Like the rest of the Axiom’s operating hardware, its V-6 engine is a known quantity, but it’s from a different section of the Isuzu warehouse. Instead of the Rodeo’s 3.2-liter DOHC 24-valve iron-block mill, the Axiom gets the Trooper’s 3.5-liter all-aluminum engine, with a new dual-length intake system that bumps max horsepower from 215 in the Trooper to 230 here. Peak torque is 230 pound-feet at 3000 rpm, with an excellent curve: 200 pound-feet by 1200 rpm, which makes the 4500-pound towing capacity seem wholly plausible.

The V-6 feeds its power through a four-speed automatic transmission — unlike the Rodeo, there’s no manual-gearbox option — with adaptive logic controls and two operating modes, “power” and “winter.”

The sheetmetal speaks for itself, and loudly. Developed under the baton of project chief Seiji Emoto, the Axiom is a slightly diluted rendition of the ZXS concept vehicle that made its debut at the 1999 Tokyo motor show and is consistent with the blocky, postapocalyptic look that has flavored a number of Isuzu concepts in the past decade. It’s not quite as tall as the Rodeo, even with its standard 17-inch wheels, but it’s 5.1 inches longer, a bit wider, and offers more cargo space — four cubic feet, according to Isuzu. However, rear-seat legroom is a tad snug by mid-size standards.

Isuzu’s goal for this boldly rebodied Rodeo is twofold. First, the company wanted to create a sport-utility that would tickle the driver-satisfaction centers of folks who favor sports sedans. We’ll have to wait for more seat time before drawing any hard conclusions on that one, but our initial exposure — a half-day of driving in and around northern California’s viniferous Napa Valley — suggests the product planners may need a reality check. With listed curb weights ranging between 3950 and 4200 pounds, the Axiom is not exactly light on its feet. It also changes direction reluctantly, lacks steering feel, and may be a bit harsh in the ride department.

Second, if you like different, the Axiom delivers a look that won’t be mistaken for anything else, along with a smartly turned-out interior and a nice array of standard equipment. Although Isuzu wasn’t ready to reveal prices at this initial encounter, the forecast is for a starting point in the “mid-$20,000 range,” which we interpret to mean $26,000. We’d guess further that the price will top out at about $34,000 for a leather-lined, four-wheel-drive XS model such as the one we drove in California. If that guess proves to be a good one, then you can add a strong value component to the Axiom’s list of appeals.

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