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vehicle sector are few and far between but there is one sector of the market that is seeing plenty of action: pickups. In the space of 12 months we've tested the revised Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux and Mitsubishi L200. But it doesn't end there because we've still got the revised Nissan Navara and the very exciting Volkswagen Amarok to come.
There's one notable omission and that's lsuzu because. since launching its flagship Denver Max LE (tested here) and the entry-level 4x2 Single Cab, there's been relatively little in the way of updates from the Japanese manufacturer.
Regardless, with the flurry of introductions and updates in the wider spectrum, we thought it would be a good idea to see if the Isuzu can still roll with the big dogs.
For 2010, the Rodeo range has been given a mild makeover with just the grille and a couple of material upgrades for the interior making up the changes, The Rodeo range features two hod ■ styles in the form of a single and lifestyleorientated double cab, which we test here. Customers have a choice of two turbodiesel engines: namely a 134hp, 2.5-litre four-cylinder and the range-topping 3.0-litre, 160hp version.
Five trim levels are available starting with the entry-level 4x2 single cab, which is best described as the workhorse of the line-up. Moving up. there's the Rodeo Denver, Denver Max, Denver Max Plus and the flagship Denver Max LE.
The range-topper features a long list of standard equipment, including 18-inch alloy wheels, lockable body-coloured hard top. protective load lining, stainless steel mesh grille and our personal favourite, "chrome-finish bonnet garnish': Model-for-model, Rodeo prices arc competitive compared with the major players with the base single cab costing £11,434 and rising to £21,284 for the big daddy Denver Max LE automatic.
Manufacturers always adorn their range-topping pickups with loads of extra kit, and it's the same story here with the Denver Max LE. For instance, our test vehicle came standard with a body-coloured hard top, which certainly added to its versatility.
The lockable top allowed us to load camera equipment and step ladders into the back without having to worry about it being nicked during transit, plus it also frees up the back seats for passengers. In addition, the top can also be removed altogether to accommodate bulkier items.
Isuzu, like every other manufacturer, makes a big fuss over fuel consumption, claiming 33.6mpg combined and 39.2mpg on extra urban routes. Initially we thought these
figures to be too optimistic, but on our first unladen run the Denver returned a very impressive 38.7mpg. By our calculations, that puts the Denver at the top of the list, with only the Mitsubishi L200 Barbarian getting close, with 36mpg.
No doubt the hard top had a part to play in improving the aerodynamics (see our exclusive hard top test in (M15 July for proof), so it's not an entirely fair comparison but, as it's standard fit, it stayed on for this test.
With payload on board, fuel consumption dropped to 36.1mpg — still an impressive figure for a 160hp 3-tonne pick-up.
On the road Double-cab pickups are not famed for their on-road dynamism and creamy smooth ride and that's definitely the case with the Denver Max LE. The vehicle lives up to its Rodeo name on the motorway, where the body bobs around even over the smallest undulation. the ride improves significantly at lower speeds, where the vehicle simply steamrolls over potholes and ruts with ease, hut in truth the acceptable low-speed ride is spoiled by the exaggerated body roll in the corners.
From behind the wheel, the driver gets a good view of the road thanks to the high driving position. The seat can be shifted up. down, forward and backwards to accommodate the driver. However, the steering wheel can be ad justed only for rake, which meant we were unable to achieve our optimal driving position.
The 3.0-litre engine is flexible, delivering a good spread of power and torque from low revs However, the unit still feels very utilitarian compared to the Mitsubishi L200 and Toyota Hilux, but still there were no real complaints when it came to driveability.
Changing gear with the five-speed manual transmission was satisfactory, but we were expecting more in the way of refinement.
Cab comfort In its current form, the Rodeo's interior is more than three years old and could do with a revamp. When viewed against its rivals such as the Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi L200 and the forthcoming VW Amarok, the Isuzu's cabin is bland and not particularly practical either.
The dashboard is simple in its design with few buttons and switches. The Pioneer radio/sat-nay system takes pride of place on the centre console, but it's one of the most complicated systems we've ever encountered.
First, the menus are not in a logical order, which makes simple tasks like inputting destinations, cancelling route guidance or storing your favourite radio station a struggle. It is made even harder by the minute buttons and inaccurate selector dial, and even after a week of fiddling and toggling we can safely say that a portable sat-nay would be a better proposition.
One redeeming quality was the fact that there's no secondary gearlever for the lowrange 'box, instead it's been replaced with three buttons on the dashboard for 2WD, 4WD and 4WD low range.
With the absence of the smaller gearlever, you'd expect the Rodeo to have more storage space, but all you get is a set of cup holders and a shallow tray underneath the handbrake arm. The door bins are more useful as they are deep enough for a phone and wallet, and they incorporate a slot for a water bottle too.
Being the range-topper. the Denver Max LE does not want for standard kit. Leather seats, air conditioning, and cruise control are all included, as is the touchscreen sat-nay system, which incorporates Bluetooth and MP3 compa tib i I ity. •