Isuzu Rodeo Sport vs Jeep Liberty

Review Notes: 2001 Isuzu Rodeo Sport
Personality Rough-at-the-edges off-roader
Quirks Hard to open sunroofs
Unusual features Both winter and sport modes on automatic transmission; open back
Above Average: Fun with the back off; transmission responsiveness
Needs Work In: Day-to-day comfort

The Isuzu Rodeo's automatic transmission shifts unobtrusively as needed, making the engine seem very responsive. Both sport and winter modes are available - features not yet available in most competing transmissions. Winter starts in a higher gear for added traction, while sport downshifts more readily and delays upshifts under heavy throttle. A part time four wheel drive system helps the Rodeo to go off-road - unlike, say, the Explorer, the Rodeo is a real off-roader.

The Rodeo Sport can have an open back with a suede cover, not unlike the Wrangler, or a removable hard fiberglass back. Ours included not one but two sunroofs, with rather inconvenient removable shades. Neither sunroof can be opened completely, but they can be propped open about two inches by a hand-operated control. Taking off the hard back is not easy and should be thought of as a seasonal change.

The spare tire mounted on the back of the Rodeo Sport, like that of the Chevy Tracker, impinged on rear visibility. Likewise, the Rodeo has a rear seatback which must be folded over all the back seats.

The whitefaced instrument panels are clear and easy to read, the seats are comfortable, and controls are sensible.

The Rodeo's handling is surprisingly good for its class, though you have to watch out for tire squeal on initial acceleration. The ride is fairly firm and every bump is felt though cushioned. The exhaust and engine sound good on acceleration, and there is a pleasant differential whine on deceleration.

The Rodeo Sport, though smaller than the Rodeo, still seemed fairly large inside. Headroom is good, and storage space behind the rear seats is not enormous but is conveniently shaped.

The Rodeo Sport seemed like a better package, overall, than competitors like the Tracker and Pathfinder, and more fun if possibly not as practical as the Cherokee. The soft top version provides some of the fun of the Wrangler with more daily-driver-friendliness. The Rodeo Sport is a surprisngly enjoyable car, but most drivers will probably prefer the Jeep Liberty.