Holden Rodeo

AutoTrader NZ
Published 3 September 2020

Something with long legs, plenty of room, good comfort, able road manners. But a Holden Rodeo ute? Yeah, we know that V8 Supercar star Greg Murphy tells the Rodeo drivers in the TV advert that he’d love one.

But…the right car for a long two-day journey over demanding roads? We were unconvinced. The old Corona 1800 auto was looking likely to get the nod, but I left the keys at work.

So we packed up the Rodeo and headed into the late afternoon sun and the twisting and turning roads of Northland to cover the Rally of the Far North. Little did we know it at the time, but the packing was to show up one of the Ute’s few shortcomings.

It’s not unique to the Rodeo. It’s the same for any utility truck. Quite simply the lack of anywhere to conceal items of luggage.

And the lack of a tonneau cover on the test two-wheel drive Crew Cab turbodiesel pick-up meant we couldn’t use the still quite generous load tray for suitcases and then out-in-the-field rally bag with changes of clothing, maps, notebooks, camera and assorted paraphernalia.

There were only the two of us so pressing the rear can into service as a load area was perfectly practical.

The bench rear seat and good legspace behind the front seats took care of all our gear easily.

But it was while loading that I discovered another Rodeo shortcoming. The rear doors could open at a wider angle. I belted my head twice while loading gear.

The Rodeo is, of course, an Isuzu and that being the case the engine is typical Isuzu diesel. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a gutsy commercial-style mill like the Rodeo’s or the ones that find their way into cars. Isuzu diesels are real rattler/clatterers.

There’s virtually no glowplug pause when starting and the engine clatters into like and then sets into a buzzing, chattering idle. It’s not too bad inside the car, but the sound penetrates the air around for some distance. It’s definitely not the sort of engine for clandestine operations by night. It’s free-revving by diesel standards and has plenty of punch. Maximum power is 74kW at 3800rpm, and peak torque is a meaty 225Nm at a nicely-low 1800rpm. The Rodeo accelerates strongly and will easily maintain open road speeds, even in hilly going.

Motorway cruising is a breeze, and there’s plenty of power available for quick and efficient overtaking at highway speeds.

There’s no feeling of being hung out to dry as your knuckles get progressively whiter and you wait for speed to increase incrementally so you can pass a slower vehicle.

You may need to drop down to fourth in the chunky but easy-shifting gearbox to get the turbo spinning a little more urgently. But I promise you any anxious moments you have passing will be down to your judgement and not caused by any lack of performance or delivery on the Rodeo’s part. In fact in most open road running the Rodeo diesel is a set-and-forget proposition.

You get into fifth gear and the truck does the rest. Only the toughest hills needs a downchange, and only the tighter or tricker corners need a lower gear. It’s better than an automatic.

Given its chunky looks, the most difficult thing to remember about the test car was that it was two-wheel drive.

I had to make sure I didn’t give in to the temptation to park with more than two wheels off the tarmac at the end of special stages.

Ride was what you’d expect from a vehicle whose primary role is carrying cargo but it wasn’t annoyingly firm or bouncy.

That’s probably helped by the fact that as a four-door crew cab it has more weight between the two seats of axles.

That almost certainly also helps the handling.

This is no tail-flicking light truck ready top catch you out and tailslide luridly on wet or loose surfaces.

We drove the Rodeo in some appalling conditions and only once felt the tail step out – and then only slightly. It was caught quickly and easily with a dab of opposite lock.

We weren’t hanging about, either.

Turn-in to corners is good and the Ute tracked nicely with good rear-wheel bite as it accelerated out of corners. Behaviour was good on gravel, with the ute always remaining predictable.

The Bridgestone tyres provided excellent grip on both wet and dry roads. The steering is a little vague – and has some play – around the straight ahead, but it tightens nicely during cornering and offers good feel.

I always felt I knew what the front and rear tyres were doing and the truck gave good road feedback.

The dry road cornering feel is better than – say – an older big six cylinder sedan.

The more I drove it the more confident I got with it.

The sets have sports-style side support and were very effective given the high levels of cornering grip the chassis generates.

Standard equipment is better than spartan with hardy-looking cloth trim. There was an irritating rattle from the bottom of the hard plastic trim on the inside of the driver’s door, but generally the Rodeo was rattle free – even after a reasonable period thundering down a gravel road.

The air-conditioning was effective, the dust-sealing good, though engine noise levels are quite high when you’re using the motor’s strong performance. Our main quibble with the Rodeo turned out to be a minor thing that was major at the same time. Isuzu hangs on to the under-dash handbrake rather than a lever between the seats. They’re annoying to use and far less convenient.

We reckon you’d get more than 600 kilometres out of the 63-litre tank of diesel. We filled up at 470km, but only because we were heading into areas where we were unsure where the next BP station would be.

I can’t say I think the Rodeo is the most handsome of utes, especially the slab-sided cabin styling or the awful running boards on the test vehicle. But it’s one of the best Japanese utes we’ve ever driven, with attributes that far outshine any shortcomings.

We don’t know if Greg Murphy really wants one but if he did we could understand why. In two days of moderately hard use the Rodeo never put a foot wrong.

I’d headed north with some trepidation – dirty weather and a ute are not often the best of matches – and came home thoroughly convinced.

My one regret was that I didn’t have time before it had to go back to Holden NZ for one more blast in the country to savour its finely-balanced chassis, its strong performance and its charmingly-rugged nature. The Holden Rodeo 4×2 turbodiesel is a winner.

AutoPoint road test team.