Review and road test of the Isuzu Rodeo (2002-2012)
BUCKING THE TREND
By Steve Walker
In the UK, we're quite proud of the boom in our pick-up truck market that took place in the early years of this century. The trend was driven by the double-cab pick-up's commercial vehicle tax status that allowed businesses and company car users to save a packet in tax by running one instead of a conventional car. At the time, the sector's growth was described as an explosion and lots of manufacturers rushed to take advantage but in global terms, sales levels only really increased from a drip, drip, drip to a trickle. In certain regions of the world, the pick-up reigns supreme and the vehicle we know as the Isuzu Rodeo will be a far more familiar sight elsewhere than it is here.
(2/4dr pick-up truck 2.5, 3.0 diesel [standard, Denver, Denver Max LE, LE Sport])
Badged as the Isuzu D-MAX, Isuzu LB, Chevrolet Colorado, Holden Colorado and Holden Rodeo amongst other things, the Isuzu Rodeo that launched in the UK in 2002 was also sold in 130 other markets around the world. The cars that made it to these shores were built in Thailand where they were selling 10,000 a month for the initial period when it went on sale. What would UK importers International Motors have given for figures like that?
The Rodeo arrived into a UK pick-up market that was really taking off. Models like the Mitsubishi L200, Nissan Navara and Toyota HiLux were the established players and the tough, workhorse pick-ups that Isuzu had been offering up to that point couldn't compete. The boom was focused on plush double-cab models with space for five and car-like equipment levels that people could use as working vehicles and family transport. That was the sector where the Isuzu Rodeo was introduced.
Launched in 2002, the Rodeo range was supplemented at regular intervals by various special edition models. Amongst the highlights were the Rodeo Denver Max LE which showed up in 2005 and the Rodeo LE Sport (with DVD player and Satellite Navigation) of 2008. Used buyers will also encounter models fitted with Prodrive Performance Packs or PPPs. These were offered on certain models to up the power and torque ratings of the engines.
A key point to remember for Rodeo used buyers is 2007 when the model received a major facelift with revised styling and a new 2.5-litre common-rail diesel engine that replaced the old direct injection unit of the same capacity. Then, in 2008, a 3.0-litre common-rail diesel engine was introduced, replacing the old 3.0-litre unit in the range-topping models, and an entry-level front-wheel-drive single cab pick-up arrived to prop-up the range.
The Rodeo was competitive against the best UK market pick-ups for the early part of its lifecycle but began to fall behind around 2006 when Mitsubishi, Toyota and Nissan unveiled brand-new versions of their products. After that and even with its improved engines, the Isuzu was reduced to campaigning on more of a value for money ticket.
What You Get
There was plenty of evidence that might have led you to suspect that Isuzu had a top-notch pick-up truck somewhere in their locker. The marque had become famed for its expertise in diesel engine technology and 4x4 vehicles were also something of a forte. After all, even the long-serving Trooper 4x4 established a loyal cult following by virtue of its rugged mechanicals. All the manufacturer had to do was pull the two areas together, adding a little pizzazz in the process.
On appearances alone, the Rodeo could mix it with the best in the sector. Yes, there's the universal combination of large grille, big wheels and business-like stance but the Rodeo successfully differentiated itself from competitors with oversize headlamps that arc up well into the bonnet line. The wheelarches have a sharpness about them too, flaring dramatically and continuing on down to the very base of the thick front bumper. At the back, the loadbay integrates well with the cab, ending in a subtle flourish courtesy of a minor lip spoiler and wrap-around taillights. The top-spec models can be identified by alloy wheels and a liberally chromed front grille.
In keeping up appearances on the outside, pick-up designers often let interior issues slip. The Rodeo offers a reasonable standard of materials inside but with emphasis more on tough build than a classy look and feel. The level of specification was more impressive. Safety equipment is strong across the Rodeo range with ABS, EBD, two front airbags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and three-point belts throughout. Standard models have a radio CD player, immobiliser and wipers with four (count 'em) different speeds. The Denver, meanwhile, offered electric mirrors, fog lamps, keyless entry, a six-speaker sound system, air-conditioning and upgraded trim, along with an optional four-speed automatic transmission.
If you view your pick up as a tool of the trade rather than as a frivolous lifestyle accessory, you'll be more interested in the Rodeo's offroad prowess than its ability to turn-heads on the high-street. All models have limited slip differentials, there is extensive under body shielding and the rear axle has an integral snorkel for navigating deep water. Payloads of around 1,000kg are possible, depending on whether you go for the single or double cab. The maximum towing limit is a hefty 3,000kg and the kerb-to-kerb turning circle is 12.2 meters for the 4x4 model - not bad for a vehicle of the Rodeo's size.
What to Look For
The condition of a used pick-up is very important because the kind of use they've been put through will vary greatly. Check the underside of the vehicle, the sills and the wheels for evidence of off-roading damage and take a good look around the interior of the loadbay. In general, Isuzu has a great reputation for reliability and the mechanicals of the Rodeo should be strong enough.
(Based on a 2004 2.5-litre Rodeo Denver) Front brake discs are around £35 and you'll pay £10 for an air filter. A new turbocharger will be close to £600 and a clutch kit will be around £190.
On the Road
All the Double-cab derivatives tend to be powered by 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel engines but later models get a common-rail injection unit that's more powerful and refined. The original engine is a good one but refinement is still a long way short of what you'd expect from a modern diesel family car. You'll find Rodeos with a wide range of different power outputs as many were fitted with performance upgrades. The more powerful examples were amongst the liveliest pick-ups you could buy at the time but they can get a little too tail happy in rear wheel-drive mode without a load in the back.
Average fuel consumption is around 30mpg which isn't half bad for a vehicle of this size. On the road, the Rodeo is one of the more comfortable pick-ups to drive and it's not bad round the corners but buyers will need to appreciate that heavy duty suspension and a high centre of gravity are not conducive to magic carpet ride quality and sportscar handling. The Rodeo is adept on the tarmac for a pick-up but still suffers from the suspension bounce and body roll that effect many of its contemporaries.
All 4x4 models employ a selectable 4x4 system that does away with the clunky lever next to the gear shifter as seen on some rivals in favour of a neat fascia-mounted switch. Pressing it at speeds up to 60mph swaps the transmission seamlessly between rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive modes.
Good-looking and toughly built, the Isuzu Rodeo fulfils a large part of what many people are after in the pick-up right off the bat. In its day, it was very much up with the top models around but despite improvements to the engines, it was left behind a little by more modern rivals. The interior is a weak point with its low quality plastics but a Rodeo should prove highly reliable and capable off-road. Most models also come well equipped, particularly some of the limited edition variants.
Isuzu Rodeo (2002-2012) review by Steve Walker