Holden's new Rodeo ute is bigger, more powerful and better-equipped than the already hugely capable model it supersedes.
We thought the older Isuzu-designed and developed Rodeo had the best chassis and road manners among the Japanese light trucks. Particularly in four-door Crew Cab form, it offered excellent distance-covering ability and a handling balance that made it almost as easy to drive as a car, and almost as quick on long open-road journeys.
Single Cab and Space Cab models of the new Rodeo are 4495mm long; Crew Cab four-doors are 5115mm. Two-wheel drive models are 1720mm wide; 4WDs are 1800mm. Height varies from model to model within a range of 1636m to 1730mm. The Gross Vehicle Mass rating ranges from 2800kg to 2900kg. Rodeos' maximum towing rating is 2000kg with a braked trailer or 750kg (unbraked trailer).
The Rodeo is a big ute and has big ute looks, accentuated by the prominent wheelarch flares, downswept front fenders and big, spectacularly-styled headlights. Holden NZ sells the Rodeo in 13 versions. Prices start at $32,200 for the petrol 2WD LX Single Cab and peak at $553,700 for the diesel 4WD LT Crew Cab with automatic gearbox. The test vehicle was the LT V6 Crew Cab, the top the rear-wheel drive petrol model. It comes only with a four-speed automatic gearbox. If you want a manual V6 you'll need to opt for the lower-spec LX.
An automatic gearbox in a ute might seem a somewhat odd combination, but the Rodeo's works well and unless you're absolutely wedded to making manual gearchanges, we don't think you'll find much to fault. Though the individual gear ratios are higher than the manual's, the final drive ratio is lower.
The gearbox shifts smoothly and kicks down quickly. It has selectable Power and Normal modes which alter the rev point at which the gearshifts are made. The overdrive can be switched off and the gearbox can also be locked to make third gear starts on slippery surfaces.
You can make manual gearshifts to hold a lower ratio, and the Holden automatic is much easier to use manually than the auto box in Toyota's HiLux V6.
The Rodeo's V6 displaces 3494cc and develops 147kW at 5400rpm. Peak torque of 280Nm is realised at 3000rpm. The engine is smooth and quiet in normal running and takes on a nicely "cammy" metallic note at high revs.
There's more than enough power available to give the standard Limited Slip Diff work as you accelerate away from rest, or out of second gear corners, on slippery surfaces.
Front suspension is independent, using a wishbone layout; the solid rear axle is fitted with semi-elliptic springs. Brakes are 280mm twin-calliper ventilated discs at the front and 295mm drums at the rear. They provide strong and smooth stopping power.
The LT rides on 16-inch by seven-inch wheels which wear 245/70 R16 tyres. The hubs are six-stud. The power-assisted rack and pinion steering weights up nicely at speed and provides accurate turn-in.
Handling is very good, though there are the usual provisos about rear-wheel grip on greasy roads. The test period was one of prolonged rain and the 2WD V6 needed a circumspect touch and gentle throttle application to prevent tail sliding.
Dry road grip was very good and the ute can be cornered hard.
Initially, after mainly city driving, we feared the new Rodeo might have been prone to mild porpoising on bumpy surfaces. But those fears proved groundless and the unladen ute rode flatly and calmly on the open road. The ride is firm as befits a workhorse, but smoothes out nicely at speed.
Refinement is a new-model Rodeo strength, and the petrol-powered LT offered a level of smoothness and quietness that we've never before encountered in a vehicle of this type. It'll be interesting to see how the new diesel version compares.
Fuel economy? Well it is a petrol V6-powered ute. If economy is a major consideration the 3.0-litre diesel would be a better choice.
The Crew Cab offers 890mm of maximum legroom in the rear cabin, and shoulder and headroom is identical in front and rear seats, at 1450mm and 1004mm. The Crew Cab's wellside load tray is 1505mm long (down from 2306mm on the Single Cab); 1553mm wide and 470mm deep. The rear wheelarches are 1082mm apart. Maximum load tray area is 2.20 square metres.
The rear axle load capacity is 1680kg and the front on 2WD models is 1200kg (100kg more on 4WDs).
Standard equipment on the LT auto includes a good quality Compact Disc sound system with six-dish in-dash stacker, front foglights, alloy wheels, cruise control, power windows and exterior mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, air-conditioning and a carpeted cabin. The cloth upholstery is attractive and looks durable. We felt the seats were a little flat and could have benefited from more side-bolstering.
Safety gear includes ABS anti-skid braking, dual front airbags and lap/sash seatbelts for all occupants. The new model's high-ride chassis gives improved visibility for the driver.
The rear doors open wider than those on the old Rodeo, removing one of that model's bugbears. The Rodeo V6's initial service is due at 5000km, and subsequent services are scheduled for 10,000km or every six months whichever comes sooner. The new Rodeo 4x2 LT V6 is an attractive, well-equipped light truck with plenty of power, good handling and a user-friendly nature. The old model Rodeo was a fine vehicle. The new one builds on and refines its qualities.
The test vehicle was priced at $46,600.
Story and photographs by Mike Stock.