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Isuzu 3.0 Rodeo LE Sport Automatic

Click to view picture gallery“Comfortable and practical enough
  to act as your personal tribe’s
  regular wheels in a civilised world,
  a double-cab pick-up will also prove
  handy if the economy doesn
  recover and things turn a bit Mad
  Max-ish — just slap on a machine
  gun and go survivalist

NOT SO VERY LONG AGO, before some faceless bankers triggered the financial rockslide that put the world economy $50 trillion dollars in the red, 'lifestyle'-oriented drivers couldn't get enough of pick-ups.

In the same way that the aforementioned $50 trillion didn't just evaporate, neither did double-cab pick-ups. Like the big 4x4s and SUVs, pick-ups just dropped out of the limelight for a while. But they still have the ability to appeal.

If you're going down the pick-up route, your best bet is to go for a range-topping five-seat, four-door double-cab model — like the Rodeo tested here. The Rodeo is undeniably an imposing machine and the first thing to take your eye will be the huge 20-inch Shadow Chrome Blade alloy wheels. The purposeful look is beefed up at the nose by a mesh front grille, chrome bonnet edge finisher and projector-type Xenon headlamps. At the side, stretched between the prominent wheel arches, are shapely, shiny, functional side-steps. Rear door privacy glass features and there's a premium hard top behind the main cab. At the back, rear lamp guards echo the sturdy go-anywhere look.

Talking of going anywhere, Isuzus sell in huge numbers in more than 80 countries worldwide and enjoy a rock solid reputation as rugged off-road vehicles, so you can be sure the Rodeo will take anything and everything you can throw at it.

Our test 3.0-litre LE Sport's power comes from a 161bhp 3.0-litre common-rail direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder diesel unit. Mated to a four-speed automatic transmission, this 2,999cc powerplant produces 246lb ft of torque at 1,600rpm. Maximum speed is 109mph, with 0-60mph coming up in 10.8 seconds.

Unlike Mad Max, you won't be scouring the badlands for fuel because fuel consumption is better than you might expect. Officially the 3.0-litre unit returns 25.9, 31.4 and 35.8mpg respectively for the Urban, Combined and Extra Urban cycles. During our week-long road test we averaged 29.3mpg. Not bad, and combined with a 16.7-gallon fuel tank, this should see forecourt visits being few and far between.

Safety is car-like with ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution — the latter being particularly important on a pick-up because it has to cope with wider variations between laden and unladen weight. Don't forget that it has a 3,000kg braked towing limit and carries payloads in excess of one tonne. Twin front airbags are standard and you'll find five three-point seatbelts (the front belts and the rear outer belts are all height adjustable) and, for smaller family members, there are Isofix child seat mountings fitted to both outer rear seats.

Rear seat passengers
will enjoy the views
— and the ride...”
Climbing aboard the high-riding Rodeo is easy thanks to wide-opening doors, practical non-slip side-steps and also the keyless-entry. The grab-type style outer door handles have a quality feel and action and the doors open and shut with a reassuring thunk.

The cabin is spacious and the deep fascia looks smart; the centre stack gets a silver-effect finish. Standard kit is good and includes a touch screen SatNav, A/C, leatyher upholstery, four electric windows (one-shot auto feature on driver's window), power steering, large powered door mirrors, height-adjustable front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, trip computer, keyless entry system, cruise control, Bluetooth kit, radio/CD (with MP3 compatibility and iPod connectivity) and a six-CD autochanger. There's also a rear-view parking camera which displays on the SatNav's colour screen.

All major controls are to hand and the instrumentation is straightforward with clear graphics that, on the central speedometer, are highlighted by a blue outer band. The standard AirCon (with a pollen filter) has easy-to-use rotary controls and there's a good deal of storage space. Useful 'cubbies' include a fair-sized lockable gloebox, drop-down sunglasses holder, two-tier lidded centre armrest with a lid that flips back 180 degrees to also serve as a mini tray for rear passengers, ample cupholders and even a slot for your mobile. The 'jukebox' Clarion Hi-Fi features a built-in 6-CD autochanger and rock 'n' rolls with the best of 'em; it will even record and store your own music library on its built-in hard disk. What was a pleasant change was being able to ride around with all four windows fully open at speeds up to 45mph, without being buffeted — try that in most of today's cars and you'll soon close the windows!

Rear seat passengers will enjoy the views — and the ride. The seats — front and rear — all do their bit for comfort, proving restful and supportive over even quite long distances. The leather upholstered seats feature contrasting suede centre panels and good side bolstering. And although the rear seat backrest is fairly upright, it's surprisingly comfortable. Plus there's good foot and legroom for those travelling in the rear. The only thing lacking is a centre rear armrest. Headroom, wherever you sit, is generous and if your rear passengers find the views out a tad boring, they can always watch a DVD on the screens inset into the back of the front seat headrests.

The Rodeo comes with a commanding driving position that's made even better by the excellent all-round visibility. A tilt-adjustable steering wheel and height-adjustable driver's seat ensure a first class driving position is easily set.

Road presence is a
given but for all it’s
hard-hat image,
the Rodeo turns out to
be an ‘easy driver
Road presence is a given but for all it's hard-hat image, the Rodeo turns out to be an 'easy driver'. By default the Rodeo is two-wheel driven but you have the option of engaging the selectable 4WD 'on the fly' using the facia-mounted button — 4WD/2WD can be engaged at speeds up to 60mph.

Off-roading is drama-free thanks to a two-speed transfer box for low ratio work, 205mm (8 inches) of ground clearance and maximum approach and departure angles of 34 and 21 degrees. And the Rodeo will happily wade through water up to 600mm deep.

It's a diesel and sure, you can hear it when you start from cold. But warmed up it's no more noticeable than any other modern diesel and it's never intrusive. In fact, the cabin is unexpectedly quiet at speed. At motorway speeds the auto 'box's top gear is pulling a relaxed 29.5mph per 1,000rpm; at the legal limit the Rodeo lopes along feeling stable and easygoing.

On everyday roads the Rodeo's ride is agreeable and with none of the 'workhorse' choppiness you'd expect. You're always aware that you're driving something big, of course, but in no way does that stop the Rodeo being enjoyable to drive. A day behind the wheel and you'll be parking and manoeuvring as if you've never driven anything else. The rack-and-pinion steering helps; it is well weighted and accurate and corners are taken level. However, fast cornering will have those meaty 255/50 Scorpion tyres howling.

The gutsy 3.0-litre powerplant serves up strong pulling power. It's willing, too, revving eagerly to the red-line. Push the 'power' button alongside the selector and the transmission will delay shifts until higher revs. Zero to 60mph comes up in 10.8 seconds so keeping up with traffic in not a problem. Stopping is equally reassuring with large ventilated discs up front backed up with ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution. The pedal is progressive and pulling up is smooth either one-up or driving with a full load.

The rear hardtop unit adds estate functionality to the rear pick-up load bay. The substantial wide tailgate drops down horizontally for easy access to the 1,380mm (54.3 inches) long load floor that will carry a 1,055kg payload.

The Rodeo LE Sport makes a great multifunction vehicle: tough workhorse; weekend tow-car; or weekday family transport. If you've never tried one, now is as good as time as any to take a test drive — you'll be pleasantly surprised how easy and enjoyable they are to drive. A surprising number of supercar owners also have one of these in their multi-car garage so even if you can't stretch to the Aston or Ferrari you can match them when it comes to their 'ute'.

Of course, it may be that wealthy owners are just hedging their karmic bets: Isuzus are named after the Isuzu River that flows past Japan's oldest shrine, which is definitely good karma. Whatever your reasons, ridin' in a Rodeo is right good fun. —

Isuzu 3.0 Rodeo LE Sport Automatic | 28,714
Maximum speed: 109mph | 0-60mph: 10.8 seconds | Overall test MPG: 29.3mpg
Power: 161bhp | Torque: 246lb ft | CO2 237g/km | Insurance group 13A