The year: 1999, Leisure Wheels issue 16 (We’re currently working on issue 193)
The car: Colt Rodeo 4×4 Double Cab
The scenario: Would-be 4×4 buyers are spoiled for choice, even if many have been delaying their purchasing decisions because of sky-high interest rates, uncertainties about the future of the economy and a general lack of business confidence.
Colt Rodeo 4×4 Double Cab A/T
But in the space of weeks late last year the fiercely competitive 4×4 double-cab market shifted up a gear as Toyota and the Mercedes-Benz Colt division launched dramatically new and improved ranges , pioneering luxury and safety features normally reserved for expensive station wagons and saloons. Toyota’s Hilux Raider introduced ABS brakes and twin airbags to the once humble bakkie, while MBSA offered the Rodeo with the light commercial market’s first automatic transmission and the facility to engage four-wheel drive on the move, believing these were two desirable options.
By the time you read this, strategists are likely to have a clearer picture of what customers really want. As New Year dawned the beleaguered industry was hoping for a number of private buyers would place their orders, having held out for a 1999-registered vehicle, while some fleet replacement cycles were expected to begin by March. Meanwhile it appears that the top-of-the-range Rodeo is hitting the right desirability buttons, introducing unprecedented levels of performance, comfort and convenience, making the flagship Colt a worthwhile alternative to more expensive 4×4 estates, and a compelling choice for the Mom’s Taxi market.
FEATURES AND EQUIPMENT √√√√
While pricing remains a factor of paramount importance, the message from the 4×4 recreational market is that discerning buyers want their vehicle loaded with ever-more features, something that the Rodeo delivers in abundance. Obviously the two most noteworthy ones are the four-speed automatic transmission and shift-on-the-fly facility, enabling the driver to select 4WD at up to 100 km/h, with no need to get out and manually lock the front hubs, thanks to an auto-locking front differential.
The automatic has already proven itself in Pajero applications, and is tailored to on- and off-road situations with a triple –mode button on the dash. It allows you to select the normal shift pattern, a “power” programme for up-shifts at higher revs , or the “hold” setting that prevents unwanted downshifts , such as when you are negotiating slippery terrain and want to avoid potential wheel spin.
Naturally , as vehicles costing close to 180-grand, owners are pampered with a list of standard equipment that includes air-conditioning , power windows (that wont trap little fingers) , electric mirrors , a four –speaker CD compatible Becker audio system, power steering and Mitsubishi’s familiar multi-meter pod. It displays temperature and driving angles.
Up front you’re about as pampered as you could hope to be v, with well-shaped cloth seats enough head- and legroom to satisfy most examples of the species. Leather is optional, and while it looks great, it can be slippery when you’re doing some serious bundu-bashing. Then you’d probably wish for cloth, with a driver’s footrest, being something else you might miss when you’re bracing yourself over bumpy terrain. But don’t get us wrong. We liked being in charge of the Rodeo, whatever material we were sitting on. The driving position is close to ideal, offering a commanding view over a facia that is both tasteful and well thought-out, with all the controls falling easily to hand.
Where the interior of previous-generation double cabs immediately told you that you were in a bakkie, the Rodeo creates the up-market aura you’d expect to find in a more expensive 4×4 station wagon. There are quality finishes and a soft, three-dimensional feel to the door mouldings-remember when the door panels were predictable flat surfaces with protruding window winders?
Although chrome seems to be making a fashion comeback, it is restricted to exterior embellishments, ensuring that there are no unwanted reflections to hamper your view of the instrumentation. Thoughtful touches include cup-holders and an anti-jamming mechanism for the electric windows.
Park yourself behind a tall driver and you’ll be less ecstatic about the latest Rodeo. Although there are some useful gains in interior space, the cab is no longer than that of its predecessor, losing ground to the rival Toyota that has had its interior stretched a full 70 mm. Other recent arrivals like the Isuzu KB are notably roomier in the back. For the record the vehicle’s wheelbase is unchanged, but the vehicle is 40mm wider and 30 mm taller. This and more careful packaging has helped to improve legroom by 10 mm, rear legroom by double that, with 5mm more headroom up front and a modest gain of 10 mm in shoulder space.
One tall rear passenger complained that the ashtray was positioned too low, with a danger of burning the upholstery by fumbling for it over bumpy terrain. May we recommend fresh air instead of smoke?
The Colt Rodeo has always been a lusty performer, and in its latest multi-valve guise it is equipped to compete with the yardstick Isuzu KB320, which boasts 140, kW and 265 Nm from its 3, 2- litre V6. Power from the Mitsubishi 3, 0- litre V6 soared from 109 kW at 5 000 r/min to 133 kW at 5 250 r/min, with torque up from 234 Nm at 4 000 r/min to 255 Nm at 4 500 r/min. This enables the automatic to step off the mark almost as briskly as some manual rivals, to overtake with ease and to flatten hills effortlessly at the legal limit and well beyond- the top speed is comfortably above 170 km/h, even at power-sapping Gauteng altitudes.
Fuel economy is unexceptional, especially when compared with the frugal but less powerful Hilux, averaging 17, 72 litres/100 km in hard testing, where the Toyota was good for 14 litres/ 100 km under similar conditions. Where some newcomers are restricted to unleaded fuel only, the Rodeo is happy to mix either fuel in its diet.
Take it off the beaten track and it’s a revelation, again demonstrating that an automatic transmission is often superior to a manual transmission 4×4, its only shortcoming being the usual one of a lack of engine braking down really serious descents. The trick, of course, is to simply modulate the brake pedal carefully in low range for extra retardation. Up those same slopes it is terrific, and it proved superb going upstream over wet slippery boulders, with barely a trace of wheel spin. Anything the Hilux was good for, it matched, while displaying slightly better rear-wheel articulation over obstacles.
Very competitive approach and departure angles are married to good ground clearance, with the handsome bumpers and mud flaps and under body bash protection all proving entirely adequate. It is very capable, with the rear differential lock adding to competence and confidence.
RIDE AND HANDLING √√√√
We’ve not encountered a double cab that is less demanding than the Colt, making it an ideal choice for lady drivers who might be normally intimidated by a 4×4, while still satisfying more experienced off-roaders. Handling is predictable, with the shift-on-the-fly 4WD system proving a major plus. When the conditions deteriorate suddenly, be it a heavy downpour or when the surface becomes muddier, sandier or rocky, it is simplicity itself to shift to and from 4WD on the move. It can be done at up to 100 km/h, the only proviso being that you are travelling in a straight line.
What a pleasure this is, especially if you’re used to competitive vehicles where you have to stop, climb out and lock the hubs, then use the second shift lever to harness traction to the front wheels as well. Handling is also at the top of the class, with the ride appearing to be an ideal compromise between comfort and load ability. It is worlds better than its indifferent predecessor, and comfy enough for you to forget that you are in a commercially based vehicle with a leaf-sprung rear.
At speed it retains good poise, and isn’t easily unsettled by mid-corner bumps or corrugations, indicating that the engineers did the homework that was lacking in the previous range. The steering is also nicely weighted, positioning the vehicle with all the accuracy you can reasonably expect from one that doubles as a load carrier. Although it lacks the option of ABS, a feature that many serious off-roaders will still rather do without, the brakes proved undemanding to modulate, even on loose surfaces, pulling the vehicle up smartly with little sign of fade.
Mercedes- Benz of South Africa’s Colt division can be proud of what the designers and engineers have achieved, with a quality of product with strong dynamics and an endearing personality. No, it isn’t the roomiest around by a wide margin, but if rear cabin space isn’t of paramount importance, it emerges as a very serious contender. Where its predecessor competed mainly on price, rather than quality or ability, the new Rodeo is a complete all-rounder. And with its four-speed automatic and shift-on-the-fly facility that is unrivalled when it comes to ease of driving. It is as good as its predecessor was indifferent, and should benefit from an intensive local development programme that was denied the previous-generation Rodeo.