Retro Car Review: 1989 Isuzu I-Mark RS, a wonderful one-year wonder – National auto review |

21 Aug 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Retro Car Review: 1989 Isuzu I-Mark RS, a wonderful one-year wonder – National auto review |
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Retro Car Review: 1989 Isuzu I-Mark RS, a wonderful one-year wonder

January 25, 2010

It wasn’t the most graceful of names. The hyphenated I-Mark had the ring of a similarly punctuated discount department store, and it didn’t help that the little Isuzu played to the bargain basement crowd.

But in 1989, Isuzu added an RS – which stood for–what else–Rallye Sport, a la Camaro, to create the Isuzu I-Mark RS. It didn’t improve the euphony, but what came with those extra two letters transformed the car.

No longer was the I-Mark merely a sturdy if somewhat basic economy car–which even hanging a turbocharger of the 1471cc I-Mark LS couldn’t change. The I-Mark RS, however, was a complete package. Its naturally aspirated 1588cc four made more horsepower than the turbo–125 hp versus 110 hp–and delivered it more rationally as well.

Isuzu didn’t plow any virgin engineering turf to come up with the added ponies for the I-Mark RS: A little more displacement, a reasonable 9.8:1 compression ratio, a dervishes willingness to spin. Power peaked at 6800 rpm on the way to a Himalayan usable 7700 rpm, which its 102 lb-ft or torque peaked at a Hillaryesque 5400 rpm.

The Isuzu I-Mark RS’s transversely-mounted 4xE1 four-cylinder utilized the even then still relatively uncommon concept of a 16-valve head. A dual-inlet tract system had a control valve on one throat per cylinder to maintain charge velocity at low revs, opening at 5200 rpm for cylinder-filling volume. Electronic fuel injection was by Isuzu’s own I-TEC engine control system that also regulated ignition timing and idle speed.

Isuzu blessed the four with a rigid crankshaft and a strengthened flywheel/crankshaft joint, stronger connecting rods and reinforced cylinder skirt. The new head was tougher as well, all of this adding up to a more durable engine and one that was smoother as well.

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Isuzu could have left it at that, maybe including stiffer shocks and wider tires, and had just another nickel rocket, long on power and short on finesse. Instead, Isuzu utilized its GM connection to bring famed sports-car builder Lotus to the I-Mark RS drafting table, as had been done earlier with Isuzu’s original Impulse. The Handling by Lotus badge would not be costume jewelry, the Hethel, England-based firm working miracles with the econobox’s simple suspension.

At the rear, mono-tube gas pressure shocks were used with progressive-rate coil springs aided by supplementary helper springs on the trailing-arm rear suspension.

At the front of the Isuzu I-Mark RS, the MacPherson strut piston rod was beefed up and the mount relocated for improved ride comfort and isolation of road noise. Spring rates were actually decreased though the front anti-roll bar was fatter, apparently to dial out some of the front-driver’s understeer.

Isuzu claimed that Lotus evaluated over 120 different shock absorber settings, 14 combinations of road springs and anti-roll bars, as well as 20 experimental tire designs before settling on Bridgestone 185/60R-14 RE88’s on color-accented alloy wheels.

Lotus also wanted direct-steering input for the I-Mark RS and got it by relocating the steering rack and a close-down angle of five degrees, which limits lost hydraulic motion. This was a direct benefit of Lotus’ optional handling package for the 1987 Impulse. The RS’s suspension was also optional on the Isuzu I-Mark LS Turbo.

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The 1989 Isuzu I-Mark RS was available in either four-door notchback or two-door hatchback versions, and while both were clad in monochrome paint schemes with a mail-slot grille, rocker panel molding, rear lower valence panel and front spoiler. The two-door had a hatch-mounted wing and a more intense stance.

Both, of course, shared a nose-down, I-wanna-be-a-rally-car stance, but even with a decklid spoiler, the four-door simply looks too compromised by the need to carry passengers to take seriously as a sport compact. However, if you wanted to be sneaky.

Either way, the Isuzu I-Mark RS could be spec’d with Recaro front buckets sets, a $1,200 option that also included a sunroof and a meaty leather-wrapped steering wheel. Switches for headlamps and wipers, per a short-lived Eighties fad, were dash mounted, but the dash raised a finger’s reach from the wheel.

The Isuzu I-Mark RS was a gutsy performer, with a 0-60 time of 8.9 seconds and a quarter mile e.t. of 16.6 seconds at 82 mph. On the skid pad, the RS could pull a 0.82, respectable for its class at the time. In the real world was neutral and responsive in the corners. at least if they weren’t too rough, as even Lotus magic couldn’t overcome every limitation of the basic I-Mark suspension.

Still, at a base price of $9,559–but please include those seats–the 1989 Isuzu I-Mark RX was a nickel rocket that would give you the ride and then slip you some change.

Isuzu sold 11,726 model year 1989 I-Marks in 1988 and in 1989. Of those, 3,436–about 29 percent–were I-Mark RS models. The I-Mark LS, lost between the econo-basic I-Mark and the RS, sold a measly 164 units. The Isuzu I-Mark RS was available for only one year, however.

Isuzu dropped the I-Mark after 1989, its sales lagging, to introduce the Stylus subcompact as a 1991 model.

In the end, the I-Mark RS never enjoyed the reputation it deserved. A blue-light special? No after the light turned green.

Illustration: 1989 Isuzu I-Mark RS; photo by John Matras.

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