Isuzu FRR 600
Tim Giles takes the 2011 Isuzu FRR 600 around Melbourne to see how well the truck performs as a benchmark in this truck market segment.
Looking at the Australian truck market data, there are a large number of segments in which Isuzu dominates. Some of the company’s strongest performance in terms of sales comes in the medium duty sector, where it has commonly come in at around 40% market share. This would suggest that it must be doing something right, Isuzu seems to be in tune with the customer's list of requirements when it comes to buying a medium duty truck.
At 11 tonne GVM, the FRR 600 is one of those models which performs particularly strongly for Isuzu. This is one of the workhorses of the transport and distribution industry, this is a truck which covers a lot of the ‘last mile’ tasks, getting the goods to the end customer or collecting items for consolidation onto larger trucks. Thousands of these trucks will be seen every day, fighting the good fight in and around the big cities and urban areas, getting the job done with little fuss.
The model being tested by Prime Mover is the Isuzu FRR 600, fitted with an automated manual transmission and travelling around the city of Melbourne with a fully loaded pantech box. Power comes from the Sitec Series III six cylinder 7790 cm³ engine putting out 236hp (176kW) and pulling 706Nm (521 ft lb) of torque at 1450rpm. Although this is probably not the most powerful engine available in this market segment, this is plenty of power and plenty of torque to handle the kind of work this truck can be expected to face in its everyday life.
Climbing into the truck and setting off down the road, the driver can quickly see why these models have been so successful in this segment. They really do tick all of the boxes in the list of what the driver and operator require from a truck working around the city. Working from a relatively simple base, Isuzu has added enough sophistication to make this truck a match for any of its competitors, including the Europeans.
The truck's strength comes from that core engineering and design which has served Isuzu well over its last 21 years of market leadership. The balance and stability of the truck along with a very impressive turning circle give the truck the manoeuvrability needed when working in busy situations and trying to meet a deadline, thus making life easier for the driver.
This engine does perform well, it is smooth and quiet but also able to dig in when required and get the work done hauling a fully loaded truck up a steep incline. Over the last 10 years, the transformation of truck engines coming out of Japan has been remarkable. This engine uses high-pressure common rail fuel injection plus a variable nozzle turbocharger to maintain performance and cooled EGR alongside a diesel particulate diffuser to meet the exhaust emission requirements of ADR 80/03. In fact, because this engine has been designed to meet the Japanese New Long Term exhaust rules, it is compliant with the stricter European EEV exhaust gas limits.
Using the smooth power of its engine to the best of its ability will be an important choice for anyone considering buying these trucks. There are two transmissions available, the manual Isuzu MZW 6P or the six speed Isuzu AMT. Both gearboxes use six gears but use them in a different way and it is that difference which would make the decision between transmissions important.
In urban traffic the AMT makes life very easy for the driver. The transitions between ratios are very smooth and quick so this is really a set and forget gearbox, most of the time. Driving into the city, down Sydney Road on a busy afternoon there are enough distractions to keep a driver's attention occupied without having to select the right gear as well. The combination of trams, inpatient car drivers on the way home from work, suicidal cyclists and unaware pedestrians is enough for any truck driver to cope with. In this situation visibility is everything and any distraction can have awful consequences.
One of the strengths of this engine is the length of its flat topped torque curve. Over 700Nm of torque is available all the way from 1400rpm to 2400rpm. This gives the driver a great deal of flexibility when powering up and down the gears. It is possible to change gear simply by backing off or pushing down hard on the accelerator, a clear sign of a responsive automated gearbox.
However, the way the ratios on the AMT have been set can create issues if the transmission is set to auto in certain situations. Going into a steep climb with a full load at a relatively slow speed can see the truck lose momentum very quickly. A couple of the jumps in ratios see the truck trying to engage a gear it cannot sustain and forcing it to take another quick change and, as a result, losing further momentum, and so on and so on.
Any truck driver worth their salt, after they get used to this truck, will recognise situations where this may become an issue. Then it's simply a matter of knocking the AMT into manual mode and making the changes early and precisely. This solution works but the driver can get caught out before they become very familiar with this truck.
The alternative is to choose the manual model. The driver will be attuned to making sure progress can be made in all situations and the ratios may be better aligned to the needs of the truck on steep inclines. However, this then comes with the disadvantage of being a distraction to the driver in difficult traffic situations out on the road, making hundreds of gear changes each day.
Take the truck out on the freeway and the smoothness of the auto, along with an easy to use cruise control, makes life very easy for the driver. The comfort levels and the ride in this cabin makes for a very relaxed experience out on the open highway. Often trucks which are very effective in tight urban situations can be awkward or uncomfortable at 100km/h for any length of time. This is certainly not the case with the FRR 600.
All of the other sophisticated features now included on the medium duty Isuzu trucks enable the truck buyer to tick plenty of boxes. Just getting in and out of the truck is a simple and safe operation. The grab handles, especially on the A pillar, are well designed and well placed and the steps are safe and secure. The cab design has not changed from the 2010 model but this F Series range was a market leader when it was released a few years ago and it remains so in 2011. The competition from Japan is catching up, but they have not yet taken the lead.
The driver seat is an Isri 6860 with an integrated seatbelt and plenty of adjustment available to the driver. Steering is smooth and responsive. Visibility is excellent, the low set windows and well-placed mirrors mean the driver has an excellent view of the area around the truck. Additional technology like the Hill Start Aid makes life for the driver even easier, holding the brakes on at road junctions without any input from the driver, waiting to release the brakes when they press the accelerator to engage the transmission before setting off.
Even the all singing and all dancing entertainment unit with Bluetooth, LCD touchscreen, SD card and USB capabilities can be considered a safety feature. Engage reverse and the screen becomes a reversing camera. In fact, it has the capability of handling three external cameras. The SD card reader can also be used to load up a custom-designed navigation system with truck specific and Isuzu specific information included on the maps for the driver.
Storage is often quite limited on trucks this size but the drink holders actually do hold full cups and cans and the overhead compartments do have doors to stop road atlases falling onto driver's laps. Folding down the rear of the central seat gives access to a document holder which is probably too shallow but this does allow access to the wider parcel shelf behind the seats where the truck driver could store plenty of gear.
As it does in many truck market segments, Isuzu sets the benchmark for 11 tonne GVM trucks. This is where the industry wants trucks in this sector to be at, and Isuzu delivers in just about every department. The levels of comfort and safety are very high and the design is built on a secure and flexible platform with a powerful and effective driveline.
In some situations, the AMT transmission is not ideal and Japanese competitors who offer a fully auto option may have some advantage for particular applications. However, overall this truck does do the job very well. The driver of the truck can feel safe, comfortable and well informed about the performance of the truck and the situation around the vehicle. The operator can be sure they have a vehicle which can do the job, choosing the AMT to protect the longevity of the driveline as well as enabling drivers with all levels of skill to attain a passable performance.