Though it has imported cars into the U.S., Isuzu is more well-known here for its trucks and truck-based SUVs. One of its more popular offerings in the latter realm was the diminutive Isuzu Amigo, a two-door compact SUV sold intermittently during the 1990s.
Amigo is, of course, a Spanish word that means "friend," but this Isuzu was somewhat less friendly than its name or cuddly dimensions suggest. The vehicle's refinement and ride quality were not as good as on competing car-based SUVs. Slow steering sapped much of the fun from the driving experience, and noise from the Amigo's engine was excessive, making for clamorous times within its cabin. The vehicle's two-door body and short wheelbase also made the rear seat an unpleasant place to get to and sit on.
On the plus side, the Isuzu Amigo was attractive-looking, with sharp angles and a sporty, pugnacious stance. The ute's dual-range four-wheel drive and high ground clearance made it competent off-road. Later models also offered a powerful V6 that provided brisk acceleration.
Still, these charms are not enough to compensate for its lack of refinement relative to others in its class. If you're in the market for a used compact SUV, saying adiÃ³s to the Amigo in favor of its competition is probably a wise decision.
Most Recent Isuzu Amigos
The second-generation Isuzu Amigo was built from 1998-2000. It was initially offered only as a two-door convertible, but a hardtop configuration joined the lineup in 1999. Mechanically, it was related to Isuzu's larger Rodeo, which meant it had body-on-frame construction and a non-independent rear suspension.
This Amigo came in one trim, the S, whose standard features included an AM/FM/cassette audio system, antilock brakes and dual sunroofs on hardtop models. Powering the Amigo was either a 130-horsepower, 2.2-liter four-cylinder or a 205-hp, 3.2-liter V6. Initially, both engines were connected to a five-speed manual transmission. Beginning in 1999, a four-speed automatic transmission became available and was offered as standard equipment on Amigos equipped with the V6 engine. Both two-wheel-drive and four-wheel drive-versions of the Amigo were offered.
Models equipped with the inline-4 offered an options list that included air-conditioning, a CD player, alloy wheels, a trailer hitch and side steps. Those equipped with a V6 engine had a more generous options list, which included keyless entry and full power accessories.
On the market for just a couple of years, this generation of the Amigo benefited from just one notable tweak. It got redesigned front styling for 2000, along with a new Ironman package that included adaptable shock absorbers. For 2001, Isuzu rebadged the vehicle as the Rodeo Sport.
In reviews of the time, the Isuzu Amigo scored high marks for its handsome exterior styling, powerful V6 and respectable off-road ability. Its short wheelbase also made it easy to maneuver in urban environments. But we were turned off by its interior, which was cramped and fitted with low-quality plastics and a poor sunroof design on hardtop models. Additionally, the Amigo's soft suspension settings and slow steering reduced handling ability and couldn't fully mask the SUV's truck-based underpinnings that often resulted in a harsh ride over broken pavement.
Past Isuzu Amigos
The first-generation Isuzu Amigo was built from 1990-'94, and was available only as a convertible in two trims. Base S models offered little more than cloth seats as standard equipment. XS models added alloy wheels, a tilt steering wheel and power steering. Options included air-conditioning and an AM/FM/cassette audio system.
Under the hood was a 2.3-liter inline-4 good for 96 hp and 103 lb-ft of torque; an optional 120-hp 2.6-liter inline-4 was available for those who needed more juice. Initially, these engines were connected to a five-speed manual transmission, and both rear-wheel and four-wheel drive were offered.
A few changes were logged over the years. In 1991, XS models got a locking center console standard; the item was optional on S models. In 1992, a four-speed automatic transmission was added to the options list. The following year, Amigos got a new grille. In 1994, the automatic transmission was deleted from the options list, and the base 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine was scrapped. The standard features list grew to include power steering, power outside mirrors, a center floor console and 16-inch wheels.