Pros: Power/Torque; Off-road capability; Carrying capability; Handling
Cons: Reliability; Dealerships; Interior noise level; Gas mileage; Rear window washer.
I purchased my Rodeo new in February 1998 after my 5th speeding ticket in my '96 BMW 328iS. I was looking for something that would slow me down a bit, reduce my car payment each month, haul my stuff in an upcoming move and give me off-road capability. I also considered the Toyota 4Runner, GMC Yukon, Nissan Pathfinder and Ford Explorer. The Toyota was about $8000 more and the dealership extremely hard to work with. The Yukon drove like a wobbly shopping cart. The Pathfinder and Explorer seemed less capable off-road and more expensive. My final decision didn't neglect the fact that the Rodeo was an all-new design for '98, with more horsepower and torque than currently available in other models.
My little red Rodeo's major options included 4WD, big alloy wheels, running boards, power everything and a 6-disk in-dash CD changer (Toyota offered a 3-disc changer).
Everything was fine for a while...and then it became obvious Isuzu needed to do some more homework in the reliability department. Rather than bore you with the maintenance chronology, I'll just say the car is 5 1/2 years old, has nearly 149,000 miles on the odometer, and has had the following parts replaced/work done:
3 Air conditioning compressors, to the tune of about $1000 every time (Note: Isuzu dealerships don't repair anything, they just replace parts. Unfortunately, they didn't replace every part their own maintenance manuals require they replace. Isuzu USA was not interested in my claim of dealer malpractice. An independent shop completed my last install, including a new A/C receiver-drier as required, and I haven't had a problem since.)
1 Water pump
2 CV Axle joints
2 Driver-side airbags
1 Wiring harness (factory recall soon after purchase)
1 Trailer harness kit (factory recall)
2 Intake gaskets
1 Throttle body
1 Purge Valve solenoid
1 EGR valve and gasket
1 Rear ABS sensor
3 Tailgate latches
1 Rear wiper motor
1 Passenger door lock
1 Timing belt (not unexpected based on mileage) plus
A dozen or more other factory recall items...
To be honest, I'm replacing more mileage-worn components now than all-out failures, but for a while, it was looking like that extra $8000 for the Toyota might have been money well-spent. The next thing to go will be the 6-disc changer. Only 5 slots work and it usually refuses to give up the CD on the first or second try.
OK, now that I've trashed the maintenance and reliability aspect of the Rodeo, I do have some good things to say. The car has ample power and leaves most cars behind at the stop light (especially if you turn off the A/C and hit the "power" button, which leaves the car in low gear longer, usually good for towing). It also corners and handles well, if you understand its limits and drive accordingly. Off-road capability is above average and I've never been stuck...again understanding that 4WD is not a miracle worker. However, it got me through 3 Pennsylvania Winters when lesser vehicles were left behind. The big tires are essential for this capability (I use Michelin P245/16's. Kind of squirrely on those see-through drawbridge gratings but solid everywhere else).
I like the push-button Low and High range 4WD. I also like the carrying capacity. I will be towing a car on trailer soon and expect the Rodeo to be competent.
I don't like the rear window washer, it just kind of dribbles down the back window. Gas mileage is abysmal, sometimes less that 200 miles per tank if you're using Regular Unleaded and driving in town a lot. Seats could be more comfortable for long drives and slide back further. Your right hand on the wheel obscures the digital clock. The 4WD pushbutton is right next to the Cruise control button. Accidentally selecting 4WD above 50mph is not a good thing. The 6-disc changer could have lasted a bit longer and is very susceptible to bumps in the road.
I'll keep my Rodeo because it's paid for and is practical and capable for my needs. However, if you buy a used '98 Rodeo, insist on complete maintenance records, noting any trends in failures. Newer models probably have a number of the older bugs worked out but do your homework and don't expect the dealership or Isuzu USA to stand behind their product or work...or lack of it.