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Isuzu Rodeo LSE (2000)

by John Heilig


MODEL: 2000 Isuzu Rodeo LSE
ENGINE:  3.2-liter 24-valve V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 205 hp @ 5,400 rpm/ 214 ft/lbs @ 3,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 106.4 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 177.5 x 70.4 x 69.2 in.

I'm one of those people who believes the Isuzu Rodeo doesn't get enough respect. Vehicles such as the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, the Ford Explorer and the new BMW are more "in demand" than the lowly Isuzu. After all, Isuzu doesn't build cars, only trucks, so how could they know anything about building a sport utility vehicle that actually works like an SUV? If you think about it, though, sport utility vehicles are trucks.

Therefore, a truck manufacturer should be well versed in building a vehicle that can handle the rigors of tough on-road driving as well as off-road travel. The Rodeo is such a vehicle. In fact, I think it's named improperly. Instead of pronouncing the name ROAD-e-o, it should be pronounced Ro-DAY-o, as in the Drive in Beverly Hills. THEN it would get respect.

We had the opportunity to drive a Rodeo for a long week that included a trip to Shenandoah national Park. Any of you who know this park realize that it is one that has some great mountain roads as well as many winding roads. While it doesn't bring out the off-road capabilities of the Rodeo, the park does point out the vehicle's abilities on some interesting roads. Getting to the park required long hours on Interstates as well as a couple of miles on dirt roads, so the Rodeo did get a good test, if not a totally complete one.

My first impression of the Rodeo was its great road manners. This is a vehicle that offers a quality ride in the same class as the Mercedes or Jeep Grand Cherokee. In fact the ride quality is significantly better than the BMW, which to my calibrated rear rode like a rough truck.

Next, I noticed that the Rodeo had enough power to get up to traffic speed quickly and keep it there. Rodeo is powered by a 3.2-liter 24-valve V-6 hooked to a four-speed automatic transmission. The engine did its job on the Interstates and was quiet enough to allow us to listen to our favorite CDs on the sound system. In the park, with its frustratingly low top speeds (they want you to enjoy the scenery and protect the wildlife), the Rodeo tracked along with everything else. My heavy foot proved to be annoying to any cars in front of me, but I learned to cope.

I thought the Rodeo handled well in some pretty adverse conditions. We encountered fog and heavy rain, as well as light rain, which can be as difficult to drive in as heavy rain.

Seating was comfortable in all five positions. Front passengers sit in leather-covered individual bucket seats. In the rear, the split bench seat offered excellent leg room. The rear seat split 1/3-2/3, offering a variety of configurations for carrying cargo. We folded the entire seat flat to gain maximum cargo carrying capacity. This was relatively easy - flip the seat forward, fold the back forward (after removing the head rests), and you have a flat floor.

My major complaint was with the operation of the rear hatch. After you unlock the rear, you push a button to lift the glass. Then you pull the door section open. There is no other way to open or close the door, and it becomes inconvenient at times.

The sound system was excellent, but the in-dash CD changer was difficult to use. You had to push an "install" button to get the changer to accept a CD, which required either stopping (if the driver did it) or having the passenger install the CD, using both hands.

I also thought the HVAC system did its job well. Mornings in the mountains were chilly, so we needed heat. We also had that rain and fog, so we needed good demisting qualities. When the weather got hot and humid in the afternoons, we needed a good air conditioning system. All worked well.

Instrumentation was complete with a speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature, battery voltage and oil pressure gauges. With the temperature extremes outside the vehicle it would have been nice to have an outside temperature gauge as well, but I can't be too picky.

So give the Rodeo some respect. It deserves consideration along with all the other mid-size SUVs. You'll be surprised.