 to 60 mph                    7.5 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)               16.0 sec
Towing Capacity               4500 lb.

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Preferred Equipment Package - includes:
  Air conditioning; power windows and
  door locks; black power outside mirrors;
  cruise control; tilt steering column;
  variable intermittent wipers; center
  armrest pad; 6-speaker AM/FM/cassette
  sound system; cargo net; remote keyless
  entry & alarm                    

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