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New Car/Review

Isuzu Rodeo S V6 4WD 1999

by Annabelle Frankl

Mention the word Rodeo in this part of the world and most people are likely to assume that youíre talking about a certain Drive located in Beverly Hills, where ladies lunch, Rolls roll, and Julia Roberts tried on lots of clothes to a groovy soundtrack. Now the Rodeo that Iím talking about may be the lesser known of the two, but it is certainly the more stylishly understated, has a lot more class and wonít burn a hole in your pocket just looking through the window. Yes, weíre talking Isuzu here, and no, thatís not the name of the newest and hippest fashion house to come on the scene, not unless youíre in the market for an SUV (and that doesnít stand for Seriously Underweight Vamps, by the way). No, if youíre looking for bold lines and the latest in style, donít head for the Paris shows, just have a go in a Rodeo.

Now, I might not have thought this a few months ago, given that the name Isuzu, to me, has always meant boxy, little chugapoos aimed at the lowest end of the market, for those who absolutely, positively canít rely on their bicycle any more, and will only spend the equivalent of a puncture repair kit on acquiring a vehicle anyway. But having seen quite a few Isuzus around town in the weeks leading up to my test drive, I was looking forward to getting behind the wheel of this attractive looking SUV.

The Rodeo has been on the market in the US since 1991, and has proven to be Isuzuís most popular model. It underwent a total makeover in 1998, far improving upon the look of the original, and has had some further refinements for 1999, with an expanded list of options, new colours, refined basics and an all-new trim level.

The 1999 Rodeo S V6 comes equipped with a 3.2 litre, 24 valve, 4-cam V6 engine which means serious business. It exudes power and delivers upon request, no questions asked. I really liked this engine, although the fuel economy - or is that a contradiction in terms? - came as rather a shock and Iím glad I got to do the test before the fuel prices went up here. Doing 16 mpg in the city and 20 on the highway, be ready to dig into your pockets, often, for fill ups. To be fair though, I did make good use of the accelerator pedal at all times, but then when youíre producing 205 horsepower at 5400 rpm, seems a bit rude not to really, doesnít it?! I was genuinely impressed by the handling of this SUV and can fully understand its popularity. It gave off the presence of a big vehicle, without being nearly as large as some of the competition and because of a lower centre of gravity, it didnít roll as much as one would expect. Indeed, cornering was nothing to be scared of and the Rodeo held the line well, with great acceleration out of corners, and no obvious signs of getting bent out of shape. Isuzu have increased the tread on the Rodeo í99 by 2.4 inches, and this no doubt aids its handling capabilities.

The 4-speed automatic transmission was extremely driver-friendly and there was no need to punch at the accelerator because the engine responded quickly and effortlessly to each request for more speed, and I soon found myself driving at a vast rate of knots, with no apparent effort expended by the Rodeo. The engine-speed sensing, rack and pinion steering was nice and light, and reliably conveyed precise maneuverability from the driverís hands to the road surface. Moreover, even at speed, and on some of CAís more bumpy bits of road, the Rodeo gave an extremely firm ride, with no bucking and bouncing around as one might have found on earlier SUVs with softer suspension. Indeed, for a big vehicle, the Rodeo stuck to the road as well as, if not better than, a lot of small sedans that I could mention.

Of course, this vehicle is meant to tackle mountain passes and off-road dirt tracks, so itís tough exterior is not surprising. The Rodeo comes in both 2- and 4-wheel drive versions. On the 4-wheel drive version a button, to the left of the steering column, is used to activate the 4WD High feature, rather than a lever, although Isuzu, apparently at the behest of enthusiasts, has maintained a gear-lever for the 4WD Low engagement. However, this being LA and all, I doubt if these SUVs have to deal with any particularly taxing terrain, unless of course el Nino decides to make a return visit, in which case the mud-slides could prove to be fun!

The stylish exterior of the Rodeo, which came in a fetching burgundy colour, now includes an option for spare tyre mounting. One can either put the full-size spare under the cargo area, or - and this seems much more practical to a woman, no scrabbling around on the ground, in the dark - on the hatchgate door, with a combination outer hard shell and soft vinyl tread cover. The wheel mounted on the hatchgate does not detract from the good lines of the SUV, and actually adds to its ĎI-mean-businessí appearance. Furthermore, the rear hatchgate design is extremely good, opening easily with one hand, in 2 sections, and swinging to the left, which provides safe, curbside access.

The interior of the Rodeo proved to be extremely comfortable and well laid out. The firm, upholstered seats offered a nicely-elevated driving position, and all dials and buttons were easy to read and to reach. Of course, by far the most impressive thing about the dash area of the Rodeo wasÖa 6-CD changer! A definite first for this driver, and so practical it defies belief. Yes, itís great having the 6 or 10 CD changer in the trunk, but surely weíve all experienced the hassle of trying to change the cartridge when youíre stacked to the hilt with luggage, on a long journey, and have to decide if hearing the same music again is really worse than disrupting than finely-tuned packing. Furthermore, having the single CD player in the dash is also convenient, but you inevitably find yourself with a foot-well full of CDs, or a heart-stopping moment as you try to look for which CD to put in next. NO, no more! The 6 CD changer in the dash is surely the way of the future. Easy to load, easy to change and great to listen to. Well done Isuzu, top marks. Of course, they may not be the first, I couldnít comment with any certainty, but they get the front-runner prize of all the vehicles I have driven.

Now, although this may not be one of the larger SUVs around, it still has ample room inside. Indeed, a new purchase of a 4ft x 3ft desk was roomily transported, having taken the head-rests off the rear seats and folded them down to create a flat cargo space of 64.3 inches, or 81.1 cubic feet. Also, since the Rodeo is not quite as high off the ground as some of the bigger vehicles, access to the cargo area was extremely easy. With the seats up, the cargo area is reduced to 39.9 inches, or 33 cubic feet and rear passengers have around 35 inches of leg room, so you donít have to be Mickey Rooney to get comfy.

Now, as you may have gathered, I rather liked this SUV. It looked good and it performed well and what more could one ask when paying $24,690, for a vehicle which delivers on its promises. This SUV wonít be the plushest around -although the 205-hp, V6, gold trim packaged LSE model sounds like something out of Midasí book - and it wonít be the biggest or the noisiest or the flashiest either. But if you want good looks, styling, responsiveness and value for money, you could do a lot worse then this Pretty Woman.


Model Tested    Isuzu Rodeo S V6 4WD 1999, automatic
Engine          3.2 litre, DOHC, V6, 24 valve
Horsepower      205 hp @ 5,400 rpm
Torque          214 ft-lbs @ 3000 rpm
Transmission    5 speed manual w/ overdrive
                4 speed automatic w/ lock up
Steering        Engine Speed sensing, rack & pinion
Wheels          15" steel
Fuel econ       18/20 - manual
                16/20 - automatic
Model Tested    $24,690
4WD M/T         $23,690
2WD A/T         $22,140
2WD M/T         $21,140
Base Price      $18,180