By on December 9, 2015

12 - 2002 Isuzu Axiom in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

Remember the Isuzu Axiom? Of course you don’t, because this Rodeo-based SUV was sold (in tiny quantities) for just the 2002-2004 model years and was then replaced with the Chevy Trailblazer-clone Isuzu Ascender.

Oddball, 21st-century marketplace flops are interesting to me, for whatever reason, so we’ll follow up the Kia Rondo Junkyard Find with this Denver wrecking-yard inmate.
05 - 2002 Isuzu Axiom in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

The owner’s manual was still inside, and it included this mysterious graphic.

07 - 2002 Isuzu Axiom in Colorado junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

I’m hoping to find a Suzuki Equator next.

Even Joe Isuzu himself couldn’t move the Axiom out of Isuzu showrooms.

There is at least one Axiom with Lambo doors and 22s out there.

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70 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 2002 Isuzu Axiom...”


  • avatar
    Compaq Deskpro

    I love that cartoon of the offroading Axiom, would make a great tattoo.

  • avatar

    While I agree no one remembers this vehicle, it’s styling still holds up pretty well. I saw one the other day and thought it was some newer Honda or Hyundai until I got closer to it. And the Rodeo was a fairly solid underpinning of only they had something a little more efficient to put in it. Ultimately it wouldn’t have mattered because GM was in charge and bleeding money, but Isuzu always made their money on industrial and trucks in the US anyway.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    These Axioms “live on” in a very successful Chinese SUV, the Great Wall Hover series. Usually equipped with a Mitsubishi-copied 2.4L gasoline I-4 and manual transmission, they’re actually not too terrible on a relative scale of Chinese vehicles. They’ve been frequently updated and refreshed, and at least on the Russian market, sell rather well. Compared to an UAZ Patriot with its solid axles front and rear, it is less capable and less roomy, but more reliable and better built.

    These Axioms were one of the first mainstream automobiles in the US with direct injected gasoline engines, with predictable results. Underneath it is more or less a Rodeo, for better or for worse. Failure prone GM-sourced automatic transmissions, an underspec-ed 4L30E when Chevy’s similarly sized Blazer used a 4L60E. However with an external aftermarket transmission cooler and regular ATF changes, they seem to live long, happy lives even with offroad use. The updated 3.5L DOHC engine can have some pretty serious oil burning issues, most often resulting in death by oil starvation in the hands of negligent owners. In northern climates, Rodeos had issues with rear trailing arm mounts rusting off, a serious safety issue. Aside from that, Isuzus are actually one of the better kept secrets in the world of off-roading. They have some very overbuilt drivetrain components in terms of axles, suspension, brakes. I don’t care for the Axiom but I’d love an earlier Trooper or Rodeo with a) the earlier 3.2L V6 and b) a manual transmission. Thus bypassing their weak spots.

    • 0 avatar
      GermanReliabilityMyth

      Keeping the 4L30E alive was a bit of a chore, at least on Axioms, since they were sealed units IIRC.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I don’t think that’s correct regarding the sealing.

        On any Isuzu with one, you can count on rebuilds every 60-75K though. It’s why I don’t own a Trooper, though I’ve always liked their looks and capability.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          The Axiom is “sealed” in the sense of many other manufacturers, in that they got rid of dipsticks, and maybe drain plugs on pans. You can still do a drain and fill pretty easily and drop the pan and change the filter, but the lack of dipstick is meant to imply that the unit is totally maintenance free, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

          Corey I think the 60-75k claim is overstated, my understanding is that even with fairly infrequent changes (or non), 100-120k is pretty normal. Following Isuzu’s severe use recommendation of 20k mile drain and fills, these 4L30Es last to 200k+ miles. Multiple folks on the Isuzuplanet forums with 20-25 year old Rodeos with original transmissions, one with 355k miles. But yes, with the typical American consumer’s Jiffy Lube “if I remember to” maintenance habits, Isuzus with these automatics are more failure prone than some competitors.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I knew you’d know! The drop pan and do the filter is the best way to maintain a transmission anyway. But the sealed thing is enough for most consumers to hear, as you mention. That means “do nothing” to the ill-informed.

            20K drain and fill is pretty short intervals, and I’m guessing more than most would do, even when vigilant. Also, suspect that the Trooper went to the same sort of customer used as the Montero.

            They’d have been better off using a heavier-duty tranny. Don’t put the same thing in a 318 as a Trooper!

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            As far as dropping the pan and replacing the filter goes, the expense and effort involved in doing this is actually what might end up discouraging many people from doing it.

            On my 4Runner, my plan is to simply do partial drain and fills (it has a dipstick and drain plug) every 30k miles. Seeing as these Aisins live to 300k+ miles even with regular offroad use, I’m not too worried. Also no worries about disturbing that pan gasket. Their only weakness is the transmission cooling lines routed into the radiator. These sometimes corrode and allow for coolant to mix with ATF, and that is a death sentence for the transmission unless you catch it right when it starts. I have my ATF lines bypassed and routed into a B&M transmission cooler, which eliminates this failure mode and gives me some extra cooling capacity.

          • 0 avatar

            I have a 98 Rodeo 4×4 with 250k miles on the original transmission. It skips a little in first when it’s cold but once it’s warmed up it shifts fine. A lot of the tranny issues were related to the control module on the transmission and not the actual tranny. It had an electronic control attached to the shift cable and if the contacts inside got dirty (which they did) it would shift hard. A lot of transmission shops made a lot of rebuild money off this. All you had to do was clean the dirty dialectric grease off the inside of the module and repack it and it would shift like new.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Good info kericf,

            The Isuzu and Mitsubishi SUVs (and Suzuki’s Vitaras) were always overshadowed by Toyota and to a lesser extent Nissan here in the US, and that’s too bad. They all made some good, capable vehicles.

          • 0 avatar
            redmondjp

            If you have a dipstick, just buy a Mityvac Fluid Evacuator and do topside oil changes on a regular basis. That’s all I do any longer and it’s very easy.

            Pulling the pan is overrated and unnecessary – the heavy stuff settles out in the bottom of the pan and sits there, doing no harm. And the filter is nothing more than a screen to keep the pump from getting damaged – if it is clogged, you already have a major problem that changing fluid + filter won’t fix.

            I ran my 1988 Buick for 150K miles w/o pulling the pan – pulled it at 65K miles the first time and added a drain plug (didn’t know about topside fluid extraction at the time), and then pulled it again at about 212K miles just to check things – it was still clean inside. I did drain & fills every 25-30K miles in between.

        • 0 avatar
          Dave M.

          Agreed. At 240k, transmission #3 on my Trooper is acting up. It’s irritating and expensive.

      • 0 avatar
        olddavid

        Wasn’t that transmission used on BMW 3’s and the Catera? In those applications it was sealed. Still a crap trans, even with 20k fluid changes and a supplementary cooler.

    • 0 avatar
      WolfgangGullich

      The Axiom was actually the very first direct injection gasoline car sold in the US. Audi followed soon after.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Just to clarify, the Great Wall Hover isn’t actually an Isuzu Axiom; it was just styled to look very much like said Isuzu.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Right you are Kyree, turns out the chassis is actually from a second generation 4Runner (90-95)! Totally bizarre mishmash.

        So for those keeping score we have the front clip from a Toyota Prado 120, the body and rear end of an Axiom, on an ancient 4Runner frame with an equally ancient 4 cylinder Mitsubishi motor.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          That model sounds like a game of mad libs.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          A downstairs mix-up!

        • 0 avatar
          GermanReliabilityMyth

          That actually doesn’t sound half bad. Probably a pretty decent, if basic (this is good) rig.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Yeah like I said they’ve been selling well in Russia as a decent value proposition. Some of the latest updates include optional automatic transmissions and turbocharged engines, it’s starting to morph towards the trendy crossover look (Hover H5). But the earlier cars have been tested in some really rugged and remote terrain in Siberia and they’re actually pretty decent. A similarly priced (or cheaper) UAZ Patriot is even more capable off road, but will probably have some serious build quality/reliability issues even when new. The UAZ’s big advantage is a) parts availability in remote regions of Russia and b) ease of modifications and availability of aftermarket parts such as lifts, locking diffs, bumpers, winches, etc.

  • avatar
    319583076

    I’ve seen a Suzuki Equator in the wild, one of the rarer vehicles I’ve ever spotted.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Me too – one time. It was red.

    • 0 avatar
      zamoti

      I spotted an Equator queued up in the offramp with a Mitsubishi Raider a few cars back. If only there had been an Isuzu Oasis somewhere in the mix…

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve had two of those throughout the years in inventory. Fun to buy for cheaper than a Frontier, not so fun to try and explain to people what they are.

      Also had an Ascender or two.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        The Ascender was only available in LWB format, IIRC. Always thought it was odd when I saw one, that someone would make that choice over a TB version. I liked the overall front and rear clips better than the TB, but the goofy roof rack lights annoyed me.

        • 0 avatar

          I think I mentioned this before, but at one point Isuzu had a promo where you would get a $50 gift card if you test-drove an Ascender. I went to my local Isuzu dealer, which was actually a gas-station sized building that served as both the Isuzu dealer and the “$6000 or less bargain used cars” lot for a local mega-franchise.

          They asked me if I actually wanted to test drive it or just get the signature for the gift card. I went for the latter.

        • 0 avatar

          Since it ran from ’03-’08, You could actually get the Ascender with nearly every drivetrain and wheelbase configuration as any other GMT-360, including SWB and a LWB with a 5.3l V8!

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      No Equator, but I did spy a Saab 97X Aero and a Buick Ranier in the same day once.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I agree with the above, the styling has held up pretty well. If you asked the casual person when it was from, I’d guess they would say 2008-09 range.

    All I ever read about these was how dated the Rodeo bits underneath were by that time, how the Rodeo and Passport had constant issues, and how the whole thing was uncomfortable and inefficient.

    And LOL to the commercial, trying to get XC70 owners to convert? I also seem to recall a commercial where Joe has a big rock tied to the front of the Axiom, which smashes into it. I never understood what that one was trying to prove (at age 15-ish).

    • 0 avatar
      mccall52

      @CoreyDL, regarding the commercial.

      The rock was actually in front of a Jeep Grand Cherokee, tied to a pole extending from the roof. The jeep was being driven by a guy, attempting to sell the merits of buying an SUV to Joe Isuzu, the implication of the rock being it is leading him to the great outdoors. Joe Isuzu then says, from his Axiom, good thinking. Joe then sells the Axiom on its merits of being a better city car, since ostensibly most SUVs never go off road anyway. The jeep guy then has to slam on brakes for some reason, sending the rock crashing into his grille.

  • avatar
    Mattias

    Last time i saw one of these (around 2010) i thought it was some new car… Had isuzu saved the styling for a rodeo successor and based it on the Dmax the Axiom styling would probably have ended up in a better place

  • avatar
    sirwired

    That’s a fairly sharp-looking interior, and it looks to have been well cared-for prior to the apparent accident that killed it.

  • avatar
    GermanReliabilityMyth

    Murilee, I used to own a 2011 Equator Sport. I share that every time it’s relevant to bring up. It was a great truck and I regret letting it go, but wouldn’t you know it, Suzuki left the US one year after I bought it. The nearest Suzuki dealer was almost 2 hours away and they were also leaving the business, so I would’ve been SOL on any warranty claims. And the Suzuki warranty line made it clear Nissan couldn’t do the work for me.

    Anyway, it was a great truck. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a Frontier with anything bigger than their patented lawnmower-only bed, but you could get the Equator with a 6′ bed on the 4 door cab. I also believe they tweaked the steering and suspension geometry slightly (for the better) but aside from a different front fascia (also better) and their logo on the steering wheel it was nuts-identical to the Frontier. Great truck, got 17 city and 23 highway for me. Stupid Suzuki.

    Anyway, aside from a leaf or bad bearing in the cabin blower motor, it never had any issues, so I suspect it’ll be a while until you see one in the yards unless it was in a collision.

    On topic, my boss was planning on buying one of these for his son, an ’02, and it was a gigantic POS at just a shade over 100K on the clock. Transmission, which I believe was a GM-sourced unit, was a terrible pile as well. The pictures you included make the quality look much higher than it actually was. In reality, I’d say that the interior materials, switchgear, etc was on par with a similar year Grand Prix, maybe worse. Good riddance.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      >but you could get the Equator with a 6′ bed on the 4 door cab.

      You could (and still can) get the crew cab Frontier with a 6′ bed as well.

      • 0 avatar
        GermanReliabilityMyth

        I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve seen one on a Frontier. Much less a Frontier manufactured in the last 4 years that wasn’t a king cab (which are rare enough in these parts as it is).

        • 0 avatar
          Drzhivago138

          I see absolutely no Frontiers on the road unless I go down to NE to visit my sister, and those ones are all crew cab/5′ beds. There must be some really good incentives at Sid Dillon Nissan.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    The show-car version of the Axiom was Antonio Baneras’ ride in “Spy Kids.”

    In fact, as I recall the other family truckster was also an Isuzu.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Anytme I see an Axiom (which is rare of course) I can’t help but think of people in their floaty chairs flying thru space with Wall-E, EVE and M-O! Foreign Contaminant
      indeed! http://pixar.wikia.com/wiki/M-O

  • avatar
    wantahertzdonut

    When the paragraph mentioned oddballs, I confused the Axiom with the Vehicross. That’s one that I’ve seen even less of than this.

  • avatar

    21st Century Orphan Vehicle Bingo:
    Any Isuzu
    Buick Terraza
    Buick Rainier
    Saab 9-7x
    Chrysler Aspen
    Mitsubishi Raider (aka Dakota with a weird grille)
    Chevy Malibu Maxx SS

    Special Forgotten Hybrid section:
    Chevy Hybrid pickup
    Chrysler Aspen or Dodge Magnum Hybrids
    Saturn Vue Greenline
    Honda Accord

  • avatar
    wantahertzdonut

    Throw in IS300 Sportcross and Jaxuar S-Type wagon. Discontinued AND rare. But not exotic.

  • avatar
    barryfaetheus

    What happened to the stories we used to get for junkyard finds? Nothing inspiring about the recent ones?

  • avatar
    rustyra24

    These things have a cult following.This thing will be picked apart for all usable parts in a short period of time.

  • avatar

    Fun Fact – with the SUSPENSION warning lamp illuminated, a Axiom suddenly transforms into Dynaride mode. A blast to drive.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    The VehiCross was the unicorniest of the Isuzu SUVs. Limited production combined with actual offroadability means that these have quite a bit of collector value, if you ever see one for sale. The styling was pretty shocking in 1999 but it seems to have worn pretty well. These are recent enough that there would probably be quite a bit of utility left in these.

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