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2006 Isuzu I-350

     Isuzu is bound to be leaving America soon.
     How else could you explain the company’s totally unimaginative, unoriginal lineup of trucks and SUVs? It’s as if everyone at Isuzu threw up their arms and said, “Enough already! We give up! Let’s just forget about this ‘create new cars’ thing and let General Motors do all our work.”
     And that’s exactly what’s happening.
     Isuzu now makes a total of three vehicles, all of which are nothing but re-named GM products built in GM factories. There’s the Ascender, which is just a GMC Envoy with a better name, and the I-350 and I-280 pickups, neither of which I knew existed until Isuzu invited me to drive one.
     To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know what the I-350 would be like until it actually arrived at my door. I expected to find something new and flashy because it’s been so long since I’ve noticed a new Isuzu pickup on the road. I figured they were discontinued sometime in the ’90s, and now would be a good time for Isuzu to return to the market with a great new truck.
     Boy, was I wrong. The disappointment started the moment I saw the I-350 in the parking lot.
     “This sure looks familiar,” I thought. “Looks just like a Chevy Colorado.”

     My suspicions were confirmed when I sat in the driver’s seat and found myself surrounded by the kind of crappy, hard-plastic dash and door panels that only GM still uses — the kind of plastic that feels like it was made from melted-down Tonka Trucks.
     “Yep. It’s 100-percent Chevy,” I thought.
    On the bright side, I knew this would be a pickup that rides and drives like a dream because that’s what the Colorado does. It has a remarkably quiet cabin for a truck, and its ride is much softer and more refined than you’d find in new trucks just five years ago.
     Another plus is the Isuzu’s powertrain warranty, which covers the engine and transmission for seven years or 75,000 miles. That’s about two years longer than average for a truck.
     Other than that, there’s no reason anybody ought to buy an I-350. You could get more options with a Colorado, probably a better price, and definitely a more convenient network of dealers. The fact that this truck exists is a mystery.
     Usually, when one lesser known brand tries to sell a vehicle made by a company with a better reputation — as was the case when Geo sold a car built by Toyota a few years back — the lesser known company offers a significantly lower price than the well-respected brand. That’s not what Isuzu is doing.
     The I-350 is priced nearly the same and sometimes higher than its counterpart at Chevrolet, depending on which options and packages you choose. That makes no sense.
     While Chevy offers a version of the Colorado for $15,330, the cheapest Isuzu version sells for $16,989. If you load a 4×4 Crew Cab version with options, it reaches well over $30,000 — and that’s outrageous. It’s a decent truck, but for that kind of money I’d expect much better quality and more luxury conveniences like the big trucks are offering.
     Finally, if you don’t think this truck signals the end of Isuzu in America, consider this: the Associated Press reported in September that Isuzu won’t have a display at the North American International Auto Show in 2006.
     Isuzu still claims it plans to stay in America, but that plan won’t last long if the I-350 is the best truck it can make.
     Better break out the funeral garb.

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