Sporty/performance car; Built in Japan
  • 2-door hatchback
  • 2-door hatchback
  • transverse front-engine/front- or 4-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $1,000 – $1,600*

1991 Isuzu Impulse RS

1991 Isuzu Impulse RS

1992 Isuzu Impulse

1991 Isuzu Impulse RS

1991 Isuzu Impulse RS

  • Acceleration (RS)
  • Antilock brakes (RS)
  • Fuel economy
  • Handling
  • Airbag
  • 4WD traction (RS)
  • Noise
  • Rear-seat room

Impulse never managed to rank with the best competitors in the small sport coupe league, though it was much better than the Isuzu models of the 1980s.


Introduced in late spring of 1990, the new front-drive Impulse replaced Isuzu’s previous rear-drive model of the same name. The sporty 2+2 hatchback shared its front-drive chassis, and one of its engines, with the subcompact Isuzu Stylus sedan. At this time, Isuzu was partly owned by General Motors. A similar sport coupe, called the Geo Storm, went to Chevrolet dealers.

A driver’s airbag was standard on both the base XS and the high-performance RS coupe. Standard equipment in the XS includes a sport suspension tuned by Lotus (the British sports-car maker, also owned by GM), 4-wheel disc brakes, power steering, and 185/60HR14. The 1.6-liter, dual-overhead-cam XS four-cylinder engine produced 125 horsepower and came with either a 5-speed manual or 4 speed automatic transmission. A 160-horsepower turbocharged engine went into the RS coupe, which had permanently engaged 4-wheel drive instead of front drive. The RS came only with 5-speed manual shift.

Yearly Updates

1991 Impulse
An extended-roof hatchback coupe, with Kammback-like rear styling, joined the original model this year. Antilock braking was optional on the RS edition.
1992 Impulse
A more-powerful engine went into this year’s Impulse coupes and hatchbacks. The XS edition got a dual-cam, 1.8-liter 4-cylinder that produced 140 horsepower. It replaced the former 130-horsepower, 1.6-liter powerplant. As before, the RS featured a turbocharged version of the 1.6-liter, rated at 160 horsepower. Otherwise, little changed in what would be the model’s final season. The similar Geo Storm continued into the 1993 model year.


transverse front-engine/front- or 4-wheel drive

In 1991-92, a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 125-130 horsepower went into the XS coupe, available with either 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. The high-performance RS coupe got a turbocharged version of the 1.6-liter four, rated at 160 horsepower, and came only with the 5-speed manual gearbox. A 1.8-liter engine replaced the XS powerplant for 1992, delivering 10 more horsepower.

dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 1.6/97
Engine HP 125-130
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 102
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 1.8/109
Engine HP 140
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 120
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
Turbocharged dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 1.6/97
Engine HP 160
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 150
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual


Road Test

Road and engine noise are the major drawbacks of the sporty Isuzu coupes. The early XS model also suffers from insufficient low-end engine torque. In fact, launching an XS smoothly can demand a lot of engine revs and clutch slippage until the car gets rolling fully. An early test XS also exhibited a lumpy idle and poor cold-start drivability, bucking even in mild weather. Exhaust noise at high rpm is a significant problem, too. Still, an XS managed to accelerate to 60 mph in 9.9 seconds, and yielded fuel economy of 22.3 mpg.

The larger 1.8-liter engine introduced for 1992 offered the low- and mid-range torque that had been lacking in the 1.6-liter, so you don’t have to rev above 4000 rpm to get at the Impulse’s usable power. Better yet, the added horsepower was not accompanied by undue torque steer–an undesirable condition in which the front tires of some powerful front-drive cars are jerked to the side during hard acceleration.

Stable handling makes the Impulse fun to drive in a spirited manner–though the steering is so quick as to make the car seem “darty” at the first turn of the wheel. The Impulse stays flat on the pavement, and steers with satisfying crispness.

An early XS coupe stopped rather well in a simulated panic stop, but erratic rear-wheel lockup marred the experience.

The turbocharged all-wheel-drive Impulse RS is a capable little sportster. In the marketplace, however, it was overshadowed by the faster–but more expensive–turbo and AWD versions of the Mitsubishi Eclipse/Plymouth Laser/Eagle Talon trio.

Inside, the 2+2 edition is harmed by a small rear seat that’s very short on leg room and has literally no head room for anyone over 5-feet tall. The regular hatchback has more head space in back, but is still short on leg room. Limited cargo space is aggravated by a high loading sill.


Model Tested: 1991 Isuzu Impulse RS

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 6
Fuel Economy - 6
Ride Quality - 3
Steering/Handling - 6
Quietness - 3


Controls/Materials - 3
Room/Comfort Front - 4
Room/Comfort Rear - 2
Cargo Room - 2


Value - 3

Total: 38


2-door hatchback
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
96.5 166.1 66.7 51.8
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
21.8 12.4 4
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
37.4 32.0 43.8 30.4
2-door hatchback
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
96.5 163.6 66.7 52.4
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
NA 12.4 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
37.4 36.2 43.8 30.4
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: N/A 2-door hatchback


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Front Passenger Injury - N/A

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision N/A
Injury N/A
Theft N/A

Trouble Spots

Cruise control
Description: The cruise control stops working because the actuator cable is damaged if the accelerator-pedal lever and an improved cable have been installed. (1990-91)
Engine stalling
Description: The engine idles rough or even stalls after deceleration unless a revised ECM (computer) was installed. (1990-91)
Manual transmission
Description: Difficulty shifting, especially into second gear, is caused by a worn rubber stopper on the shifter allowing it to flop from side to side, but adjusting the shifter often overcomes this. (1990-91)
Suspension noise
Description: Clicking from the rear suspension is corrected by replacing the rear stabilizer-bar brackets. (1990-92)
Tail/brake lights
Description: Condensation collects in the taillight assemblies which must be removed, dried out, and sealed. (1990-91)

Recall History

1990-92 Impulse
Description: Steering-wheel center hub can fracture during certain frontal and near frontal collisions.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.

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