1998 Isuzu Rodeo Reviews and Ratings

Utility 4D S 4WD (V6)

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1998 Isuzu Rodeo
Tony Swan

More for less. If there's one single theme that sums up the entire 1998 new model lineup, this is it--better vehicles at better prices--and the new Isuzu Rodeo is a good case point.

A leader among the import nameplate sport-utilities ever since its 1990 introduction, the Rodeo has been redesigned for 1998. The new one offers more refinement in every area and it does so at a reduced price. The price for the rock bottom two-wheel-drive, four-cylinder S version of the new Rodeo has been raised $655 over the old one. But Isuzu has lowered prices an average of $500 for most of the Rodeo range when comparing comparably equipped models.

Like other manufacturers, Isuzu's claims of reduced pricing involves a bit of economic sleight-of-hand in the realm of standard equipment. It's easier for the manufacturer to improve a vehicle's relative value by including more goodies than it is to actually knock a grand off the suggested retail price.

And it is not easy to regard a $31,000 sport-utility as a bargain. But that as-tested price tag of $31,300 is for a loaded LS model with four-wheel drive, leather, sunroof, automatic transmission, and power everything.

If you were to knock off the leather ($995) and power moonroof ($700), retaining the always useful limited slip ($250), you've reduced the price to $29,605.

With a standard five-speed manual transmission--something you don't see offered by Isuzu's domestic four-door competitors--the price of a new LS 4x4, which includes four-wheel ABS as standard equipment, shrinks to $28,355.

A 4x4 Isuzu S with a V6 engine starts at $23,685; a two-wheel-drive version of the same truck starts at $21,395. Even with the $2,350 preferred equipment package, you're looking at a very attractive SUV compared to comparably equipped competitors.

And that's without looking at the improvements to the product, which are numerous. Walkaround
Fundamentals: the new Rodeo is some 285 pounds lighter than its predecessor, on a wheelbase that's been shortened by 2.3 inches. Overall length remains about the same, but the new vehicle is almost two inches wider, with a tad more headroom and also more legroom fore and aft.

As for styling refinements, the new Rodeo figures as an evolutionary update on the original--reminiscent in terms of its general shape, but with its hard corners and edges softened and smoothed.

Isuzu invested a fair chunk of its development budget in extensive sound-deadening measures, which pay off in a much quieter interior. Despite aerodynamic refinements, there's still wind noise at high speeds as the Rodeo is punching a pretty good-sized hole in the air--something that's true of any SUV. At more sedate rates of speed the Rodeo stacks up as one of the quieter members of this class.

And speaking of velocities, the new Rodeo attains them with considerably more zeal than the old one. Both engines--a 2.2-liter 4-cylinder (replacing the old 2.6-liter) and 3.2-liter V6--are new, and both have a lot more snort.

The 4-cylinder, made by Holden, an Australian subsidiary of General Motors, generates 129 horsepower versus 120 for the previous 2.6-liter, and it's a bunch smoother. It also nets pretty fair fuel economy for this class, earning an EPA-rated 21 mpg city, 24 mpg highway. This engine is offered only in the Rodeo S.

But the V6 is definitely the engine to have. Its output has been bumped from 190 horsepower and 188 pound-feet of torque to 205 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque--remarkable for a 3.2-liter engine. More power and reduced curb weight combine to make the new Rodeo one of the livelier performers in this class. It's available for both the S and LS models.

It's no paragon of fuel efficiency, particularly when it's paired with an automatic transmission, but the same can be said for almost any sport-utility vehicle you care to name: mpg and SUV are acronyms that don't blend very well.

In addition to suspension revisions, the Rodeo also has a new and much refined four-wheel drive system. Activating high-range four-wheel drive--at 60 mph or less--is now just a matter of punching a button on the dashboard. It's still an on-demand system, designed to be shifted into four-wheel drive when needed. And there's still a separate transfer case lever to shift into low-range four-wheel drive. Interior
The new interior has a much more contemporary appearance, with smooth, rounded shapes versus the severely rectilinear lines of the old design. It's also roomier, with an additional 6.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity.

All the switches have been rearranged for easier identification and operation, the climate controls--dominated by a pair of rotary dials--are simple and easy to use, the horn button is right in the middle of the steering wheel hub, and the audio buttons are larger.

The only fault to find with the new layout is the location of the four-wheel drive switch, which is next to the cruise control master switch at the left side of the dashboard. It's too easy to punch one when you actually want the other.

No worries, though. If you're traveling over 60 mph and inadvertently touch the 4WD switch, a warning light flashes on the dashboard to tell you no, you can't do that. The system will make three attempts to engage, and if it can't, you simply continue in two-wheel drive. Like virtually all four-wheel drive systems, engaging low range for maximum traction in tricky terrain requires bringing the vehicle to a complete stop.

Why, you may ask, is the Rodeo's wheelbase shorter when others keep getting longer? The answer lies with the spare tire. Like most SUV manufacturers, Isuzu found that many buyers prefer to have that rarely-employed spare tucked away below the cargo compartment rather than mounted on the tailgate, where it obscures rearward vision and also magnifies the body damage consequences of a rear-end collision.

Isuzu's solution was to move the rear axle forward enough to accommodate the under-floor spare. You can still choose a rear-mounted spare, however, which adds a little more macho in the looks department, and is easier to get at if you find yourself forced to change a tire in some remote mudhole.

Other body-related refinements: Isuzu has increased the size of the Rodeo's door openings and reduced the step-in height, making it easier to climb in or out, front or rear. Driving Impressions
Speaking almost of off-road operation, the Rodeo has always been a competent player when the pavement ends. With its shorter wheelbase the new generation should be at least as good if not better than the old one.

Dynamically, we found the redesigned Rodeo more nimble than its predecessor, thanks in part to its precise new rack-and-pinion steering system and also to its shorter wheelbase and wider track.

And the new V6 yields acceleration that's in the upper quartile of the midsize pack.

As for ride quality, however, the jury is still out. Our LS tester, a pre-production unit with hardly any miles on the clock, felt a little too stiff on small, sharp bumps. We suspect the compliance will improve once the new has worn off the shock absorbers, something to keep in mind when you test drive any new SUV. If the odometer has less than 1000 miles, it's likely to be a little stiffer than a vehicle with more mileage. Summary
All in all, it looks to us as if Isuzu has done an excellent job of updating a pretty good sport-utility vehicle without diluting its high value index.

In fact, with the possible exception of the venerable Jeep Cherokee, a design that's definitely showing its age despite last year's update, the new Rodeo may emerge as one of the best buys in a crowded class.

Model as tested
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Lafayette, Indiana
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
4WD, limited-slip differential, power moonroof, leather seats, 16-in. aluminum alloy wheels, wheel locks, transfer case skidplate

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Safety equipment (standard)
Dual airbags
Safety equipment (optional)
3.2-liter dohc 24v V6
5-speed manual

Specifications as Tested
4-wheel ABS, 5-speed manual transmission, air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette stereo, power windows, power mirrors, power locks, privacy glass, tilt steering, cruise control, 15-inch aluminum alloy wheels, fog lights

Engine & Transmission
3.2-liter dohc 24v V6
Drivetrain type
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
205 @ 5400
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
Suspension, front
Suspension, rear

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

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