Hammer Time: The Ghost of SUV Past

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

What was the best selling import SUV ten years ago? 4Runner? Passport? Daihatsu Rocky? It’s really a trick question because the vehicle in question was actually made in Indiana. Nope, not a Subaru Forester. It was the last successful GM import model, the Isuzu Rodeo. For most of the 1990s, Isuzu was indeed the star player in the import SUV segment. The Rodeo was their big one hit wonder. So big that Honda decided to trade badges and give Isuzu a minivan (Oasis) in exchange for the Rodeo’s street cred. On the flip side, their other SUV was the Trooper: a tall and awkward SUV on stilts that somehow managed to become . . well . . .

A bleeping mess. So strange and problem-prone in its final years as a wanna-be Range Rover that I won’t even mention it past this sentence. However its initial incarnation as a true off-roader was far more interesting. As tall as a tophat, 5-speed, 4-cylinder, 4WD, and enough space to make the late Andre the Giant comfortable. I bought one of these last week for $700 ($600 plus the auction fee) and I have to tell you, if I wanted to become the next Unabomber with family in tow, this would be a worthy consideration.

It’s a great vehicle for those men who are named after guns. It’s great if you need to hide in the woods. It’s great if you want to go hunting and kill innocent furry woodland creatures. And if you want a nice soundtrack for your re-renactment of a Ted Nugent fantasy, it has easy access to a ‘premium’ early-90s stereo system. This one has a 12-disc CD changer and the all-important cassette deck added on. Oh, and an American flag on its back tire cover that pays good tribute to its roots.

Steven Lang
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  • Pauldun170 Pauldun170 on Jun 15, 2009

    We had a 99 Rodeo LS for 7 years. At the time, it was the few SUVs with actual balls. Our the 3.2 Isuzu motor and the 4 spd. Up to 60MPH it had plenty of oomph but was winded past that. The Brakes were horrid off the dealer floor but our mechanic friend resurfaced the rotors and it stop fine after that. The handling was, uh , present. The motor downed a quart every 500 miles if the PCV valve had the slightest bit of age to it. Otherwise it returned 17-18mpg regular driving round town. You could get the V6 with a stick. Automatically any fault with the truck is erased for the years that applied. It was good honest truck that never let us down. It didn't pretend to be a family vehicle. It was just a good solid truck. It saw the dealer twice for recall stuff. Unfortunately a State Trooper decided he was to good to safely run a red light and the truck was totaled. Replaced it with a Mazda6 wagon.

  • Pauldun170 Pauldun170 on Jun 15, 2009

    CR blows. They should stick to reliability.

  • Dcdriver Dcdriver on Jun 15, 2009

    I used to own a 1998 Rodeo. I really miss that car. It did give me a few problems however, one was very bizarre (driver side door wouldn't stay closed, drove it to the shop with left hand holding the door "closed" and right hand on the wheel)-- had that fixed, but for the most part it drove fine and I liked the way it looked. It looked like an SUV should look. It was great in snow with the 4wd. I still see a ton of Rodeo's on the road. I still see quite a few Trooper's as well. I saw one of those Acura SLX's on the road not too long ago, I never even knew such a model existed, I really thought the guy just put some Acura badges and lettering on a Trooper. Then I googled Acura SLX and there it was, I never heard of it nor seen one before.

  • Grimm Grimm on Jun 15, 2009

    Alright! I'm glad to see that there are at least some people who appreciate their well-built and reliable old Isuzus! The Vehicross was/is an awesome vehicle. Truely ahead of it time.... Here it is ten years after its creation and I constantly have people approach me to ask "what new car this is?" Crossover vehicles seem to be popular right now but 10yrs ago people just weren't ready yet I guess? Just didn't grasp the concept? C'mon people!.... Vehi- Cross?..... Now Toyota is selling thousands of that new landcruiser? You've got to be kidding me!? It's the same idea (actually not near as nice to drive) as the Vehicross but it looks ridiculous. Like it's made out of Lego! Speaking of ridiculous.... Consumer Reports! Ugh! Why they chose to vilify Troopers for having a high center of gravity (just like every other high profile vehicle) is beyond me, but it sure seemed to be unfairly biased against Isuzu! As was proven in court... When they were forced to retract 60% of their statements regarding the matter.... well that proves that they weren't playing a strait game! Doesn't it? I remember reading the write-up against the Samurai.... The article started with one of the CR senior staffers describing his weekend trip to a relatives place where he borrowed said relatives brand new Samurai for a test drive just out of curiosity... Well he proceeded to take the little Sammy down a deeply rutted and steep (there were pictures) slope, where the moron managed to put the poor truck on its side.... Suddenly Mr bigshot CR is looking like an ass in front of his friends and family... To save face, he sets about to "prove" that the Samurai is unstable, and that it wasn't him who was at fault.......Tell me this wasn't a personal vendetta! Well, after reading that article CR lost ALL credibility in my mind, and I have never cared a whit about their testing procedures or opinions! When their condemnation of the Trooper hit the news I was able to dismiss it for the crap that it was. I owned a Trooper II at the time, and was well aware that I could put it on its side any time I did something really foolish! That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the vehicle. It's up to the driver to drive appropriately to that vehicle which they chose to drive. Also to accept the fact that, in an emergency situation, a tall heavy vehicle might tip over! This is just basic physics! and Consumer Reports is basically just like any other magazine... They need sensationalism to sell copies, or they go out of business.....