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Used car review Holden Rodeo RA 2003

image Proud owner Hugh Eastwood with his 2003 Holden Rodeo RA. Photo Gallery

Graham 'Smithy' Smith reviews the used Holden Rodeo RA 2003, its fine points, its flaws and what to watch for when you are buying it.

Imported one-tonne utes have become the staple of local trades and businesses that want a tough work vehicle that can carry a decent load around the job site, and Holden’s Rodeo is one of the leading models. The Rodeo first showed up on the local landscape in the ’70s when Holden’s utes began to lose favour with tradies. They simply became too expensive compared to the imported utes, which despite being a bit rough and unrefined conquered the market.

While local utes have made a comeback in recent times, they’re now more a lifestyle vehicle for people who want a dual purpose daily driving weekend escape car. The imports have mostly stuck with their strength, which is their carrying capacity and their toughness on and off road.

Even so the importers have keenly watched the growth in the popularity of the local utes and have also attempted to address the demand for cool vehicles without giving away the advantage they hold in cargo capacity.


The all-new RA Rodeo hit the market in 2003. It was bigger, more powerful, better equipped, safer and Holden also claimed it was tougher than ever before.

As with all cars looks are important in the ute market and the new Rodeo arrived with a new muscular look that was perfectly appropriate for the segment. All sat high and handsome making it difficult to pick a 2WD from a 4WD model, which ensured all had a rough and tough look on the road.

Built on a tough chassis the RA Rodeo boasted substantially increased torsional rigidity, up by as much as 60 per cent, and that equates to better crash protection and a more stable platform for better handling.

The RA’s larger external dimensions translated into more space inside the Rodeo’s new cabs, which delivered substantially more leg room, shoulder space and head room than the outgoing model. Wider and higher doors across the range made it generally easier to get in and out, with wider opening doors made it easier to get in and out of crew cabs.

Inside, the dash was what you might expect to find in a passenger car, while easy to read graphics on controls and instruments, a new four-spoke steering wheel and upgraded sound systems made the RA feel even more car-like

For power Holden offered the choice of three engines; a locally developed 2.4-litre single overhead camshaft fuel-injected four-cylinder which produced 94 kW at 4800 revs and 207 Nm at 3200 revs, a 3.5-litre all-alloy double overhead camshaft V6 that boasted peaks of 147 kW at 5400 revs and 280 Nm at 3000 revs, and a 3.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel which delivered 96 kW at 3800 revs and 294 Nm at 2400 revs.

There was a choice of manual or automatic transmissions across the range, and a choice of two or four-wheel drive, the latter with a choice of two-wheel drive, and high and low range four-wheel drive.

All models, except for the entry-level DX 2.4-litre two-wheel drive, which had coil front springs, had torsion bars at the front and heavy-duty leaf springs down back.

All models had rack-and-pinion steering, and all but the DX base model also had speed sensitive power assistance.

There were three models, the DX entry level, the LX and the range topping LT, three body styles, single cab, space cab and crew cab, with a range of two and four-wheel drive variants. In total there were 56 model variants to choose from.


To get aboard the Rodeo express you’ll pay $13,000- $16,000 for a DX chassis-cab or ute, add $5000 for a diesel four-wheel drive.

For a mid-range LX diesel chassis-cab pay $16,000-$18,000 for a two-wheel drive, add $5000 to get four-wheel drive. For a V6 LX ute pay $15,000-$16,000, add $2000 for space cab, and $3500 for a crew cab. Add another another $2000 for the economy of the diesel engine, and another $3000 for four-wheel drive.

For the burger with the lot LT you’ll need to hand over $20,000 for a V6 two-wheel drive up to $33,000 for a crew cab four-wheel drive diesel.


As the Rodeo is essentially a work vehicle it’s important to look for signs of damage caused in the day-to-day grind on the job site. Look carefully for dings and scrapes on the body, outside and inside.

Check for wear and tear inside from big burly bodies getting in and out. Things like rips and tears in trim, broken plastics on controls often used and sometimes abused.

Not surprisingly for a vehicle meant to carry a substantial load the Rodeo’s ride is firm, although it gets better when there’s a load in the back. It also has a large turning circle so allow plenty of room if you’re doing a U-turn.

Although it’s noisy the diesel is the pick of the engines. It’s got plenty of get up and go and returns decent fuel consumption. The V6 has even better performance, but it’s a gas-guzzler.

If you prefer the V6 it might be wise to consider switching it to dual-fuel to cut running costs. Holden has a dual-fuel system available which is a sequential vapour-injection system that offers equivalent power and performance whether on petrol or gas.


Increased chassis rigidity proves a stable platform for responsive handling that increases the ability to avoid a crash, and the Rodeo has side intrusion bars for protection in side impacts.

ABS adds another level of crash avoidance on the LT, which also boasts dual front airbags in its list of standard features. Airbags are also optional on the LX models.


Hugh Eastwood owns two RA Rodeos, an LX Cab chassis for work and an LT Crew cab for recreation, both with the 3.5-litre V6. The work truck is always fully loaded, but performs very well, he says. The V6 has plenty of power, the gearbox is smooth and easy to use, and the brakes have no problems stopping well over two tonnes. The LT Crew cab has all the same positive characteristics, however he finds the ride is too firm without a load and the gearing is to low for normal road use. Two major drawback with both are the massive turning circle, and very high fuel consumption – 16 L/100 km – whether loaded or not.

Steve Hoogen owns a 2004 Rodeo LX Duel-cab 4WD five-speed manual diesel long wheel base tray top and loves it. It does everything he expects of it well, with great fuel consumption – 10 L/100 km – around town and a bit better on freeway. He says he would like another gear for speeds over 80 km/h. It handles and brakes well on the road and is great off road. The ride is good with a little weight in back or four on board, but a bit hard when riding solo and empty.


• Strong masculine styling

• Roomy interior with larger cabin

• Thirsty V6 engine

• economical diesel engine top choice

• Large turning circle

• Hard ride, particularly when empty


• Toyota Hilux – 2002-2005 – $12,000-$32,000

• Ford Courier – 2002-2004 – $10,000-$27,000

• Nissan Navara – 2001-2004 – $12,500-$27,000


• Tough work ute with good performance and roomy cabin, but gas guzzling V6 petrol engine.



Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 13 comments

  • I own a 2004 rodeo 4wd oil burner, nearly on the clock . I have nothing but praise for the vehicle.I live in the great dividing range on 170 acres about 50klm nth of Toowoomba.

    norman Trewella of Ravensbourne Posted on 22 December 2013 4:29pm
  • My 2003 Rodeo dual cab is giving no end of problems with the transmission. Have been to two mechanics who can't find the problem and am $1400 down to date. Can go through the gears for I day then next just won't go to top gear and revs out. Pull over turn off start again and no problem. Had a gut full and looking to get rid of it. Anybody know what he'll this problem is ?

    Wayne Mabbott of Newcastle Posted on 13 December 2013 9:21pm
  • Do not buy 2003-2005 Model Rodeos, they have faults in engines, engine will blow every 100k I have seen so many people changing engines on these cars, its shocking.

    Dave of Australia Posted on 04 September 2013 11:40pm
  • Hi

    Brianna Posted on 04 April 2013 3:05pm
  • About to pay 10k for a 2003 double cab, turbo 180km Does anyone know any specific problems with this model. Is in tip top condition, serviced every 5000k , 2 owners.

    kirsty winder of NZ Posted on 24 February 2013 8:18am
  • I have just bought a 2005 2.4 petrol Rodeo.The ute is in immaculate condition with one private owner.The fuel consumption is around 15.5 l per 100k A little steep i thought for a 4 cylinder around town.So far has not carried a load and i drive it pretty gently.It starts and runs fine....Any Ideas??

    Richard Posted on 30 October 2012 7:33pm
  • I have LT dual cab V6. 2wd. Auto bought new in '04. I got a good one overall and still drives well after 178k. Fuel consumption can be high if driven hard, fog lights are near impossible to get at to replace globes and headrests are equaly difficult to remove, seats are a bit flat, footrest uncomfortable so was removed. Mechanicaly v. good and very good at cruising at highway speeds as there are no rattles or squeeks and everything still works. A keeper for another 100k at least.

    Gerald Carney of Gold Coast Posted on 18 March 2012 10:37pm
  • Is there two different wheel bases for the duel cab 2004 lx Rodeo.

    jenko of moama Posted on 06 December 2011 7:05pm
  • i heard that the 2003 rodeo 3.0 diesel duel cab has a a problem blowing up motors i partner was going to buy one but a person told him there trouble he can get a diesel 3.0 duel cab great condition everything works for $9500 and is going to turn it down does anyone know if this it true

    cassie sheehan of griffith Posted on 01 May 2011 1:37pm
  • I have a 2006 3 litre turbo diesel 4WD and get 10litres/100 kilometres on highway. Had a canopy on it, but I don't need it most of time, so I made a quick fit on-off bolt on if I go camping because I got about 15 litres/100 kilometres on highway, too much drag.

    matt of NSW Posted on 16 April 2011 7:33pm
  • I own a 2003 Holden Rodeo 2.4L dx base model. have only had it for a few months. great car apart from the steering. Is there no power steering on this model or is there a problem with mine. feels quite heavy. thanks

    jake van der ree of vic Posted on 25 November 2010 6:00pm
  • Hi Phillip, My brother has the same model except LT ute as you and open road 450kms max from a tank of gas. Although my ute 2004 RA 2WD 3LTR TURBO DIESEL and I can get 700kms before the fuel light comes on

    Blake Bernhard of NZ Posted on 03 August 2010 9:11am

    PHILLIP WINTERS of darwin Posted on 09 July 2009 10:01pm
Read all 13 comments

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