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Isuzu Trooper buying guide, history and review

Words: Matthew Hayward

If you want an interesting, older off-roader, it’s easy to get drawn into the world of Land Rovers and Land Cruisers, but there is an alternative. During the 1990s there were many options if you needed a useful all-terrain load-lugger, capable of towing a decent- sized trailer – and one that seems to have been forgotten (except by those in the know) is the Isuzu Trooper. It’s a bit of a bargain, too.

The original Trooper was launched in Japan as the Isuzu Rodeo Bighorn in 1981. The Rodeo part was soon dropped, and the model quickly became well- established around the world as a tough, utilitarian 4×4. It came to the UK in 1987, but it’s the larger second-generation car we’re more interested in.

The Mk2 Trooper came on-stream in 1992 and was a considerable step-up. It looked more modern and upmarket, gaining a far more more desirable interior. It had also grown significantly, and the long-wheelbase versions were offered with a full seven-seater option. Three-door SWB models were also sold, and both body styles were offered in three levels of trim: base spec, Duty and Citation.

As you would expect, it’s still a body-and-separate- chassis construction, with a part-time switchable four-wheel drive system. Although the Trooper was never going to be as good to drive as a Range Rover, its road manners were considerably improved over its predecessor’s. Power was initially from either a 174bhp 3.2-litre V6 petrol or 113bhp 3.1-litre four- cylinder turbodiesel engine. Only the petrol version was offered with an automatic ’box initially, and the default transmission for both was a five-speed manual.

Isuzu Trooper

If you come across a Japanese-spec Trooper with ‘Handling by Lotus’ badging and a Momo steering wheel, then you’re in luck. Lotus did in fact have a part in tuning the suspension of these rare models – which included different springs and larger anti-roll bars. One other special edition to keep an eye out for is the Irmscher, which had a particularly period- looking bodykit, Recaro seats and a good amount of extra standard equipment.

A revised, airbag-friendly dashboard came along in 1997, before a major facelift and update in 1998. This included the introduction of two new engines: a 3.0-litre common-rail diesel, and a more powerful 3.5-litre petrol. The four-wheel drive system also became slightly more sophisticated, being switchable on-the-fly. Although the grille was tweaked to a softer, more aerodynamic look, the styling remained largely unchanged right up to the end of production in 2005.

Over the years, this car was sold as the Trooper in Europe and the US, but it was known as the Bighorn in Japan – if you’re looking for an imported car. Many rebadged versions were sold around the world, including the Vauxhall/Opel Monterey, Holden Jackaroo, Acura SLX, Honda Horizon and Subaru Bighorn, to name just a few! The Trooper was a success in many ways, yet it’s still under the radar in the UK. They can be incredibly reliable and hard-wearing, so many have lived a hard life as a result. Find a good one and it could be a very useful (and rare) purchase.

Isuzu Trooper common problems

• Both petrol engines and early 3.1-litre turbodiesel engines are very reliable if maintained. There’s a well-documented problem with diesel injector seals on the 3.0-litre unit, however. Ensure it has had updated injectors and seals, and a perfect service history is vital with this engine.

• Rust can be an issue, although no more so than anything else of this age. Make sure the chassis is in decent shape, especially where it mounts to the body. Check for off-road damage, too. Rear doors are prone to corrosion, as are the wheelarches and sills.

What to pay?

Earlier (’92-97) cars are thin on the ground now but remain very affordable. Expect to pay £1750 for a solid example, although projects can be found for less. £3500 will get you a tidy car, while £5000-6500 would get you into one of the best.

Post-1998 facelift cars are more common. Without the bomb-proof reputation of the earlier cars, they tend to be potentially better value.

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