When the Isuzu Rodeo was introduced in the United States in 1991, it was one of the first few SUVs in a largely sedan-loving market. As one of the pioneers of what will soon become one of the biggest vehicle crazes in history, the Rodeo captured the market by proving that the sleekness of a sedan and the functionality of a pickup truck can harmoniously coexist. Although the Rodeo was destined to be overtaken by other more defined SUVs later on, it still enjoyed being one of the best-selling import SUVs in its younger years.
1991-1997: First generation
Although the Rodeo nameplate was already being utilized in Japan for a rear-wheel drive compact pickup since 1978, the Rodeo won’t appear in the American market until 1990. Moreover, the Rodeo that was popular in Japan, also known as the Isuzu Faster, wasn’t the inspiration for the American Rodeo. Instead, the Isuzu Rodeo that was introduced in the United States was the North American version of Japan’s five-door SUV, the Isuzu Wizard.
The first generation Rodeo was offered with a choice of either a 2.6L 4-cylinder engine or a 3.1L V6 engine with optional automatic transmission. The four-wheel drive SUV featured standard rear anti-lock brakes and folding rear seats for more cargo space. An engine upgrade came about in 1993 when the 120 horsepower V6 engine was changed to a 175 horsepower 24-valve OHC V6 engine. For the 1994 model year, power steering became a standard for all Rodeo trims while dual airbags were installed for the 1995 models.
Offering more comfort and style than the rugged Jeeps and Chevys of the time while providing tough performance and functionality at the same time became the Isuzu Rodeo’s key to market success. As the SUV frenzy gained traction throughout the 1990s, the Isuzu Rodeo became one of the early frontrunners.
1998-2004: Second generation
For its second generation, the Isuzu Rodeo received bigger tires, adjustable shock absorbers, a standard tilt steering wheel, a more luxurious LSE trim, and a sporty spinoff. The 4-cylinder engine was dropped for the second generation with all Rodeos now running on a V6 and the front and rear fascia of the Rodeo were redesigned. The Isuzu Amigo, Rodeo’s shorter three-door brother was also renamed as the Rodeo Sport.
To mark the celebration of their 85th anniversary, Isuzu released a limited Anniversary Edition of the Rodeo for the 2001 model year along with a new grille and a revised Ironman package. No significant changes were made to the Rodeo until its final run in 2004 when it got an optional 250 horsepower 3.5L engine.
Although the Isuzu Rodeo enjoyed a good run until 2004, the increasing competition in the SUV market proved to be too much for the Rodeo to handle. However, the Isuzu Rodeo still remains as one of Isuzu’s most successful vehicles and its longest-running SUV to date.