The Isuzu Rodeoand its mechanical twin the Honda Passportoffer honest-to-goodness off-road ability in a relatively affordable package. The interior configuration consists of two front-bucket seats and a rear bench, accommodating a maximum of five passengers. Cargo room is good with the split-rear seat in place and generous when it is folded flush.
On the road, the Rodeo's ride is stiff, just as its truck underpinnings suggest. The steering response is a bit vague and on long stretches of highway the seat bottoms quickly put our backsides to sleep. LSE and Limited Editions are equipped with an electronic suspension-control system that can adapt to road conditions, somewhat softening the ride and improving handling while decreasing body roll. On base and LS models, that body roll can feel excessive, primarily because the Rodeo's 8-inches of ground clearance places the vehicle's center of gravity way up high. Wind and tire noise is acceptable, but engine growl is noticeable, even when driving around town.
Off road, the Rodeo is a capable vehicle. Even in its 2WD form, the high ground clearance allows it to traverse rocks and brush with ease. 4WD models incorporate a shift-on-the-fly system that can be engaged with a push of a button. The Rodeo's 4WD is designed for off-road use only and should not be employed under normal driving conditions where the wheels do not have the ability to slip. The optional automatic transmission can be set to two modes, power and winter. The power mode allows the engine to rev higher before shifting gears, thus boosting the vehicle's ability to accelerate. The winter mode causes the vehicle to start from a dead stop in third gear. This greatly decreases the torque on the wheels and prevents tire spin on slippery surfaces. A floor-mounted lever allows the driver to select between four-wheel high and four-wheel low.
Base S models come standard with a 2.2-liter 4-cylinder engine teamed to a 5-speed manual transmission. This engine is rated at 130-horsepower and does not move the Rodeo with much bravado. A better choice is the 24-valve V6 producing 205-horsepower which can be ordered with either the 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic transmission. The V6 is standard on the LS and top-of-the-line LSE models and can be ordered on the base S.