1991 Isuzu Rodeo

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chicagotribune.com
Isuzu was a virtual unknown entity in the auto industry until a year ago. That`s when the Japanese car and truck maker started building and supplying Chevrolet with a sport coupe called Storm.

Storm was an instant hit. Only the Mazda Miata convertible generated more interest among those searching for sporty little cars.

Until Storm came along, Isuzu`s claim to fame was limited to a series of sensational ads featuring David Leasure, better known as Joe Isuzu. In fact, Leasure was better known than any Isuzu car or truck, and that`s no lie.

Storm established Isuzu as a class manufacturer. Still, Storm carries a Chevy nameplate and the question being asked is: What does Isuzu offer that`s worth checking out that carries its own name badge?

With everyone entering the 4-door utility vehicle market, Isuzu decided to give it a go with its own offering for 1991, a model called the Rodeo (as in ride `em cow person).

It`s Road E O like the sporting event, not Row day o like the shopping district for the upper crust in Los Angeles, though the Rodeo vehicle would be at home in either locale.

This is a better than average four-wheeler with outstanding interior room and exceptionally smooth ride and handling. Where it comes up short versus the competition is in fuel economy and less-than-eye-popping styling.

The Rodeo we drove was the 4x4 LS with 3.1-liter, 120-horsepower V-6 engine teamed with automatic transmission, a combination rated at 15 miles per gallon city and 18 m.p.g. highway. A stop at the pump daily left us thinking that 15/18 was an overly generous rating, especially when the bulk of the driving was on the open highway. A huge 21.9-gallon tank magnifies the mileage rating if $1.34 a gallon fails to sufficiently startle you.

As for styling, Rodeo looks like an Isuzu Amigo with 2-doors added, though the Isuzu folks insist that`s an overly simplistic comparison since Amigo is built in Japan and Rodeo at the Isuzu-Subaru plant in Layfayette, Ind.

Regardless of what Isuzu says, Rodeo looks like a 4-door Amigo, which means basically conservative, but still more stylish than some of the other Japanese competition such as the incredibly ugly Mitsubishi Montero.

Rodeo is built on a 108.7-inch wheelbase and is 176.4 inches long. The interior is massive, especially for rear-seat occupants, though one reason for all the space is that Isuzu cheated a bit and prohibits front seats from sliding too far rearward. That gimmick conserves rear-seat leg room. The 6- foot-5 driver might appreciate more room up front than all the space in back.

With the long wheelbase, those rear seats are located ahead of the rear axle, which serves to minimize any road harshness for occupants.

There`s an ample cargo hold behind those rear seats, though our entry was blocked by a temperamental tailgate that refused to budge. At least the rear window popped open to provide limited access to the spare tire, which was called to use after a nail punctured the right rear tire.

The flat allowed us to check out the automaker`s roadside assistance program in which items such as flats are changed and dead batteries are charged. We dialed the toll-free number and within an hour the flat tire was replaced.

Actually, tires play a major role in Rodeo`s ride, handling, and comfort. The standard treads are P225 75/R15 all season radials. Typically you get a bit of a wobble with such large treads on utility vehicles, a feeling of uneasiness magnified by body lean in corners from the 4x4`s normal raised center of gravity. These treads gripped the road firmly and minimized any sideways motion as well as providing a cushion when traveling over bumps.

A larger oversized tire is available as an option. Unless you intend to travel the deep sands of the Sahara, the standard tires will do just fine. An outside tire carriera d cover also are optional. There was ample interior ca rgo space so that even the spare mounted inside wouldn`t provide that much of a hardship. Plus, rear-seat bottoms fold forward and the backs fold down to provide a flat floor and generous addition to cargo-carrying space.

One final word on tires. Isuzu should get its act together. The jack is located in the wall of the cargo bay while the lug wrench is housed in the rear seatback under a Velcro cover. It means playing hide and seek when having to change a tire.

The 3.1-liter V-6 provides good power, but when you want to tow a boat, pull yourself up a steep hill, or simply get away from the light a bit quicker than the Tercel parked alongside, you can push a console mounted ``power`` button for a quick r.p.m. boost.

In the Rodeo LS we drove, four-wheel drive is part-time. A floor-mounted transfer case engages 4WD. Hubs automatically lock and you don`t have to get out and fiddle with them.

When the roads get slippery, there`s a ``winter`` button on the console next to the ``power`` button. Press it and you automatically engage higher gearing in order to reduce wheel spin on a snowy surface when taking off from the curb or light. When you reach 25 m.p.h. the system automatically disengages.

When the roads are slick and you need to stop, antilock brakes are standard to ensure you do so in a straight line. Air bags, however, aren`t offered.

Grievances included a radio with confusing controls that lacked either an on/off switch or power button. You reach out and push buttons until you hear sound. Also, cupholders are not offered.

Standard equipment in the top-of-the-line LS includes rear-wheel ABS, power brakes and speed-sensitive power steering, gas pressurized shocks, reclining front bucket seats, full carpeting, leather wrapped steering wheel with tilt control, AM-FM stereo with cassette (CD optional), privacy glass, split folding and stow-away rear seats, and intermittent wipers.

Base price of the LS is $17,899 with automatic, $16,799 with 5-speed manual.




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