There was plenty of evidence that might have led you to suspect that Isuzu had a top-notch pick-up truck somewhere in their locker. The marque had become famed for its expertise in diesel engine technology and 4x4 vehicles were also something of a forte. After all, even the long-serving Trooper 4x4 established a loyal cult following by virtue of its rugged mechanicals. All the manufacturer had to do was pull the two areas together, adding a little pizzazz in the process.
On appearances alone, the Rodeo could mix it with the best in the sector. Yes, there's the universal combination of large grille, big wheels and business-like stance but the Rodeo successfully differentiated itself from competitors with oversize headlamps that arc up well into the bonnet line. The wheelarches have a sharpness about them too, flaring dramatically and continuing on down to the very base of the thick front bumper. At the back, the loadbay integrates well with the cab, ending in a subtle flourish courtesy of a minor lip spoiler and wrap-around taillights. The top-spec models can be identified by alloy wheels and a liberally chromed front grille.
In keeping up appearances on the outside, pick-up designers often let interior issues slip. The Rodeo offers a reasonable standard of materials inside but with emphasis more on tough build than a classy look and feel. The level of specification was more impressive. Safety equipment is strong across the Rodeo range with ABS, EBD, two front airbags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and three-point belts throughout. Standard models have a radio CD player, immobiliser and wipers with four (count 'em) different speeds. The Denver, meanwhile, offered electric mirrors, fog lamps, keyless entry, a six-speaker sound system, air-conditioning and upgraded trim, along with an optional four-speed automatic transmission.
If you view your pick up as a tool of the trade rather than as a frivolous lifestyle accessory, you'll be more interested in the Rodeo's offroad prowess than its ability to turn-heads on the high-street. All models have limited slip differentials, there is extensive under body shielding and the rear axle has an integral snorkel for navigating deep water. Payloads of around 1,000kg are possible, depending on whether you go for the single or double cab. The maximum towing limit is a hefty 3,000kg and the kerb-to-kerb turning circle is 12.2 meters for the 4x4 model - not bad for a vehicle of the Rodeo's size.
The condition of a used pick-up is very important because the kind of use they've been put through will vary greatly. Check the underside of the vehicle, the sills and the wheels for evidence of off-roading damage and take a good look around the interior of the loadbay. In general, Isuzu has a great reputation for reliability and the mechanicals of the Rodeo should be strong enough.
(Based on a 2004 2.5-litre Rodeo Denver) Front brake discs are around £35 and you'll pay £10 for an air filter. A new turbocharger will be close to £600 and a clutch kit will be around £190.
All the Double-cab derivatives tend to be powered by 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel engines but later models get a common-rail injection unit that's more powerful and refined. The original engine is a good one but refinement is still a long way short of what you'd expect from a modern diesel family car. You'll find Rodeos with a wide range of different power outputs as many were fitted with performance upgrades. The more powerful examples were amongst the liveliest pick-ups you could buy at the time but they can get a little too tail happy in rear wheel-drive mode without a load in the back.
Average fuel consumption is around 30mpg which isn't half bad for a vehicle of this size. On the road, the Rodeo is one of the more comfortable pick-ups to drive and it's not bad round the corners but buyers will need to appreciate that heavy duty suspension and a high centre of gravity are not conducive to magic carpet ride quality and sportscar handling. The Rodeo is adept on the tarmac for a pick-up but still suffers from the suspension bounce and body roll that effect many of its contemporaries.
All 4x4 models employ a selectable 4x4 system that does away with the clunky lever next to the gear shifter as seen on some rivals in favour of a neat fascia-mounted switch. Pressing it at speeds up to 60mph swaps the transmission seamlessly between rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive modes.
Good-looking and toughly built, the Isuzu Rodeo fulfils a large part of what many people are after in the pick-up right off the bat. In its day, it was very much up with the top models around but despite improvements to the engines, it was left behind a little by more modern rivals. The interior is a weak point with its low quality plastics but a Rodeo should prove highly reliable and capable off-road. Most models also come well equipped, particularly some of the limited edition variants.