Martial Arts

Isuzu has been market leader in Australia for 24 consecutive years. Delivery finds there are very good reasons to expect this Japanese truck maker to hit the quarter century in 2014

When things look pretty much the same, there’s always the risk that customers might just assume that everything is the same. After all, one white Japanese truck looks remarkably like another, and another. But, after days of driving the latest models for 2013 now hitting the road from Isuzu, we’re convinced that there’s a world of difference between competing products that’s a country mile wide.

Would you believe that Isuzu offers 154 different models onto the Australian market? That’s how special this white truck market has become. And, when you want to be market leader, your range of products on offer has to match the requirements of your customer better than those of your competitors. Get the matching right and you’ll have a happy customer forever.

Isuzu is not only market leader across the entire commercial vehicle market in Australia, iIsuzu_trucks_NPR_P3t’s been growing its market share by an impressive 8.7 percent when comparing 2012 with 2011. In overall terms, this Japanese company is currently sitting at 23.4 percent of the total market, and it is still finding new model variants to release that extend its footprint yet further.

In this issue, we are looking at the latest N-Series. It’s already a strong performer in the Japanese domestic market, where it obtained a 39.6 percent market share among trucks with payloads of between two and three tonnes.

For the 2013 model year versions, the N-Series gets an interior boost, with some added brightwork for bezels around the dials, a digital radio and multimedia unit, plus cornering lamps on all NH versions. These combine with the indicator lamp unit and shine into the inside of a corner as the vehicle turns, with the appropriate indicator operating and with the headlamps turned on. Isuzu to our knowledge is the first truck maker to add this safety feature.

The NLR200 AMT tipper comes with a body that was mounted in Japan and now includes a two-way tailgate, with hinges at the top, and the option of swinging the tailgate to lock against the body side.

At this level, the licence requirement is still for car drivers, but, to make life simpler, the transmission is an AMT, with a fluid coupling to reduce driveline shock loading. Those needing more payload can now go to the NPR 400 tipper with a GVM of 8.7 tonnes. Councils looking for a crew-cab can opt for the 7.5-tonne GVM NPR 400, which has a wheelbase of 4175 mm.

Thanks to independent front suspension with coil springs, the NLR200 actually rides very well. It sits lightly on the road, and with rack and pinion steering it corners precisely and is not susceptible to bump steer. The back end has multi-leaf semi-elliptical springs on the short wheelbase, with disc/front and drum/rear brakes, but moves to a taper leaf main spring with an underslung helper spring on the medium-wheelbase version, which also boasts disc brakes all round.

Power for the single-cab and also the NNR crew-cab versions comes from a four-cylinder, 3.0-litre, SITEC 150 engine using a variable nozzle turbocharger with air to air intercooler to produce 110 kW at 2,800 rpm and peak torque of 375 Nm rated at 1,600-2,800 rpm. This is an EGR engine without AdBlue, but using a DPF (Diesel particulate Filter). Transmission choice at this entry-level is through a five-speed manual or six-speed AMT.

Moving up in the weight range brings in the NPR short or medium-wheelbase and increases engine size to 5.2 litres and 114 kW at 2,600 rpm with peak torque of 419 Nm rated at 1,600 through to 2,600 rpm. The front suspension uses taper leaf springs with multi-leaf main springs on the rear and a taper leaf helper spring.

It’s one thing to outline specifications, but the proof of the Isuzu ability comes from driving the product.

The most noticeable immediate benefit is that of noise, or rather the lack of it. The interior noise level of all the Isuzu products for 2013 is much quieter than expected, and much more in line with that expected in a passenger car. The seat comfort is good, visibility is excellent, through wide, vibration-free door mirrors, and there are convex spotter mirrors to pick up those obscure movements of “P” platers.

The NLR200 and NNR200 models both feature disc brakes front and rear, the only difference being the size of the rotors, with 275mm on the front and 293 mm on the rear. All models also gain an SRS airbag for the passenger in addition to the driver’s side SRS.

What stands out most here is the sophistication of the product. We talk glibly of car-like driving characteristics, but that description now applies equally through the light and medium product range. The AMT seems to work better than any of the competition and the engine mapping works well with the AMT shift protocol. Unlike some other AMTs, there are no sudden ratio swaps, without prior notice, that produce rapid rev rises and an annoying increase of interior noise levels.Isuzu_trucks_NPR_4

The Isuzu electrical system now uses a CAN system (Connecting Area Network), which means that the novice, home-trained sparkies can’t go fossicking about looking for just any available power cable to tap into when adding lights or tailgate loaders, etc. Just like the process with current car technology, you need a qualified auto-electrician to add secondary electrical accessories. If you try to plug and play all on your own, without knowing what you are doing, you’ll probably end up with nothing doing what you expect it to do.

One advantage of the CAN network is that it does facilitate a whole range of engine reporting systems, provides cruise control, and enables a full download of a wide variety of operating data. Isuzu will be releasing full telematics functionality shortly, as a benefit of using this CANBOX system.

It becomes very obvious, the more you experience Isuzu products, that this Japanese truck maker is intent on its path of continuous improvement – small upgrades such as shifting to an 80 Amp alternator, common across the range, is just one such example. But there’s more for the customer by way of the company’s extensive approach to providing the highest levels of customer service.

According to Isuzu’s Colin White, Isuzu’s manager of product planning and engineering, Isuzu engineers have taken an already popular model range and made it even better by building on its many strengths and features.

“The broad model choice, coupled with innovative technology and a long list of standard features, makes the N Series particularly appealing for just about any light and medium-duty applications,” said Colin.

When you delve more deeply into the features and benefits of the 2013 upgrades, the advantages of looking closely at what Isuzu has to offer becomes more apparent.

The integral multimedia unit contains ways to link your own personal choice of music from iPads, iPods, MP3 players and the like, as well as being able to store music in the 8 GB internal hard drive.

With claims of having the largest screen of any truck-mounted media system, the unit also offers satellite navigation with mapping upgrades free of charge for the first three years, matching the vehicle warranty.

Overwhelmingly, the impression of all the models driven was the high degree of sophistication that Isuzu now offers its customers. Ride comfort, low interior noise levels and reduced fatigue are all benefits that are available now.

One additional inclusion we would like to see is that of roll stability programmes available throughout all models. Once that comes on board, the brand will stand on equal terms with the best that Europe has to offer, with the price advantage and the high level of reliability for which the Japanese companies are renowned.

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