1999 Isuzu Rodeo Reviews and Ratings

Utility 4D LSE 4WD (V6)

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1999 Isuzu Rodeo
Dean Stevens

The Isuzu Rodeo looks at home near the soccer fields. It's light on its feet and easy to drive, which makes it better than average for the kind of suburban/metro duty most sport-utilities perform. And it's comfortable and nicely equipped, which makes it a great family vehicle.

Yet there is another side to the Rodeo you would never guess existed unless you ventured into rough country. A frisky V6 engine and highly capable four-wheel-drive system turns this friendly, easy-to-handle city car into a serious trailblazer that can navigate some amazingly rough territory.

Isuzu's Rodeo was completely re-engineered for 1998, the first complete change since its 1991 introduction. It's substantially more refined than the first-generation. For 1999, there's an expanded list of options, new colors, additional refinement and an all-new trim level. The keyless remote is improved. Model Lineup
Three models and two engines are available, but all come with dual air bags and anti-lock brakes.

The base $18,180 Rodeo S comes with two-wheel drive, a 5-speed manual gearbox and a 2.2-liter twin-cam 4-cylinder engine.

The S-V6 and LS come standard with Isuzu's 3.2-liter 24-valve twin-cam V6 and a choice of two- or four-wheel drive. An optional 4-speed automatic adds about $1,000. We drove one of these popular mid-line Rodeos and they offer a good value, balancing price, performance and features. Our $26,490 LS 4WD came with the automatic, 16-inch aluminum wheels ($200), 6-disc in-dash CD changer ($650), cargo mat ($60). With $495 destination, the total was $28,895.

At the top of the line is the new, fully loaded $30,650 LSE 4WD, which comes standard with Isuzu's 205-horsepower V6, a four-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, a supple leather interior, keyless entry, moonroof, foglights and rear power outlets. A gold trim package is available with black or white paint colors, while a new Red Palazzo Mica comes with gray leather. Walkaround
Rodeo's utilitarian looks feature a short rear overhang, blister fenders and fastback styling. The track was widened for 1998, which improves handling and gives the Rodeo a more aggressive stance. A relatively low floor pan makes getting in easier.

The 4-cylinder engine that comes on the base two-wheel-drive Rodeo develops 130 horsepower and 144 foot-pounds of torque. It gets an EPA-rated 21/24 city/highway miles per gallon. But that's not a lot of power for a 3,900-pound vehicle, particularly when attacking grades at high altitudes.

Most folks will opt for one of the V6 models. It develops 205 horsepower and 214 foot-pounds of torque. Isuzu's 3.0-liter V6 compares favorably to its competition: Mitsubishi's Montero Sport LS struggles with 173 horsepower and 188 foot-pounds, while Nissan's Pathfinder lags with 168 horsepower and 196 foot-pounds. But the Rodeo's V6 wilts next to the Chevy Blazer's 4.3-liter Vortec V6, so it's not the hot setup for pulling that 20-foot travel trailer. Isuzu's V6 gets 18/20 mpg, 16/20 with the automatic.

On four-wheel-drive models a button, rather than a lever, is used to switch between two- and four-wheel drive. All Rodeo 4X4s come with a two-speed transfer case; you drop into low range by stopping and shifting a floor-mounted lever. All Rodeos come with skid plates under the radiator and fuel tank to protect against rock damage when driving off-road. Four-wheel drive models get a skid plate under the transfer case, too. Interior
Rodeo's interior is straightforward and highly functional. Controls are well placed and instruments are easy to read. We missed not having an oil pressure gauge or ammeter, the cupholder is dicey for holding coffee and it took a little time to master the windshield washer/wiper control, but otherwise the Rodeo is easy to manage while going down the road.

There is ample headroom all around and there's adequate legroom in front. People under 6-foot tall found the front seats comfortable. Rear-seat legroom is fine for children, but limited for adults. Overall, the Rodeo's seats are not its best feature. The seat bottoms are too short, making it difficult for taller drivers and passengers to find a comfortable angle for the seat backs. In the rear, the seat backs are too upright for comfort. One 6-foot 5-inch rear-seat passenger remarked that, even though he was wearing a seat belt, the size and angle of the seat made him feel like he was going to slide out of it as we worked our way down one steep, rocky trail. The good news is that Isuzu is redesigning the seats for model year 2000.

The rear seat folds down to reveal a large, relatively flat cargo area. There's 81 cubic feet of cargo space and the cargo area is just a bit over 5 feet in length. In other words, the Rodeo holds a lot of gear.

The tailgate opens from the right and swings to the left. Not having to walk around an open door makes it easier to unload baggage at the airport or load groceries curbside. You can now order your Rodeo with the full-size spare tire mounted underneath the cargo area or on the hatchgate door. By integrating the spare tire carrier with the hatchgate, the need for a separate spare tire carrier is eliminated, so you no longer have to swing a gate out of the way. That makes getting in back a two-step process, rather than a three-step process. You release the rear hatch glass, then swing the rear door open. Driving Impressions
We drove our test vehicle all over Southern California, from suburban San Diego County up the clogged freeways to the crowded downtown streets of Los Angeles. We checked out the outback of the San Bernardino National Forest east of Los Angeles. And we drove one around the Yellowstone country. The Rodeo handled all of that with style and ease.

On the daily commute, the Rodeo is tall enough to provide good visibility on crowded freeways. It rides nice and handles well. The Rodeo offers excellent stability at high speeds. Noise has been reduced through improved door sealing, better airflow management and reduced engine noise, but there's still a fair amount of wind noise.

The Rodeo feels solid and secure. The steering is precise and responsive, making lane changes quick and easy. The suspension feels taut and the Rodeo turns crisply through sharp curves on back roads. It tracks straight, making it a pleasure for highway cruising. The V6 and automatic are responsive, definite pluses on the freeways and urban streets. On the tough streets of downtown Los Angeles, the Rodeo reported potholes with a bit more authority than your average sport sedan, but nothing like the buckboard-ride some SUVs deliver.

The fun side of the Rodeo came out then we tackled some rough, unpaved trails in the San Bernardino Mountains. We cruised through some bumpy country in 2WD before we switched to 4WD-high to transverse more rugged trails. Some of the steep, rocky tracks were rough enough to force us into 4WD-low. The Rodeo literally walked through it all without batting a headlight. It handles well on smooth dirt roads. Drive into a corner too fast and, predictably, the front end gives up traction before the rear, making it easy to correct. The brakes work well, bringing the Rodeo to a quick stop with little drama.

Rodeo's agile handling and stable braking are benefits of its relatively low weight. Our 4x4 LS checked in at 3,926 pounds. That compares favorably against a Mitsubishi Montero Sport, which tops 4,200 pounds. Isuzu's engineers strove to hold weight down while maintaining optimal structural rigidity. Summary
Competent off road, nimble on road, the Isuzu Rodeo is a well-balanced sport-utility. While it doesn't offer the ultimate in luxury, it does everything that sport-utility vehicles are supposed to do. And it offers a good value.

Model as tested
Rodeo 4X4 LS
Basic Warranty
3 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Lafayette, Indiana
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
Automatic transmission ($1,000), 16-inch aluminum wheels ($200), 6-disc in-dash CD changer ($650), cargo mat($60)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
$18,180 S 2WD, $22,140 S-V6 2WD, LS 2WD $23,540, LSE 2WD, S-V6 4WD $23,690, LS 4WD $26,490, LSE 4WD $30,650
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front airbags, ABS
Safety equipment (optional)
3.2-liter DOHC 24V V6
4-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
(4X4 LS) 4WD, power assisted ABS brakes, limited-slip differential, power steering, stainless steel exhaust, skid plates, intermittent windshield washers, and LS package (air conditioning, power windows and door locks, power mirrors, cruise control, roof rack, AM-FM 6-speaker stereo cassette, cargo net and cover, floor mats, keyless entry/alarm, color-keyed bumpers, aluminum alloy wheels)

Engine & Transmission
3.2-liter DOHC 24V V6
Drivetrain type
four-wheel drive
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
176.7/70.4/68.5 (with roof rack)
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

J.D. Power Rating
Overall Quality Not Available
Overall Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Powertrain Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Body & Interior Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Features & Accessories Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Overall Quality - Design
Not Available
Powertrain Quality - Design
Not Available
Body & Interior Quality - Design
Not Available
Features & Accessories Quality - Design
Not Available

Overall Dependability Not Available
Powertrain Dependability
Not Available
Body & Interior Dependability
Not Available
Feature & Accessory Dependability
Not Available

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J.D. Power Rating Legend
Among the Best
5 / 5
Better than Most
4 / 5
About Average
3 / 5
The Rest
2 / 5

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