Isuzu’s continuing market leadership for 25 years is underpinned by a great depth of engineering knowledge – Dave Whyte drives the NLR and NQR
The long-held position of market leader is something that Isuzu are rightly very proud of. When you consider how things have changed in the 25 years they have occupied the top spot, it is nothing short of remarkable. But for all of the things that have changed, a few have remained the same, and this is where the strength in the brand lies – the customer knows what to expect from their purchase. The current NQR and NPR models may have plenty of new technology on board, but the basic driving experience still has that familiarity that comes with all Isuzu trucks.
The Isuzu NLR is powered by a 3.0-litre four-cylinder engine that provides 110 kW (147 Hp) and 375 Nm (275 lb-ft) of torque. While it’s only a small engine, it does still use some of the technology more commonly attributed to larger diesel engines, most notable being the exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) and a diesel particulate filter (DPF). The power output is quite adequate for the 4.5 tonnes GVM, making it easy to keep up with traffic with the five-speed manual gearbox providing a good spread of ratios, whether you are in the city traffic or on the highway. The urban environment is where the NLR seems to shine brightest, with an easy-moving gearshift and good acceleration providing a pleasant driving experience around town. An automated manual (AMT) option is available.
There is no mistaking the Japanese influence on the inside of the cab. The dashboard is low set, with all controls in easy reach, and easily identified. The first thing that struck me about the NLR was just how narrow the cab was. This does have obvious benefits in tight metropolitan environments or for garden supply operators, but presents a problem for those looking to fit three grown men inside. The outside passenger seat is standard size, but the centre seat seems quite tight, and has the gear shift to contend with for space. Mind you, there are other models in the Isuzu line-up to counter this issue. It also seems a little odd that this narrow-cab model had a full width tray fitted, negating any benefits of the narrow cab. This posed a problem for rearward vision also, as the front of the tray took up half of the mirror on each side. This is a shame really, as the big mirrors on the NLR have all the features you could ask for, with electrically adjusted main mirrors and spotter mirrors on each side, and the added bonus of being heated.
While the truck was travelling empty, it tended to bounce a little. Once loaded, however, the NLR ride smoothed out considerably. During my week in the NLR it was used for various tasks, including some furniture removal that required several pick-ups before delivery to one location. After each successive pick up, the ride was noticeably better as the load got heavier. The shock was to come after unloading, when it was back to an empty tray again. I assume it would be difficult to build a truck that rides well at both ends of the weight spectrum, and the ride was quite acceptable while empty, but the difference was very obvious.
The NQR is a couple of steps up in the Isuzu range, with a GVM of 8.7 tonnes. I also had the pleasure of driving one of these around for a few days, again doing various tasks including furniture removals and some light freight. This truck has a 5.0-litre engine, which puts out 139 kW (186 hp) and 510 Nm (376 lb-ft), and was driven through the six-speed AMT transmission. The AMT makes great use of the available power, making quick and clean shifts to keep the engine working in the best rev range for power and economy.
The cab is larger than the NLR, providing plenty of room for three adults to fit comfortably. The fitment of the AMT meant no need for the central passenger to dodge the gear lever, and no awkward knee touches (we’ve all been there, right?). The interior fitment is typical of Japanese truck style – functional, but not flash. Again, all the controls are placed logically, and are easy to spot when you need them. There is a little more storage room in the NQR, but basically the interior is the same across the Isuzu range. This is another reason fleet owners are loyal to the brand, as they can send a driver out in different sized trucks, but they will all be set out the same. This means the driver will be more familiar with the controls, and comfortable behind the wheel sooner.
The display in the centre of the dash contains a touch screen that is used for many functions including radio operation, Bluetooth connection and the rearward camera when reversing. The radio unit also incorporates digital radio, providing many more stations when driving in the city, but useless in the country for the time being. I’ve always been a little sceptical about reversing cameras, but with the van body taking up half of the mirror space each side, I found this one came in handy. Reversing into a tight driveway between units and trees, I found I could rely on the camera to give an accurate view with good perspective, making my life much easier.
Basically, what I discovered over these two weeks was that it’s not just the technology that sells trucks. Isuzu has maintained the position in the market because its customers appreciate the basics of practicality and performance. While the fleet customers might be concerned with environmental performance and fuel efficiency, the average tradie just wants something that will start first time every time and do the job with comfort. Isuzu engineers have done a great job of integrating technology for the benefit of all drivers, without the driver even having to know that technology exists. The simple, no-fuss driveability of these trucks hides the smarts that are working throughout the truck, and this makes life easy for the operator.
It would seem that in a world where we are bombarded by the latest and greatest technology every day, some of us still like the simplicity of being able to just jump in, turn the key and drive away. The current model Isuzu range still gives you that simplicity, but provides the performance, convenience and comfort that we have come to expect from a new truck.