You may not do a double-take when the Isuzu Rodeo drives by, but you sure will when you glance at the $16,990 base sticker price.

Trouble is, when you add all the goodies that make a sport-ute a sport-ute, you end up with a package that's nearly twice as expensive. The 1995-1/2 Rodeo LS 4WD we tested was just shy of $30,000. As good a truck as the Rodeo is - and it's a dandy - the inflated sticker raises the obvious question: Will the Rodeo cut it in neighborhoods populated by Ford Explorers and Chevy Blazers?

He: Holy Jeepsters, I remember you could buy a base Rodeo for around $12,000. Now that was a bargain.

She: What year was that? I must have been in junior high.

He: Actually, it was less than five years ago - so your son was in junior high, dear.

She: You're a nasty, nasty person. I suppose a really value-conscious shopper who's willing to forego a lot of the little niceties like air conditioning, power windows and door locks, even cruise control and intermittent wipers, may really love the base Rodeo. What I like about the Rodeo, with or without the extras, is the commanding driving position. It feels more like a truck than many sport-utes I've been in. Some of those feel like overpriced and oversized minivans.

He: That's not surprising, considering Isuzu is Japan's premier truck maker. They build some of the best trucks - and truck-based models like the Rodeo - in the world. You could move up a step further into an Isuzu Trooper, for instance, and you've got a serious Range Rover competitor for around $40,000.

She: But most people would do just fine in the Rodeo LS, with its standard 3.2-liter V-6. It makes 175 horsepower, which is pretty impressive considering the Explorer's 4.0-liter V-6 only puts out 160 horsepower. However, if you're really concerned about looking trendy and hip in your sport-ute, you may not be that turned on by the Rodeo. It's boxy-looking lines remind me of the old Blazer before it had liposuction and got sleeker.

He: I don't think automotive engineers refer to that as "liposuction," sweetheart. You mean "weight reduction," don't you?

She: Well, excuse me for living. Regardless of whether you get the two-wheel-drive El Strippo or add four-wheel drive and one of the premium trim packages, Isuzu still gives you a pretty decent warranty, including 72-month/100,000-mile coverage on rust perforation. There is also 24-hour/365-day roadside assistance. To me, that's peace of mind.

He: To me, peace of mind comes from Isuzu's reputation for durability, reliability and toughness, all of which the Rodeo has in spades. It may not be the sexiest sport-ute on the market, but it does nearly everything well. Sure, the ride is a bit truck-like - kind of bouncy on rough pavement - but the Rodeo is relatively well-behaved on the highway, and has the bonus of performing like, well, a trooper on those rare occasions when you want t o go off-roading. Thirty grand is a lot of money, but this is an awful lot of truck.

She: Still, there are some cheap little annoyances, like "rear ABS." You only get antilock brakes on the rear wheels? That's kind of like buying Estee Lauder face powder and not getting a powder puff with it.

He: Excuse me.

She: You know what I mean.

He: Not for the past 17 years. Totally clueless, in fact.

She: What I'm saying is, I can see putting rear-wheel ABS only on a rear-wheel-drive vehicle. But this is a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Aren't those front wheels going to lock up, too? It makes me feel like I'm not getting my $30,000 worth. Also, like most sport-utes, the Rodeo has really mediocre gas mileage - 15 mpg in city driving. On the plus side, the Rodeo finally gets dual air bags and decent cupholders with the mid-year redesign, and it's dressed up with a new interior and sound system. It's also big inside, with 34.5 inches of rear lgroom and most 75 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat folded.

He: Your miniature schnauzer Rudi is getting so fat, that would almost accommodate him, wouldn't it?

She: Poor baby. Maybe he needs liposuction.

Anita's rating: ***

(above average)

Paul's rating: ***

(above average)

What we liked: Tough, truck-like feel; dual air bags now standard; powerful optional engine.

What we didn't like: ABS only on rear wheels; pricey when you add equipment; boxy, old-fashioned look.

1995 1/2 Isuzu Rodeo LS 4WD

Type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, sport-utility vehicle.

Price: Base, $27,460; as tested, $29,085 (inc. $445 destination charge).

What's new for '95-1/2: Dual air bags, restyled interior, new audio system.

Standard equipment: Gas-pressurized shocks, speed-sensing power steering, steel-belted all-season radial tires, outside tire carrier and cover, rear wiper/washer, rear defogger, center console with dual cupholders, driver and passenger vanity mirrors, reclining front bucket seats, carpeted floor mats, LS appearance package, including two-tone paint, 16-inch aluminum wheels, roof rack; LS comfort/convenience package, including air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, dual power mirrors, cruise control, tilt steering column, intermittent front and rear wipers, AM-FM stereo with cassette and six speakers, rear cargo net, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 60/40 split rear bench seat.

Safety features: Dual air bags, rear-wheel antilock brakes, child-proof rear door locks, side-impact door beams.

Options on test vehicle: Tilt-up removable sunroof ($350); limited-slip differential ($280); premium CD player ($550).

EPA fuel economy: 15 mpg city/18 mpg highway.

Engine: 3.2-liter V-6; 175-hp at 5200 rpm; 188 lb-ft torque at 4000 rpm.

Transmission: Four-speed automatic.

Competitors: Honda Passport, Toyota 4Runner, Nissan Pathfinder, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chevrolet Blazer, GMC Jimmy.

Specifications: Wheelbase, 108.7 inches; overall length, 176.5 inches; curb weight, 4110 pounds; legroom, 41.7 inches front/34.5 inches rear; headroom, 38.6 inches front/38.0 inches rear; shoulder room, 55.5 inches front/55.5 inches rear.

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan*: $1,055

Where built: Lafayette, Ind.

*Rates based on an average family of four from the Livonia area whose primary driver is aged 40 with no tickets who drives 3-10 miles each way to work. Rates reflect multicar discount and, where appropriate, discounts for air bags and seat belts.