Just about every automotive manufacturer produces a sport-utility vehicle today. But back in the early 1990s, there was only a sprinkling of truck-based, off-road vehicles to whet the appetites of those trendsetters who were ahead of their time in appreciating elevated seating heights and macho styling. The Isuzu Rodeo was one of these pioneers; a midsize SUV with ample room for five passengers and a comfy ride. Compared to more rough-and-tumble models from Jeep or Chevy, the Rodeo was much easier to live with on a day-to-day basis, and it quickly became a best-selling import SUV.
For the second-generation Rodeo, Isuzu concentrated on weight reduction, noise deadening, passenger comfort and improved on-road driving dynamics that all made the Rodeo a more livable daily driver. Thanks to a generous warranty, it was initially one of our top choices in the segment, but quickly found itself outclassed by newer competitors despite some minor updates.
Although a well-maintained used Isuzu Rodeo should satisfy shoppers on a tight budget, those willing to spend a bit more would be better served by more refined SUVs such as the Nissan Pathfinder or Toyota 4Runner.
Most recent Isuzu Rodeo
The second-generation Isuzu Rodeo midsize SUV arrived in 1998 with the same basic shape of its successful predecessor. The spare tire was now attached directly to the hatch (rather than a separate swinging tire carrier), or it could be mounted under the truck for a cleaner tail end design. These two configurations also reduced weight, which was a key design goal for Isuzu's engineers. In total, 285 pounds were shaved off the Rodeo by reducing frame and engine weight, by switching to rack-and-pinion steering and by using a five-link rear suspension design.
This reduced the burden on the four- and six-cylinder engines, which despite going up in power, were hardly known for providing quick acceleration. The standard 2.2-liter inline-4 engine available on the base S model made an anemic 129 horsepower and 144 pound-feet of torque, and could only be coupled to a five-speed manual. The 3.2-liter V6 available on the S and standard on the LS and LSE produced 205 hp and 214 lb-ft and was mated to either the manual or a four-speed automatic. Rear-wheel drive was standard with four-wheel drive being optional on all trim levels, but only with the V6.
The base S model with the four-cylinder engine was essentially a stripper (though antilock brakes were standard) with only a few options like air-conditioning available. Standard and optional equipment on upper trim levels included alloy wheels, a limited-slip differential, full power accessories, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, keyless entry, moonroof, leather upholstery and a six-speaker stereo with cassette or CD player.
In 2000, the Isuzu Rodeo received more than 200 changes, including an aggressive styling refresh, updated seating and an optional Intelligent Suspension Control (ISC) system that automatically selected one of 17 shock rebound and compression rates depending on road conditions. A new Ironman LS package included sunroof, alloy wheels, ISC, special decals and a Best of Black Sabbath album (wait, that's a different Ironman). A transferable 10-year/120,000-mile powertrain warranty also became standard in 2000 and a two-door Rodeo Sport model was sold from 2001 to 2003.
When that second-generation Rodeo debuted, we considered it one of the top midsize SUVs on the market. We were particularly impressed with its quality interior, silky V6 engine and roomy backseat. After a long-term test and two years later, however, we were no longer so enamored (quite the opposite, really) and thought that in general, recently introduced SUVs were much better choices than the Rodeo.
While the V6 and ample space continued to score points, our long-termer's three breakdowns, shoddy build quality and numerous electrical gremlins were simply unacceptable and we began to view the interior plastics as increasingly cheap compared to those in the newer competition. We also complained about the vehicle's paltry gas mileage, low towing capacity and rough-riding suspension.
Past Isuzu Rodeo models
The original Isuzu Rodeo was introduced for 1991. Like its replacement, it was available with four- and six-cylinder engines and a choice of rear- or four-wheel drive. With its long wheelbase, this Rodeo offered one of the best rides and largest backseats on the market.
Initially, both the 3.1-liter V6 and 2.6-liter inline-4 made only 120 hp. The V6 made 30 more lb-ft of torque, but its upgrade to 175 hp in 1993 was certainly welcome. The four-cylinder remained unchanged. Early Rodeos were also not very safe, receiving poor crash test scores and offering almost no safety equipment. Antilock brakes were standard, but were rear-wheel only with four-wheel ABS becoming an option in 1995. That year also saw front airbags added along with a redesigned dashboard courtesy of Honda, which rebadged the Rodeo as its Passport SUV a year previously. The only other significant changes for the Rodeo occurred in 1996 when Isuzu bumped the V6 up to 190 hp, added a shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive system and improved the vehicle's ride quality.