Japanese-built utilities: much of a muchness you reckon?
Driven in isolation, maybe. But if you drive different makes back to back or alternate between one brand and another, they can be surprisingly different with very distinct characters even if the basic spec is almost identical.
We discovered that when we drove a four-wheel drive double cab version of Holden's Isuzu-developed 3.0-litre turbodiesel Rodeo in the same week we were testing Nissan's new turbodiesel 4WD double cab Navara 3.0.
The two trucks differed in trim levels, the Nissan with a carpeted cabin floor, the Holden making do with vinyl.
The Nissan was the more refined, the better riding; the Holden was noisier, better handling and with more precise, more communicative - if heavier - steering.
The noise levels in most diesel utes are quite high and the serviceable vinyl flooring in the test LX did little to keep the Isuzu's clatter out of the cabin.
Isuzu diesel engines are good old-fashioned rattlers, especially at idle or when they're working hard.
Quiet they ain't. Potent they are, especially the 2999cc turbocharged big four in the Rodeo. It gives 96kW of power at 3800rpm and a hefty 265Nm of peak torque at 2000rpm.
That means excellent lugging power and brisk acceleration. The Rodeo makes short work of city traffic or long open road hills and will seriously embarrass traffic light drag racers who are expect it to saunter away at the green.
The chunky, rugged-feeling five-speed manual gearbox is controlled by a long, floor-mounted lever.
The gearshift is moderately slow and moderately heavy, though you can slot the lever between ratios using only your fingertips.
The clutch feels robust, isn't heavy to use and takes up cleanly.
The variable-ratio recirculating ball steering is power-assisted. It provides better than expected feel, is positive and precise and easy to judge.
There's no vagueness or play at the straight-ahead position. Any movement of the wheel translates into movement of the front wheels.
Handling? Well it's a high-mounted body on a separate chassis with a four-wheel drive system. Naturally there's a high centre of gravity (ground clearance is 215mm) and the ute will chirp its wheels if you accelerate early and hard as you leave a corner. On a wet road oversteer can be summonsed quite easily.
But driven with respect and gentle steering inputs the Rodeo 4x4 will achieve good cornering speeds and behave itself impeccably.
Drive it like an animal and like any animal that's being abused it'll bite back.
Most of the time the ute is in rear-wheel drive; 4WD can be selected manually for slippery surface or off-road use.
Ride is firm as you'd expect from a vehicle designed as a load-carrying workhorse, but it's bearable except when you're hammering along at speed on a bumpy road. Suspension is by independent wishbones at the front and a solid axle at the rear.
Four-wheel drive ability? We don't attempt serious off-roading unless we're with other four-wheel drive vehicles, but in past experience of Rodeos off-road we'd expect the new Holden to be competent. Its specification, build quality and ruggedness suggest it will do just fine.
The XL specification runs to self-wind windows, manual-adjust exterior mirrors and a cassette player rather than a Compact Disc stereo. The well-shaped seats are upholstered in cloth.
The test ute was a four-door wellside. The cargo tray is 1505mm long, 1530mm wide - 1060mm between the wheelarches - and 447mm deep.
There's excellent interior room in both front and rear cabins, though we'd prefer the rear doors to open wider.
It's a big vehicle - 4975mm long, 1710mm high, 1690mm wide. Though there's a bit of a step up to the cockpit it's not too bad.
The Rodeo has a rugged charm and an unbreakable go-anywhere feel. It's easy to drive, has more than adequate power, predictable handling and acceptable comfort. It's priced at $46,200.
AutoPoint road test team: story and photographs by Mike Stock.