SEE ALSO: Izuzu Buyer's Guide
April 6, 1997
Sport-utility vehicles today come in all shapes and sizes. There are small ones that are just the ticket for steep, narrow, rocky trails but have all of the comfort of a motorized horse. At the other end of the SUV spectrum are the luxury-car alternatives that offer all the comfort of your living room, at nearly the same size and cost. Parking one of those can be as daunting as docking the Queen Mary, and the price tag makes even casual off-road use a poor idea. The Isuzu Rodeo falls comfortably between the extremes, combining offroad ability with everyday comfort and space in a reasonably-sized package. Think of it as a family sedan that doesn't mind getting dirty.
The Rodeo is hardly the new kid on the sport-utility block, but recent updates have kept it current. Changes for 1997 include new paint colors, transfer case refinements, and theft-prevention markings on major parts. The interior was completely revised in mid-1995, and 4-wheel drive models got a "shift-on-the-fly" 4WD system last year. V6-powered Rodeos have 4-wheel disc brakes, unusual in the SUV field.
With two trim levels, a choice of 4-cylinder or V6 engines, 2-or 4-wheel drive, and a long option list, there should be a Rodeo for any mid-sized sport-utility taste or budget. I sampled a top-of-the-line 1997 Rodeo LS model with all of the trimmings recently and found it to be a useful and enjoyable vehicle. It had plenty of power, and was as comfortable as any family car, and had more room inside. Best of all, I could fit it into my garage without remodeling the roof of either the Rodeo or the garage.
APPEARANCE: The Isuzu Rodeo is moderately-sized and low for an SUV. It has always been one of the least industrial-looking sport-utilities, and is far closer to a station wagon than a panel truck in style. It is a functional two-box design with gently-rounded edges and corners. The wrapover rear quarter windows are the Rodeo's most distinctive styling feature. A simple black egg-crate grille and plain rectangular headlights make an attractive, unpretentious front end. On the LS, chromed front and rear bumpers have plastic-covered lower fascias that contrast with the main body color. That contrasting color scheme is continued on the lower side panels. Chrome trim highlights the wheel arches, mirrors, and door handles. Small fender flares prevent slab-sidedness and give a hint of aggressiveness. 16-inch alloy wheels with large tires give the Rodeo LS the offroad-ready look and ground clearance.
COMFORT: The Rodeo is compact outside, but has plenty of space inside. Although the roofline is low for an SUV, a relatively low floor height means that access is easy even without running boards. There is plenty of headroom inside. Materials and fit and finish in the LS model are like those of a mid-priced family sedan - good velour upholstery, no faux wood. Leather is found only on the rim of the tilt-adjustable steering wheel. The front bucket seats recline fully for camping bivouacs, and the rear bench folds with a 60/40 split for carrying extra gear. Rear seat cushions can flip up, allowing a flat floor for easy handling of bulky cargo. The instrument panel is completely contemporary, with good placement of controls and switches. Most switches are backlight for easier use at night. Standard air conditioning, an AM/FM/cassette stereo system, and optional CD player add civilization. The 4-wheel drive system is operated by a console-mounted lever near the gearshift lever. An externally-mounted spare tire increases interior space with minimal impact on rear visibility.
SAFETY: The 1997 Isuzu Rodeo LS is one of the few sport-utility vehicles with 4-wheel disc brakes. Rear-wheel antilock is standard, with a 4-wheel ABS system optional. Dual front air bags, side-guard door beams, child-safety door locks, and skid plated that protect vital parts are standard equipment.
ROADABILITY: On the road, the Rodeo's low stance helps give it more confident handling than taller SUVs. The independent front, solid axle rear suspension is rugged enough for reasonable offroad use and comfortable enough for daily commuting. Mechanical and road noise levels are low. Shift-on-the-fly 4WD means that the Rodeo doesn't have to stop before 4-wheel drive is engaged - a definite advantage on steep or slick surfaces. Over eight inches of ground clearance and skid plates under the radiator, fuel tank, and transfer case provide security from both offroad rocks and highway debris. PERFORMANCE: The 3.2-liter V6 used in the Rodeo LS produces 190 horsepower and has low-rpm torque that makes it a good performer around town, merging on the highway, or slogging through the mud. The 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission shifts quickly, quietly, and smoothly. It has switchable normal, power, and winter modes. V6-powered Rodeos have a 4500 lb. towing capacity.
CONCLUSIONS: The Isuzu Rodeo combines power, room, and comfort in a reasonably-sized package.
SPECIFICATIONS 1997 Isuzu Rodeo LS Base Price $ 28,410 Price As Tested $ 30,215 Engine Type V6, single overhead cam, 24 valve Engine Size 3.2 liters / 193 cu. in Horsepower 190 @ 5600 Torque (lb-ft) 188 @ 4000 Transmission 4-speed automatic Wheelbase / Length 108.7 in. / 184.6 in. Curb Weight 4165 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 22 Fuel Capacity 21.9 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular Tires P245/70 R16 Bridgestone Dueler m+s Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc, rear antilock standard, 4-wheel antilock optional Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone with coil springs solid axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs Ground Clearance 8.3 inches Drivetrain front engine, on-demand 4-wheel drive
PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 15/18/16 0 to 60 mph 10.5 seconds Towing Capacity 4,500