Isuzu Rodeo — January 2007

Date: Thursday, January 18, 2007

March will see the UK introduction of a revised version of Isuzu's Rodeo pick-up. Launched last year at the Paris Motor Show and to be sold here initially as a 4x4 four-door five-seater double cab like its immediate predecessor, it features a new 2.5-litre four-cylinder common rail diesel developing 136 bhp at 3,600rpm. That's 35 bhp more than was on offer from the 2.5-litre previously fitted, and 5.5 bhp more than the old 3.0-litre could muster.

 

Up 50 lb/ft on the previous 2.5-litre, and 10 lb/ft up on the outgoing 3.0-litre, peak torque of 217 lb/ft kicks in at 1,800rpm. Equipped with a variable geometry turbocharger, the intercooled engine is married to a new five-speed manual gearbox.

It's rare for light commercial manufacturers to quote fuel economy figures. Isuzu has been bold enough to do so, however, with 28.8mpg for the urban cycle, 39.8mpg for the extra urban cycle and a combined figure of 34.9mpg.

On offer in other markets is a 163 bhp 3.0-litre common rail four-cylinder diesel version of Rodeo with 246 lb/ft on tap. It too gets a variable geometry turbocharger and is available with a new automatic gearbox. The auto version is the one the power and torque figures apply to.

Tough Tax

A stiff import tax — like so many other pick-ups, Rodeo is built in Thailand — of 22 per cent means that this bigger engined model is unlikely to appear in the UK in the near future, although Isuzu distributor IM Group hasn't entirely ruled it out. It seems more probable that it will market a 2.5-litre with a Prodrive power upgrade — possibly to 163 bhp — for those who want a Rodeo with a bit more punch.

If the 3.0-litre does eventually break cover in Britain, it will be in auto guise only.

Trooper Replacement

The engine bears no relation to the 3.0-litre lump used in the old Trooper Commercial incidentally. Isuzu apparently has no plans to replace Trooper, which seems a pity, although its portfolio includes a handy five-door 4x4 passenger car called the MU-7 which uses Rodeo as a platform.

It's a decent bit of kit and IM Group ought to consider marketing it in Britain; certainly as a car, but possibly too as a van conversion to succeed the much-missed Trooper. The current MU-7 isn't engineered for Europe says Isuzu, but its successor will be and is due in 2009.

IM Group, by the way, is not responsible for selling Isuzu trucks in the UK. They're subject to separate arrangements

Two-Wheel Drive

Also on the cards for Britain are Rodeo 4x2 Single and Double Cab pick-ups — 4x2 Double Cabs are rare beasts in the UK — but there are no plans to sell the 4x4 Single Cab or a two-door Extended Cab.

ABS and EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution) come as standard on the 4x4 Double Cab, as does a rear limited slip diff. Electronic Stability Programme isn't fitted, it's not listed as an option and Isuzu says there are no plans to introduce it either now or in the foreseeable future. Nor are there any plans to add a six-speed manual gearbox to the line-up.

The Rodeo 2.5-litre 4x4 Double Cab can handle a gross payload of 1,075kg. It comes with 225/75R15C tyres on 15in steel wheels. Specify Rodeo's new 16in alloy wheels and you'll get 245/70R16 boots instead.

The brakes — ventilated discs at the front, drums at the rear — have been beefed up, with a more powerful servo.

Electronic 4x4

As with the old 4x4 model, a facia-mounted push-button shift-on-the fly arrangement allows you to select either two- or four-wheel drive at speeds of up to 60mph. With four-wheel drive engaged you can opt for either a low or a high set of gears, depending on the driving conditions.

Isuzu has also taken steps to reduce NVH — Noise, Vibration, and Harshness.

All Rodeos are fitted with rear leaf springs plus independent double wishbone front suspension. The 4x2's front suspension employs coil springs, while the 4x4 relies on torsion bar springs.

External styling changes include a new bonnet, bumper, wings and grille — unlike certain manufacturers, Isuzu has decided to retain the chunky, traditional pick-up look — and Rodeo now comes with high intensity projector-type headlights said to offer 50 per cent better illumination than the lights previously fitted.

Load Area   

Sitting on a hefty chassis, the load box has received one or two changes. It features four internal load tie-down points and the redesigned tailgate can either be locked in the horizontal position to accommodate over-length items or dropped down completely.

UK versions are likely to get a ladder rack mounted behind the cab and the 2.5-litre 4x4 Rodeo can tow a braked trailer grossing at a respectably high 3,000kg.

Double Cab's maximum load area length is 1,380mm. Maximum available width is 1,460mm narrowing to 1,020mm between the wheel boxes and the sidewalls are 480mm high.

Creature Comforts

Alterations to the cab interior include a new instrument panel with clear, easy-to-read electroluminescent dials, new air vents, a new centre console, a new steering wheel and new cloth trim for the seats and doors. As with the outgoing Rodeo, British customers will be able to choose from three different specification levels.

Oddment storage facilities include shallow bins in each of the front doors with a cup/can holder, a lockable glovebox and a bin between the front seats with a lidded tray built into the lid. There are two more cup holders in front of the gear stick.

We like the facia's chunky switches — good to see a power point too — but we're not entirely sure about the contrasting gold-coloured plastic sections that surround them and the air vents at each extremity of the dashboard.

They look as though they ought to be metal — brushed steel maybe — but they clearly aren't when you touch them. The net effect is to make the facia look a bit cheap, especially since the quality of plastic used could probably stand to be upgraded.

That's a pity because in all other respects Rodeo — marketed as the D-Max in Thailand, where it's a best-seller — seems to be solidly built using decent materials.

Sad to see that the rear centre passenger is held in place solely by a lap belt and doesn't enjoy the protection of a head restraint, unlike the other four occupants. If the driver brakes heavily he risks smacking the back of his head on the cab's heated rear window.

Hopefully these omissions will be remedied on UK specification vehicles. No final decision has been taken on the detail of the British spec, but electric windows and mirrors are likely to come as standard along with a tilt-adjustable steering column, a radio/CD player and an airbag for the front passenger as well as for the driver.

Air-conditioning is likely to be standard on at least the top-of-the-range model.

At the time of writing IM Group was projecting 1,800 sales of the old Rodeo model for 2006. This year should see the marque's 100 or so dealers — most of whom also sell Subaru cars — sell more like 2,500 to 3,000, a mixture of both old and new models.

IM Group expects to have run out of current model Rodeos by March 2007, eliminating any gap between the departure of the old one and the arrival of its successor.

On the Road

So what's Isuzu's latest offering like to drive? We flew all the way to Thailand to find out; a tough assignment, but somebody's got to do it.

After hammering the automatic 3.0-litre down a Thai dragster racing strip and having slalomed it through some cones — organised at the manufacturer's behest, the whole exercise was as silly, pointless and ill-advised as it sounds — we braved unpredictable Thai traffic in what quickly turned into monsoon conditions, and took to the public highway. We were immediately impressed with what we were driving.

Running remarkably quietly, the 3.0-litre engine offers ample performance. Acceleration away from rest is swift, it pulls strongly through the gears and few if any drivers are likely to complain about the amount of top-end performance on tap.

If the 2.5-litre with a Prodrive pack is half as good, then spending the extra cash will be well worthwhile. We reckon, however, that I M Group might be better advised to negotiate a price with the factory that will allow 3.0-litre derivatives to be shipped in without the customer having to pay too heavy a financial penalty.

Cog-swapping is smooth, with no jerking as the auto box moves from one gear to the next.

Responsive steering means that the handling is safe and predictable — just as well giving the amount of dodging from one carriageway to another we had to do. In torrential rain the vehicle felt reassuringly stable in a situation that saw cars and other makes of pick-up sliding off the tarmac and vanishing into roadside ditches.

The ride was good too, with none of the bouncing around traditionally associated with lightly-laden 4x4 pick-ups. Nor did anything squeak or rattle as we crashed over ridges in the road surface; evidence that Rodeo is very well put together indeed.

The improved headlamps came into their own as we desperately tried to avoid running into the back of a host of Hino, Isuzu and Nissan Diesel trucks.

Many of them were either badly-lit or hadn't bothered to put their lights on at all, despite the atrocious driving conditions. Car drivers and drivers of often hugely overloaded pick-ups — sometimes with passengers perched precariously on top of their swaying cargo — were equally irresponsible.

4x2 Double Cab

No 4x4 2.5-litre was available for us to sample, alas, so we sallied out again — this time in rather better weather — in a 4x2 2.5-litre Double Cab with a manual box. Left-hand drive with very basic specifications and shorn of gold-coloured plastic, it was destined for a customer in Germany.

Most of the positive comments made about the 3.0-litre applied to this vehicle too, especially so far as the ride, steering, quietness of the engine and build quality were concerned.

OK, the smaller engine doesn't pack as much punch as its bigger brother, but it's no slouch and most owners will find the performance it offers more than adequate. They're also likely to enjoy the slick five-speed gearbox.

The 2.5-litre generated a lot more wind noise and road roar than its stablemate. Maybe the minimalist specifications — possibly involving a reduction in the use of sound-deadening materials — had something to do with it.

Both models offered a surprising amount of room for the rear passengers and while three in the back might be a squeeze, two would probably find the accommodation provided perfectly adequate even for quite long journeys.

Concentrating on on-the-road driving, What Van? didn't get the chance to sample Rodeo's off-road ability at an impressive 4x4 course built by Isuzu out in the countryside. Journalists who did said it performed well and felt that the degree of suspension articulation and the amount of engine braking on tap from the 3.0-litre engine were especially praiseworthy.

The former helps you scramble along heavily rutted tracks littered with boulders. The latter can be invaluable when you're trying to descent a steep slope.

     VERDICT

If you're after a well-designed robust workhorse that in double cab guise can also serve as weekend transport, then take a close look at the latest Rodeo. We doubt you'll be disappointed.

If Isuzu has a problem, then it's not with Rodeo, but with public perception. Anybody with an interest in vehicles will know where the nearest Ford, Mazda, Toyota, Mitsubishi and Nissan dealers are in their locality. All five of these marques are Isuzu's rivals in the pick-up market. Any idea where your nearest Isuzu pick-up dealer is?

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