By Jeremy Cato
Does “Passport” ring a bell? Back in 1990, General Motors of Canada launched this short-lived retail channel, or collection of car dealers. The then-new 1991 Isuzu Rodeo was part of Passport’s rather eclectic showroom collection — a collection which included vehicles from not just Japan, but also Sweden and Korea.
The Rodeo arrived as a pretty sleek, aerodynamic-looking midsize sport-utility vehicle. The Rodeo lineup sold in Canada during the early 1990s included four models: a base two-wheel-drive S powered by a 2.6-litre four-cylinder engine and three others with a V6 (3.1 litres (120 horsepower) and later 3.2-litres (175-190 hp). Both two- and four-wheel-drive versions were sold.
The early V6 with the automatic delivers adequate but not brisk acceleration. The 3.2-litre which came along for 1993 was a big improvement – smoother, a lot more oomph. I’d recommend used trucks with the bigger engine choice.
The Rodeo’s ride is firm, but comfortable. The Rodeo’s suspension is hardly unusual, but it does a good job of controlling ride motions and body roll. Up front is an independent setup with control arms and torsion bars, while in back there is a live axle on leaf springs. Isuzu did a good job of tuning for comfort and versatility.
The recirculating-ball steering is power-assisted on all models but the S, while brakes are the usual combination of discs up front, drums in rear. Some models were equipped with rear-wheel anti-lock braking. Speaking of braking, it’s pretty good and handling is acceptable for a sport utility. The Rodeo is a pretty well constructed truck, so noises and rattles should be minimal even in an older vehicle.
Passengers ride in a cabin with more leg, head and shoulder room and better noise insulation than the Pathfinder and the 4Runner of similar vintage. Certainly the cabin is airy. Head and leg room is good and the driving position is comfortable for most people. Unfortunately, a full-size spare tire mounted inside many models cuts into cargo space.
One of the most notable things about the Rodeo is its extremely long wheelbase: at 2760 mm (108.7 in) it’s longer than similarly aged Pathfinders, 4Runners and the Jeep Cherokees. Only the Explorer is longer. The length contributes to improving highway ride and makes for generous back seat room.
Both rear and four-wheel-drive versions of the Rodeo have been sold in Canada. The four-wheel models come with a transfer case that is a two-speed affair with standard automatic locking hubs. This is NOT a highly sophisticated shift-on-the-fly arrangement and when it’s time to return to two-wheel drive you’ll need to back up a short distance to unlock the hubs. On the plus side, Isuzu has a very, very long history in the four-wheel drive truck business; the Rodeo has benefitted from that history.
In all honesty, for used buyers it’s probably best to look for a 1993-or-newer Rodeo. Aside from the more powerful V6, Isuzu improved many other things — including retuning the spring rates and shock valving. That suspension effort improved the ride, both off-road and on.
Most Rodeos sold in Canada were pretty well-equipped, so many used ones out there are fully loaded. Remember, though, the Rodeo has never been a best-seller, so there aren’t a lot of used ones out there. If you find one, it might just make a pretty good older sport ute for someone on a budget.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.