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Moving up from a ute to an Isuzu light truck

CarsGuide logo CarsGuide 29/09/2022 David Morley

Isuzu’s N-Series of light trucks is really doing the business in Australia. In fact, the whole Isuzu Trucks brand is dominating the market here, with almost one in every two rigid trucks sold here bearing the Isuzu badge, cementing the brand’s 33-year run of holding top spot on the sales ladder.

The N-Series has been a large part of that, and now, with an upgrade to include new safety features, the N-Series is closer than ever to being a real alternative to other light commercials including dual-cab utes and vans.

We’ve looked at the range of N-Series trucks here that are able to be driven on a normal car license. That means a Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) of up to 4500kg (although the N-Series includes vehicles up to 8700kg GVM) and includes layouts including narrow and wide cabin, crew-cab and 4x2 and 4x4 variants.

Price and features - Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Trucks don’t necessarily represent huge value in technology terms, but when it comes to actual metal for the money, they claw back a bit of ground.

Isuzu’s 4.5-tonne GVM N-Series units start at $63,193 for the NSR 45-150 in ready-to-work Traypack form and fitted with the automatic transmission option. You can spend less by buying a bare cab-chassis version of the same truck which starts at $55,676 with the manual transmission.

At the other end of the 4.5-tonne GVM range sits the NPR 45-150 Servicepack which gets you the comprehensive service body, automatic transmission and bigger, 5.2-litre engine for a total of $103,691. In between those two extremes lie the rest of the range including every ready-to-work body, and transmission and engine options.

With smart-phone mirroring, the 10.1-inch screen offers the chance to use Apple and Android apps. © CarsGuide.com.au With smart-phone mirroring, the 10.1-inch screen offers the chance to use Apple and Android apps.

The big news this time around has been the addition of the active safety features detailed elsewhere in this review.

But for the end user, the bigger news will perhaps be the move to make Isuzu’s CoPilot touchscreen standard across all N-Series trucks.

With smart-phone mirroring, the 10.1-inch screen offers the chance to use Apple and Android apps as well as providing 32Gb of storage space, digital radio and interfacing with the reversing camera, sensors and four analogue cameras around the vehicle. Wireless phone charging is another new-to-N-Series feature.

Design - Is there anything interesting about its design?

While it’s generally agreed that trucks trail cars and utes in terms of safety and connectivity, the latest N-Series trucks are aimed at reversing that trend. Lots of active safety gear has been added to the N-Series in the most recent upgrade and that’s led to a much safer vehicle.

The ability to connect Apple CarPlay and Android devices is also a major bonus this time around.

The other element unique to Isuzu is the ability for customers to order a fully-finished truck, rather than order the basic package from the truck manufacturer and then finding a third-party supplier for the body they need.

Isuzu calls it its ready-to-work option and it spans various types of bodies including a service body, conventional drop-side tray, enclosed van and even a tipper body. As an off-the-shelf alternative to the traditional way of ordering and specifying a truck, it’s a surprise nobody else has done it, although Isuzu’s volumes definitely play a part.

Practicality - How practical is the space inside?

Because they’re made to work first and foremost, the cabins of these 4.5-tonne trucks are roomy and offer plenty of storage space for clipboards, receipt books, Eskies and more.

As a workspace rather than simple transport, plenty of thought has gone into how they function for an eight-hour shift, too, and options like suspension driver’s seats will make a difference.

They’re a bit of a climb up, though, so getting in and out requires at least some measure of dexterity. But once you are in, the view through that huge, panoramic windscreen is fabulous and if you like the seat-height advantage of an SUV, you’ll love an N-Series truck.

Beyond that, the quality of the interior plastics still trails the car and ute world by a margin, and the hard plastic surfaces aren’t great to look at or engage with. By trucks standards, though, they’re on the money.

Engine and transmission - What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

The base engine for the N-Series trucks is a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel with 110kW of power and 375Nm of torque. Available across the short and mid-wheelbase N-Series models, the 3.0-litre engine is more or less the same engine as seen in the Isuzu D-Max ute range.

As such, it has a good reputation for durability and although there are some turbocharger and tuning changes compared with the D-Max, the basic engine is very similar.

There’s also a much more heavy-duty, truck-like engine option. That is also a four-cylinder unit, but with a massive 5.2 litres of capacity, it’s a real statement of intent. Although power is only marginally more than the 3.0-litre engine, at 114kW, torque is the big winner with 419Nm at just 1600rpm.

© CarsGuide.com.au

Typically fitted to N-Series models with the wider cabin, the 5.2-litre engine also shifts the GCM up a gear to 9000kg from 8000kg. The braked towing limit of the bigger-engined truck also jumps to 4500kg (from 4000kg).

The 3.0L trucks are fitted with either a conventional five-speed manual gearbox or a robotised six-speed manual (which operates like an automatic and is driven with just two pedals). The bigger engined versions have a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed robotised manual.

Fuel consumption - How much fuel does it consume?

The first thing to know is that vehicles in this weight class – unlike passenger cars and dual-cab utes - don’t have to undergo an official government test for fuel economy. So there’s no simple comparison to be made here.

Also, there are simply too many variables in truck fuel economy to make definitive statements. Unlike cars which are usually loaded to within a few hundred kilograms trip-to-trip, a truck’s mass can vary enormously from empty to fully loaded (and with what) and those circumstances will vary nearly every day.

Then there’s the issue of what body is fitted to the chassis. Obviously, a high van body will contribute a lot more drag at highway speeds than a low-line tray body.

With all that in mind, it’s impossible to generalise although you can expect fuel economy to increase the more you put on board or hitch to the tow-bar.

It’s also worth mentioning that Isuzu’s N-Series engines meet Euro 5 emissions standard for diesel engines. N-Series trucks have fuel tanks ranging from 75 to 100 litres.

Safety - What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

It’s generally agreed that trucks have, traditionally, been one or two generations behind passenger cars when it comes to safety equipment and technology.

That kind of changes now, and the N-Series (and other Isuzu models) features a whole raft of active and passive safety features that brings the light truck up to the standard of many road cars.

The newest tech is Isuzu’s ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) which incorporates tech such as autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, traffic movement warning, distance warning and stability control. A stereo camera system combined with a radar unit is at the heart of the technology.

Other safety tech includes traction control, ABS brakes, speed limiter, hill-start assist, automatic lighting, driver and front passenger airbags and seat belt pretensioners.

What’s missing? Mainly side airbags and curtain air-bags for rear-seat passengers in the crew-cab models. Overall, though, the N-Series is setting new benchmarks for light-truck safety, acknowledging OH and S concerns across the industry.

Ownership - What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Because trucks are designed to be used day in, day out, the warranty reflects that. In this case, it’s six years and 250,000km of factory cover for any two-wheel drive N-Series.

The four-wheel-drive variants are, due to the tasks they’re usually put to, covered for three years or 150,000km.

Isuzu also provides six years of roadside assistance. There’s also capped-price servicing on a pay-up-front basis although the cost varies between models. 

Because trucks are designed to be used day in, day out, the warranty reflects that. © CarsGuide.com.au Because trucks are designed to be used day in, day out, the warranty reflects that.

Driving - What's it like for a daily driver?

Although the sheer size of the Isuzu can be a bit daunting at first, once you’re in with the excellent side mirrors adjusted, it’s vastly less confronting.

The view to the front and sides is brilliant thanks to the deep glass and the high-and-mighty seating position is terrific for finding the corners of the vehicle, too.

You still need to understand that the length of the truck imposes some unconventional lines through corners, and leaving plenty of space between yourself and the insides of corners soon becomes second nature.

The seating position itself offers up a classic truck-like set-up with an upright seat-back and an almost flat steering wheel. It sounds terrible to car drivers but it’s not. It’s actually very comfortable for long stints at the helm.

Ride quality is compromised to an extent by the N-Series’ role as a hauler (and spring rates to suit that role) but the optional independent front suspension makes it a lot more comfy.

And even with the more traditional front suspension fitted, the fast steering makes the truck a lot more manoeuvrable than you might have imagined.

The biggest gripe for us was the transmission, specifically, the optional robotised manual six-speed. This unit really does hark back to the very early days of the technology (before the dual-clutch layout arrived) and the shifts are slow and stilted with a distinct lurch as the transmission swaps gears and engages the clutch.

The Isuzu places both pedals to the right of the steering column, making left-foot braking impossible. © CarsGuide.com.au The Isuzu places both pedals to the right of the steering column, making left-foot braking impossible.

You can improve things by lifting off the accelerator to initiate each shift, but fundamentally, modern dual-clutch transmissions do a much better job.

The other issue will be for drivers who like to left-foot brake in any vehicle with two pedals.

Unfortunately for them, the Isuzu places both pedals to the right of the big, almost vertical steering column with neatly cleaves the driver’s footwell in two, making left-foot braking impossible.

Driving – What’s it like for tradie use?

Tradies accustomed to less sophisticated levels of equipment and safety will love the N-Series. The camera system that allows for AEB and active cruise-control is a master-stroke in this class of truck, and even details like the LED headlights and marker lamps are designed for hassle-free operation.

Fleet managers are likely to get the point of the safety tech, too, and will also be able to lift their fleet’s average safety rating.

The other big advantage of the ready-to-work range is that the Isuzu is a one-stop purchase with no need to chase a body builder or supplier to turn the truck into what it needs to be for each application.

Because trucks are designed to be used day in, day out, the warranty reflects that. © CarsGuide.com.au Because trucks are designed to be used day in, day out, the warranty reflects that.

Verdict

Driving a truck of this size has never been easier than it is with these new Isuzus. Once you’ve worked out how to judge gaps in traffic and have acclimatised to the bulk of a light truck, it’s all pretty straight-forward.

The greater levels of connectivity and safety in this generation of trucks is a big leap on the OH and S front, and there’s no trade-off in terms of the traditional practicalities trucks like these offer.

Our advice would be to option up the suspension driver’s seat and, where possible, look into the independent front suspension, too, as this gives the vehicle a more car-like feel in terms of both steering and ride quality.

Meantime, the option of the ready-to-work packages makes the whole idea of getting into a light truck all the more simple, fuss-free and financially attractive. Which are all things fleet managers around the world can agree on.

Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with meals provided.

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