The Little-Known, Lotus-Tuned Isuzu Impulse Sure Has Some Passionate Fans in America


While covering MotorWeek‘s test of the often forgotten 1990 Isuzu Impulse, I got into the details of how its Lotus-tuned suspension put it above its platform-sharing sibling, the Geo Storm, only to leave both the Wagonback and the Stylus sedan versions out of the equation for the sake of the coupe. Some of you got in touch regarding this injustice, only to share more unconditional love for Isuzu passenger cars that are so rare to see in North America nowadays.

One such comment came from our friend John Voelcker, who happens to be a happy owner of an Impulse XS Wagonback: “Deeply saddened that the author neglected to mention two related vehicles. One is the rare Impulse XS ‘Wagonback’ two-door wagon, which has all the DOHC + Lotus-tuning goodness, but a more usable cargo bay and one neat trick: totally removable rear side windows, meaning you can run open-air if you like. (These too were sold in decontented Geo Storm form, and are equally rare.) The other is the Isuzu Stylus sedan, which used the same running gear and underpinnings, but in a stylish and more practical four-door-with-trunk format. This one didn’t have a Geo counterpart, since Chevy’s sub-brand had the Corolla-based Prizm instead. The Stylus is about as rare as the Wagonback, and prized today.”

Indeed it is, John. Before Isuzu decided to give up on passenger cars to focus on its bread and butter core business of making durable pickup trucks, the second-generation Impulse coupe spawned a two-door wagon and the four-door called Stylus. The Wagonback was a longroof shooting brake with a glass hatch and the innovative side windows mentioned above. For the 1992 model year, XS models got a 1.8-liter engine producing 140 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque, ten more than from the previous 1.6 thanks to the longer-stroke of the 1992 DOHC engine.

Meanwhile, carrying a $2,800 premium over the XS, the Impulse RS was a 160-horsepower turbo monster with all-wheel drive. At that price level, it didn’t find many takers in North America. However, the Lotus bits continued to put all Isuzus above GM’s Geo Storms, and as Hemmings points out, Isuzu’s vehicle development chief Damon Delorenzis wasn’t shy to reveal the British-inspired changes:

“We set the suspension geometry to the specs Lotus recommended, changed the shock damping to a firmer setting, went with different stabilizer bar sizes and stiffer spring rates, and moved the trailing arm locations.”

That goes as far as being a revised suspension geometry, all while Lotus kept using Isuzu’s 1.6 and transmission in its front-drive Elan. General Motors sure knew how to shuffle its cards, although to give credit where credit’s due, Isuzu came up with the Impulse family’s Nishiboric passive steering on its own, which adjusted the rear toe by changing the rear wheel alignment based on the suspension loads.

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