Light Relief | Light Truck Review

As Isuzu Trucks’ approaches its 30th consecutive year as the overall market leader in commercial vehicles, Ed Higginson evaluates the appeal of the N-Series

The N-Series enters the new year with a broad range of updates and improvements, matching the timing of the company’s move into new corporate head office at Truganina, in south western Melbourne.

Delivery Magazine was on hand to evaluate 13 of the new models, during a test drive opportunity that followed on from presentations by the marketing team, keen to show off the new upgrades and improvements.

Starting with the smallest of the range, the NLR 45-150 with a GVM of 4500kg, which can be driven on a standard car licence, the models available to drive extended up to the NQR 87-190 Crew cab with seating for six with a GVM of 8700 kg and GCM to 11,000 kg.

This varied range of some 48 combinations, plus four new models for 2019, has seen the Isuzu N series in a variety of sectors from fire appliances to food vans and from service trucks to tippers.

“Our 2019 N-Series model range provides more of what Australian truck customers are looking for from the market leader,” commented director and chief operating officer, Andrew Harbison.

Now with several updates, the new N-series just got a whole lot better. “Our range once again represents an ongoing evolution of this best-selling light truck platform,” said Simon Humphries, the IAL Chief Engineer.

“Many of the updates are in direct response to customer feedback, while we’ve introduced elements such as independent front suspension (IFS) to most of our NNR models to provide an even more car-like driving experience,” added Simon.

IAL has two engines with three ratings to offer across the range depending on your application, weights and the terrain you need to tackle.

Starting with the well-proven 3.0-litre 4JJ1 turbo-charged four-cylinder, 16-valve DOHC diesel engine, this produces 110 kW of power at 2,800 rpm and 375 Nm of torque between 1,600 – 2,800 rpm. It’s this engine that features as standard in the lightest models such as  the NLR 45-150, with a GVM of 4500kg, up to the NNR 65-150 with a GVM of 6500kg.

For operators that need a bit more oomph,  the next option up the power range is the 5.2-litre 4HK1 turbo-charged four-cylinder, 16-valve diesel engine in the NPR and NQR models. Here you get 114 kW of power @ 2,600 rpm and 419 Nm of torque between 1,600 – 2,600 rpm in the 4500-5500kg GVM plated NPR 45/55-155 models.

The same unit can also be uprated to 140 kW of power @ 2,600 rpm and 513 Nm of torque between 1,600 – 2,600 rpm in the 6500kg NPR 65/45-190, the 7500kg GVM NPR 75-190 and the 8700kg GVM NQR 87-190 models.

The big improvement for the 2019 update, has been the move to a diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC) exhaust system to meet Euro V in the bigger 4HK1 engine. DOC technology is a maintenance-free system ideal for trucks that have high idle times. It also means that the N-Series doesn’t need a particulate filter that requires regenerations, or AdBlue. The move to Euro 6 would require Adblue but that is still a few years away in Australia.

One of the main improvements to the N-Series is the addition of independent front suspension (IFS) to key models in the range. As a consequence of this design change the ride is considerable improved on Isuzu’s NNR 45-150 Crew, the single cab NNR 55-150 and NNR 65-150 models.

“With most of the NNR line-up, we’ve moved away from a more rigid leaf spring set-up over to an independent coil spring assembly, which is designed to improve ride quality and handling, while still able to support a decent payload.” Simon Humphries explained.

During our evaluation, alternating between models with and without IFS really showed how much improvement it gave over the usual leaf suspension. The steering was also sharper with the addition of a new rack and pinion steering box, giving the new truck a real car-like feel which is ideal for the drivers who are only used to driving a car or ute.

By choosing Isuzu, buyers in this light truck segment will certainly notice how comfortable it is to spend a day behind the wheel, even in heavy traffic congestion. With a mechanically suspended driver’s seat, fully adjustable steering wheel and plenty of room for all heights, shapes and sizes, the initial assessment was full of compliments, rather than complaints.

Isuzu has established a strong reputation amongst fire services and first responders for its go-anywhere, all-wheel-drive versions, and this high acceptance has flowed through to the private sector with the landscape gardening segment. Five of the models available for evaluation were all-wheel-drive versions, and where better to try out their ability and put them through their paces than the Lerderderg State Park. As an old quarry, it’s an ideal 4×4 playground to the North of Melbourne.

Isuzu’s NPS 4×4 range has been a favorite within the Emergency services, Mining and Field services as a tough go anywhere light truck. But with the 2019 model launch, Isuzu has now also added the automated manual transmission (AMT) option.

“Because the NPS with AMT is the only factory built two-pedal 4×4 light truck available on the market today, we invested the time and resources into taking a literal ground-up approach to developing a superior product for all operators looking for a 4×4 light truck that’s easier than ever to drive,” said Simon Humphries.

“Isuzu’s MYY5T five-speed automated manual transmission has been calibrated for off-road conditions, so when 4×4 low range is selected, the AMT reverts to clutch-less manual control mode which is ideal in steep terrain,” he added.

During the off-road driving tests, Delivery drove a selection of the 4×4 NPS models, both in day cab and crew cab configurations across typical fire tracks, steep hills and through water traps. With the five demo units all loaded, they all managed to handle whatever situation to which they were subjected with ease.

The manual NPS performed just as well, but the AMT meant that you could concentrate more on which track to take to ensure the best progress, plus it reduces the risk of drivers less familiar with uneven or slippery terrain from abusing the driveline.

Isuzu, along with some of the other Japanese brands, has had some of the best infotainment systems of any trucks on the market, but with the new updates, the N Series’ system, known as DAVE, is now better than a lot of the standard fitments on offer in cars .

DAVE features a 6.2-inch touch-screen, runs Android Automotive system, USB 3.0 connectivity, Bluetooth V4, Voice-control, split screen and AM/FM/DAB+ radio options. And if you still can’t find the music to get you going, the new system you can link to your phone’s data to search the Internet’s infinite range of radio stations across the world.

It also gets a truck programmable sat/nav system that allows drivers to set specific truck limits, such as weight, length, and heights so you aren’t sent down the wrong road by accident, particularly useful for one-time users.

An interesting change for the new model, is that the SD card is now hidden behind the dash to prevent theft. By responding to customer feedback, it shows that Isuzu listens and reacts to the views of its buyers when making product upgrades. The multimedia system also enables several useful accessories, such as four separate cameras, rear parking sensors and tyre monitoring using Bluetooth-connected valve caps.

As well as having an impressive light truck, Isuzu has also put a lot of effort into sourcing quality bodies that let dealers pre-build trucks that are ready to work.

Realising that many customers cannot wait weeks or months for their service body, refrigerated pan, tray back or three-way tipper, the pre-build options on offer have most industries covered with N-Series trucks and are available across the country.

For 2019, Isuzu has also added more options such as VanPack, TrayPack, ServicePack-X, and the Blue or Black TradePack cab colour options. There are also additional accessory options, such as an alloy steel bumper, LED spotlights, plus much, much more.

With many fleets facing the challenge that a standard ute is easily overloaded, and with authorities starting to target companies that continue to turn a blind eye, or have not yet realised the significance of Chain of Responsibility legislation, the N Series offers a real alternative.

For buyers requiring a carrying capacity well over 1000kg, a decent tray bed area, three or six seats, plus towing up to 4500kg, there aren’t many competitors that can match the Isuzu N Series range.

The new updates have given the range car-like drivability with the improved AMT, comfortable ride on the new Independent front suspension, and probably the best multimedia system in the industry.

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