Over the years, Isuzu has built up a reputation for building steadfastly reliable workhorses, but this was thrown into jeopardy when they fitted the uncharacteristically erratic 3.0TD engine that was wrought with problems.
However, when the Rodeo was released in 2003, this powertrain wasn’t part of its arsenal, and therefore none of its issues were in the pot, either. Other manufacturers were targeting the lifestyle pick-up market, whilst the Rodeo stuck to its guns and acted as a workhorse first and a statement run-around second.
But that isn’t to say that Isuzu didn’t up their game in this regard. The Rodeo certainly looked the part. It promised more refinement than previous Isuzu models and came with higher-spec variants. Plus, there were two new engines helping it take the fight to contemporary classmates in the Mitsubishi L200, Nissan Navara and Toyota Hilux.
Inside, the Rodeo boasts a modest toolkit as standard with a CD player, air-conditioning and a central armrest among the highlights. This sounds spartan, and it will feel that way when compared to a modern truck, but this was competitive a decade and a half ago.
The new model brought along a new trim level and with the Denver spec, the Rodeo held more appeal to the lifestyle sector.
The top-spec Denver added to this with electric mirrors, fog lamps, an upgraded six-speaker sound system and plusher upholstery. Plus, amongst the toys fitted was keyless entry.
But still, with the toys added and stepping towards the lifestyle sector, Isuzu still traded off their tough, workhorse reputation and focused more on the durability of the cabin, rather than making it swish and flowery. The switchgear was solid and the seats were supportive and comfortable, but there was little more going on than that.
The Rodeo was tough and no-nonsense – and that is exactly how it drove.
There were two engines on offer – 2.5- or 3.0-litre turbodiesel units. Fret not, the bigger version wasn’t a re-working of the catastrophic 3.0TD that became infamous in the Trooper, but an advancement of the 2.8-litre 4JB1 unit – which was a shining example when it came to dependability.
In the Rodeo, the two engines had outputs of 99 and 129bhp respectively, but factory approved chips could up those totals to 128 and 153bhp. We’d lean towards the more powerful unit, as the added grunt helps it move much more freely and it’s notably more comfortable at cruising speeds.
More torque comes with the bigger unit too, boasting 207lbf.ft and sitting 41 units above the 2.5-litre option. This is before chipping the powerplant, too, and out of the box it averages 30.7mpg which isn’t bad for a truck with a 3.0-litre heart, whereas the smaller unit trumps it here, lasting a touch under 35 miles per a gallon of diesel.
On the road, the Rodeo was nothing special. It was fairly civilised and kept pace with its competitors in terms of handling on the road, but it didn’t really go above and beyond them in any particular fashion. It was competent in the corners and a comfortable cruiser on the whole, but when unladen it was susceptible to kicking the tail out – this only in two-wheel drive, of course. That, however, leads nicely onto something that the Rodeo does hold over its peers – it was one of the first trucks that swapped from two and four-wheel drive at the press of a button, rather than with a lever. This remains functional at speeds of up to 60mph, which is a neat trick. Although, if you suddenly need more traction at that speed, we’d certainly recommend pushing the brakes first.
For a truck of its age, the Rodeo was very capable off-road, with its agricultural characteristics playing into its hands when it left the tarmac behind. However, it did have a very long wheelbase, and was prone to bottoming out. This could not only make casualties of the sidesteps and damage the chassis, but could unsettle the exhaust, too.
Much like the image Isuzu had built by this point, the Rodeo was by and large a solid and reliable truck. The service intervals are set at either 12,000-miles or every twelve months, and unscheduled repair work on Rodeos are a rarity.
This is, in part, down to the type of engines that they run. Both diesel units are gear-driven rather than the more traditional cambelt setup. So, you can look forward to avoiding a costly cambelt replacement every 60,000-miles or so and enjoy a powertrain that promises to have better longevity.
Service sundries shouldn’t be too expensive either, with a new clutch available for less than £300, a new exhaust will be a touch more than that and brake pads costing approximately £30 and £60 for front and rear replacements.
Rodeos weren’t complicated patients for mechanics, either, so the fact that Isuzu dealerships aren’t two-a-penny shouldn’t put you off. A VAT-registered and reputable local workshop should be able to perform anything you’ll require on a Rodeo – plus you’ll spend less getting it done. You may well find some imports rebadged as Chevrolets, and whilst these are almost identical, you may struggle more so when it comes to what would be straightforward servicing with a Rodeo.
Due to their reputation, and the fact that they were quite good at it, many Rodeos took the road less travelled. But, just like anything, if you don’t look after it, you’ll pay the price. Take a look at the chassis and door sills, keeping a keen eye open for any scratches and scraping. Due to its long wheelbase, a Rodeo that has been taken off-road may well have issues with its exhaust and there’s even a possibility that the chassis could be hacked, too. When out on a test drive, quickly punch the throttle a few times and listen out for any rattles or too much of a husky tone. If this is the case, it isn’t a bad idea to get it up on the ramps and inspect the underside. If you do find resolvable problems then as per usual, either factor the cost to rectify them into your bidding or get the repairs included as part of the sale.
There were a couple of other problems that the Rodeo suffered with, one of which was faulty dashboard warning lights. Another side-effect of hard use, the sensors within the pick-up’s electrical workings could become damaged. This didn’t necessarily just happen to a truck that had been battered and beaten, but it is still worth getting them checked over by an experienced mechanic. If you do look at a truck and the dashboard looks like Times Square on New Year’s eve, chances are the sensors are either mucky or broken, but better safe than sorry. If the transverse is true, then it’s best to keep searching for another example.
Whilst it was much better than the unit it replaced; the 3.0-litre engine has been reported to have had issues with cold starting. The glow plugs could need replacing – a time consuming task that should be carried out every 60,000-miles – but where possible, still try your utmost to try cold starting such a unit before purchasing. You could take the dealer’s word for it, but if the forecourt isn’t far from home then dropping in unannounced shouldn’t be so risky. If you’re travelling to view a truck, then it’s worth calling ahead and explaining.
The Isuzu Rodeo was a fairly competitive truck in the burgeoning lifestyle truck class, but it held such status without abandoning its roots, nor particularly pushing any competitors in any area aside from value.
But this was because, truth be told, it was a workhorse that, rather than donning a trendy fleece it just swapped its hard hat for a snazzier hard hat. But, this isn’t to say that it wasn’t capable of digging its heels in both on a work site and a school run like the other trucks were, just its bias shifted to a lesser extent.
It was still an exceptionally robust, no-nonsense truck that, providing it has been looked after, will still be as potent in a working environment as it was upon release.
We’d recommend holding out for a 3.0-litre version, either with or without the additional performance from the approved chipping. The bigger engine possesses as much power out of the box as the upgraded version of the 2.5-litre, but more importantly it has a towing capacity that meets the magical three-tonne figure. The payload is 1,750kg, and even though it won’t savour fuel as much as the smaller unit, it isn’t too much thirstier.
Single cab versions did make their way to the UK, but the bulk of those bought here had four doors. Many were high-spec Denver trim, too, and at the time of writing there was a fair smattering of Denver Max trucks on the online market, too. For a truck with modest mileage, between 90,000 and 120,000, you can expect to pick up a smart, well-looked after truck for around £4,500. You can find models for less than that, but they’ll more than likely be tiring workhorses that’ve done significantly more miles. Many Rodeos were fitted with a hard-top of some sort and with a bit of luck, you could find a pristine low mileage example for a fee of around £7,000 – which may sound expensive but look after it and you’ll not need another truck for some time. However, you should be able to shop successfully with a budget of £5,000.