The Isuzu name is synonymous with big stuff. Think pick-up trucks, commercial vehicles, SUVs, and even buses. For a long time, though, the company tried to make a mark with passenger cars. And yes, this did include sporty stuff.
In the 1980s through to the early 1990s, the sports car market was a mad and brilliant place, and every major Japanese manufacturer was having a go, Isuzu included. Its entry to the field was the Piazza, known in North America as the Impulse.
The first one was a rear-drive, wedge-shaped coupe penned by Italdesign’s Giorgetto Giugiaro. It stayed in production for 10 years, enjoying limited sales success. This made way for the ‘JT22’ second-generation model in 1990, featuring a much less elegant body designed in-house by General Motors, which then owned a significant chunk of Isuzu.
The rear-drive layout fell by the wayside too, with GM supplying a front-wheel drive platform for the car. The GM connection did benefit the second-gen Impulse in some ways, though, with the auto giant’s ownership of Lotus meaning the British company was able to provide chassis tuning expertise.
There’s another Lotus connection under the bonnet, with the Impulse sharing its catchily-named 4XE1-UW and 4XE1-WT 1.6-litre inline-four engines with the M100 Elan. As noted by the ‘T’ in the name, the latter was turbocharged, providing an impressive 160bhp. This was fitted to the ‘RS’ model, in which all wheels were fed via a five-speed manual gearbox a viscous coupling slightly biasing the rear axle.
This being the early 1990s, the hottest Impulse proudly displayed its method of propulsion via giant exterior lettering. Stretching across much of the boot lid and dwarfing the (also large) model name are capital letters reading ‘ALL WHEEL DRIVE / INTERCOOLED TURBO’. Lovely.
Another 90s sports car staple was futuristic tech, and sure enough, the Impulse has some. Isuzu added a passive rear-wheel steering system which slightly alters the angle of the rear wheels progressively through the suspension travel.
A compelling mix of ingredients, but few buyers were convinced. Less than 1,000 Impulses were sold in the USA, a fraction of the sales figures for the related Geo Storm which Isuzu also built. The RS only lasted one model year, 1991, before being ditched for a naturally-aspirated 1.8-litre version of the car. By 1993, Isuzu was moving away from passenger cars due to financial pressures, and the Impulse/Piazza line as a whole was scrapped.
Finding any Impulse for sale isn’t easy, and the task is especially hard if you’re set on an RS. So, when one popped up for online auction at Bring a Trailer this week, we felt obliged to shine a spotlight on it. Based in Roswell, Georgia with a clean Louisiana title, the black RS has covered reasonably low 90,000 miles and looks to be in tidy condition.
The previous owner looks to have spent a lot of money on it. Under their tenure, it had a new fuel pump and filter plus a refurbished fuel tank, a respray, various new braking components and much more besides. The current keeper meanwhile fitted new front struts and lowering springs ahead of the car’s sale.
It’s not perfect, with a little rust in places and some dashboard cracks amongst the blemishes, but none are particularly troubling. At the time of writing the bidding is at $3,991 with six days to go, and judging by the $8,900 example that sold last year, that figure will rise considerably.