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Click to view road test review picture gallery“Isuzu’s easy ridin’,
  easy drivin’ Rodeo
  Denver Max pick-up
  is tough enough to
  use everyday as a
  hardcore workhorse.
  Alternatively, it makes
  a great tow-car.
  And surprisingly,
  it’s equally happy
  serving as the family’s
  regular wheels...”


AS WE'VE SAID BEFORE, more and more 'ordinary' drivers are picking-up a 'lifestyle' pick-up. Top of the list are the range-topping, luxury-spec double-cab models, because not only are they practical (five-seat, four-door) and car-like enough to be driven easily on road but they can also offer off-road ability and will tow almost anything you can think of.

With big jeep-style 4x4s and SUVs attracting negative publicity, double-cab pick-ups make a great alternative. In the last few years the quality and equipment of these 'commercial' workhorses have improved in leaps and bounds and they now provide as much in the way of comfort as many cars.

Originally launched in the UK in November 2003, the Rodeo racked up three major awards in its first year of going on sale — including 'Life-style Pick-up Winner' from 4x4 magazine as well as the Caravan Club's 2005 'Towcar of the Year: Utility Class' — and was acknowled-ged as the most up-to-date and sophisticated in its class. Since we last tested its flagship Rodeo Denver Max PPP model, Isuzu has given it an extensive facelift inside and out along with a new engine. The 'new' models entered UK showrooms in April ready to take on all comers in the hotly contested 'lifestyle' one-tonne pick-up sector.

The new three-model Rodeo range comprises the Denver, Denver Max and the Denver Max LE. The LE boasts an uprated engine, thanks to a Prodrive Performance Pack that boosts power of the 2.5-litre turbo-diesel from 134bhp to 165bhp and torque from 217lb ft at 1,800rpm to 293lb ft at 2,200rpm. Prices, on-the-road but excluding VAT, are respectively £13,999, £15,999 and £19,999. Incidentally, because of their 1.000kg-plus payloads, all rodeos allow a registered company to reclaim the VAT. Meanwhile, despite recent tax changes, company car drivers still enjoy a substantial saving compared to someone running
a typical mid-sized saloon, estate, MPV or 4x4.

For the record, this fifth-generation Isuzu is sold in vast volumes in more than 80 countries worldwide wearing, for example, 'Holden' badges in Australia. Isuzu has a solid reputation for building rugged
off-roaders, so you can rest assured about it having been intensively 'tried and tested'.

We tested the mid-range Denver Max, which is likely to prove the best selling model in the range. Externally it features a strong road presence with some stand-out highlights: bulging wheel arches with chunky-looking extensions, distinctively-shaped chrome side-steps, soft-type front A-bar, a rear step bumper and a tailgate with a lip spoiler.

In fact, the whole front-end is completely new with a new bonnet, bumper, wings, grille and high-intensity projector-type headlamps. Behind the cab, the rear side panels are revised; and there's a new tailgate and large wrap-around rear lamps. Isuzu has also done a good job of integrating the rear load-bed with the cab. The paint finish — high-gloss mica or metallic paint — feels good to the touch and gleams. 'Our' test car was finished in a brilliant shade of burnt orange metallic that really set-off the Rodeo's lines.

Isuzu is the world's biggest diesel engine producer in the world. The Rodeo's new four-cylinder 2.5-litre common-rail diesel engine features
a variable-vane, intercooled turbocharger. Because the blades vary their pitch according to engine speed, there's stronger pulling power throughout the rev-range. More important than the 134bhp at 3,600rpm is the 217lb ft of torque available from only 1,800rpm — essential when towing. It also means the new 2.5 is more powerful than both the previous 2.5-litre and the old 3.0-litre engine too.

Despite the increases in power and torque, fuel economy is class-leading: 28.8, 34.9 and 39.8mpg respectively for the Urban, Combined and Extra Urban cycles. A 16.7-gallon tank ensures reasonably long distances between visits to garage forecourts. But you're unlikely to beat the record set recently by an '07 Isuzu Rodeo. It achieved a remarkable 54.2mpg after being driven virtually non-stop from Land's End to John o'Groat's, covering the 853-mile trip on a single tank of fuel and using just 15.75 gallons!

In many places around the world, the Rodeo pick-up is chosen as a family car. Which is why, for a pick-up, safety is well covered with features normally only found on passenger cars. ABS is standard, as
is Electronic Brakeforce Distribution — more important on a pick-up than a car because it has to cope with wider variations between laden and unladen weight.

While it's basically rear-wheel drive with a limited-slip diff, you do have the option of engaging 4WD on the move at the touch of a button.
And there's a two-speed transfer box for when the going gets tough. An uprated braking system is also part of the '07 Rodeo's facelift.
Twin front airbags are standard, as are side protection door beams for all doors. There are five three-point seatbelts (the front belts and the rear outer belts are all height adjustable), front and rear crush zones and a specially reinforced separate chassis. Isofix child seat mountings are fitted to both outer rear seats.

Getting inside the Max's spacious cabin is easy — thanks to wide-opening doors, the usefully wide non-slip side-steps and keyless-entry. The Rodeo Denver Max experience starts well, with chromed outer grab-type design handles that have a quality feel and action. The doors open and shut with reassuring solidity.

Standard equipment is good and includes the keyless entry system, a Bluetooth kit, radio/CD (with MP3 compatibility and iPod connectivity) and a six-CD autochanger. And that's in addition to air conditioning (with a pollen filter), four electric windows, power steering, large power door mirrors with integrated indicator repeater lights, leather-wrapped steering wheel, trip computer and 16-inch alloy wheels. Oh, you also get a tough loadbay liner that looks set to outlast you and your car!

The deep fascia looks smart; the centre stack gets a silver-effect finish, all major controls are readily to hand, the AirCon has foolproof rotary controls and there's a facia-mounted button that allows the driver to select 'shift-on-the-fly' — allowing 4WD (4H) or 2WD (2H) to be engaged at speeds of up to 60mph. For low ratio work the vehicle must be stationary, but selection is no harder: simply press the '4L' button.

Useful fitments include a two-tier lidded centre armrest/cubby with a lid that flips back 180 degrees to enable rear seat passengers to use
it as a mini shelf, ample cupholders and a slot to house your mobile. The nifty-looking 'jukebox' Clarion Hi-Fi with built-in 6-disc autochanger belts out some amazing sounds. We also liked the fact that you could ride around with all four windows fully open and enjoy a gentle breeze without being blown about at speeds up to 45mph — not something you can do on many of today's cars.

Travelling in the rear is no hardship, either — it's a bench seat but comfortable, there's good legroom and the rear doors are usefully wide. The only thing missing is a centre rear armrest. Headroom, whether
you sit in the front or back, is unsurprisingly generous. Carpeting, trim quality and cloth seat upholstery is much the same as you'd expect to find in a decent saloon car.

Seat yourself behind the wheel and you'll find the no-nonsense driving position made better by excellent all-round visibility through generous glass areas and a full-size rear screen. The fact that you can see all four corners makes placing the Rodeo easy. It's also an easy vehicle in which to climb aboard and drive for the very first time without any real need to check the owner's manual.

The tilt adjustment on the steering wheel is sufficient and combines with the height adjustment for the seat to ensure that fine-tuning
your driving position is not a problem. Instrumentation is straight-forward with easy-to-read graphics that, on the central speedometer, are crisply highlighted by a blue outer band. The traditional-style hand-brake is sited on the centre tunnel and the new five-speed manual
'box has an unruffled action unspoilt by its longish throw.

On the move it's an easy driver. Road presence is strong and most other cars are careful not to invade your road space. Yes, it's a diesel and yes, you can hear it when you fire up, but the sound is never intrusive and at motorway speeds the higher geared fifth is pulling a relaxed 27.9mph/1,000rpm).

At the legal limit it lopes along feeling stable and easygoing. The ride is smooth enough on normal roads with none of the choppiness you would expect from a tough workhorse. Corners are taken level and the rack-and-pinion steering is accurate and well weighted. The seats also play their part, remaining restful over long distances. You're aware that you're in something big but it doesn't handle like a hot hatch. Although fast cornering will have those generous 245/70 Bridgestone tyres pro-testing, in no way does that stop it being pleasant to drive.

The new powerplant is much more throttle responsive, thanks to 36bhp more power and 50lb ft more torque than the previous 2.5-litre unit, and it avoids the old model's tendency to 'run out of breath'. At speed you can leave it in top all the way down to 50mph, when it will still pick up the pace without fluffing. And it's not shy about revving to its 4,500 red-line. Hold your changes (but not your horses!) and you'll hit 60mph quick enough. Keeping up with the traffic? No problemo.

Spend a week driving around in one and you'll understand why so many are used as full-time family transport. Brakes are large, ventilated discs up front, and they pull the Denver Max up whether it's carrying a full load or if there's a lone driver aboard.

If you need to use it off-road, you'll find the Rodeo to be quite at
home thanks to 205mm (8 inches) of ground clearance and approach and departure angles of, respectively, 34 and 21 degrees. A rear limited-slip differential provides additional traction — even in 2WD mode — in slippery conditions. The rear axle, incidentally, even has a snorkel to enable the Rodeo to 'breathe' under water; the Denver Max will wade 600mm-deep water. Extensive underbody protection, including skid plates, is also fitted a standard.

Using the loadbay is hassle-free — provided you remember to allow
an extra 18 inches behind you when you park up! The substantial,
60-inch-wide tailgate (which can be locked independently) drops
down horizontally for easy access to a 1,380mm (54 inches) long load floor that will carry a 1,075kg payload. The Rodeo can also tow an excellent, and class-leading, braked 3,000kg.

Pick-ups are definitely here to stay. And the Denver Max makes as good a fist of playing the tough workhorse as it does the weekend tow-car or the weekday family run-around. Most people probably haven't ever tried one, so if you haven't — give it a go. You'll be surprised how enjoyable they are to drive. We couldn't believe how many people admired it — right across the board from 18-year-olds
to retirees and a surprising number of ladies, too. Remember that it was painted a pretty awesome metallic orange…

I read somewhere recently that Sean Bean the actor has gone down the supercar route, got bored and has now moved on to a pick-up. After driving the Rodeo for a hectic week that certainly 'sounds reasonable'. You should be aware that the Isuzu badge was first used in 1933 on a model named after the Isuzu River that flows past Japan's oldest shrine: the Ise Shrine of Mie prefecture. Isuzu pick-ups, it seems, are good Karma!

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Isuzu Rodeo Denver Max | £15,999 (Excluding VAT)
Maximum speed: 102mph | 0-62mph: 12.8 seconds
Overall test MPG: 30mpg | Power: 134bhp | Torque: 217lb ft

CO2 213g/km | VED Band F £205
Visit Isuzu's website Click to go there now

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