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Used car review Holden Rodeo RA 2003


Graham 'Smithy' Smith reviews the used Holden Rodeo 03: its fine points, its flaws and what to watch for when buying it.

Imported one-tonne utes have become the staple of local trades and industries which 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 showed up on the local landscape in the 1970s when Holden utes began to lose favour with tradies.

They had simply become too expensive compared to the imported utes which, despite being a bit rough and rugged, went on to conquer the market.  Local utes have made a comeback in recent times, but they're now more a lifestyle vehicle for people who want a dual-purpose daily driving/weekend escape car.


The RA Rodeo hit the market in 2003. It was bigger, more powerful, better equipped and safer than its predecessors.  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 substantially more space inside the Rodeo's new cabs.  Holden offered three engines: a 2.4-litre single overhead camshaft fuel-injected four-cylinder (94kW at 4800rpm and 207Nm at 3200rpm), a 3.5-litre all-alloy double overhead camshaft V6 (147kW at 5400rpm and 280Nm at 3000rpm), and a 3.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel (96kW at 3800rpm and 294Nm at 2400rpm).

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 has coil front springs, have torsion bars at the front and heavy duty leaf springs down back.

Holden offered 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 4WD variants. In total, there were 56 model variants to choose from.


As the Rodeo is essentially a work vehicle it is important to look for signs of damage caused in the daily grind on the job site. Look for dings and scrapes, inside and out.  Be on the alert for wear and tear from big burly bodies. Check for such things as rips in the trim and 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.  Although noisy, the diesel is the pick of the engines. It has lots of get up and go and returns decent fuel consumption. The V6 has even better performance, but is a petrol guzzler.

If you prefer the V6 it might be worth switching it to dual-fuel to cut running costs. Holden has a dual-fuel system 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.


  • Roomy interior with larger cabin
  • Strong masculine styling. 
  • Thirsty V6 engine
  • Hard ride, particularly when empty
  • Economical diesel engine top choice
  • Too wide turning circle

How much

To get aboard the Rodeo express you'll pay $13,000 - $23,000 for a DX chassis-cab or ute. For a midrange LX diesel chassis-cab pay $16,000 - $18,000 for a two-wheeldrive, add $5000 to get four-wheeldrive. For a V6 LX ute pay $15,000-$16,000, add $2000 for space cab, $3500 for a crew cab and $2000 for
the diesel engine.


Toyota HiLux 2002-2005 $12,000-$32,000
Ford Courier 2002-2004 $10,000-$27,000
Nissan Navara 2001-2004 $12,500-$27,000


15/20 Tough work ute with goodperformance and cabin, but petrol-guzzling V6 engine.

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 3 comments

  • I love my RA LX but recently had to replace the engine which was very disappointing but with another complete engine and new timing belt its back on the road and purring like a kitten. It drives beautifully on the open highway and it has no troubles towing the camper trailer. Its with much regret I am selling it now for a smaller vehicle.

    Debbie Swain of Maclean Posted on 15 September 2011 8:19am
  • My RA LT was a great ute and selling it was a big mistake. I put a lot of K's on the clock but even after 240,000km's she was still going strong. It did chew through the fuel but it took off a lot quicker than the navara, trton or hilux. It was only a 2wd but with a good set of AT Tyres it handled muddy and rugged worksites no problems. Only thing I could complain about was the V6's lack of power when towing. Pulled a large box trailer with not much in it and it did struggle to stick to 110 up slight hills. Apart from that, great rig all round and I say again. Have regretted selling it ever since.

    O. Johns of Bendigo, Vic Posted on 06 March 2011 9:21pm
  • I converted my RA Rodeo to LPG 24000km ago and couldn’t be happier….except that the engine is not real powerful…it struggles to maintain good speeds when tugging my 16ft caravan…be it on gas or ULP.

    Paul F Greig of Brisbane Posted on 08 May 2009 9:28pm

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