Isuzu NPR 300
The Isuzu NPR has become the default light duty urban distribution vehicle. Tim Giles takes the latest Euro 5 version of this industry stalwart for a spin around Melbourne’s CBD.
The reputation of Isuzu has been built around trucks like the NPR 300. These are no-nonsense hard-working basic trucks which perform a vital part of Australia’s transport task. The truck platform has to be flexible enough to meet the varied demands of customers who will use this truck to perform a number of different jobs and expect to be able to fit a wide variety of different bodies to the basic chassis.
As well as having to be an ‘everyman’ truck, the NPR also has to come in at the right price. Fleet buyers have a number of closely matched competitors with which to compare the truck, and self-employed small business people have to run on tight margins to remain competitive. This is the environment into which the NPR has grown and become the industry standard, against which anyone wishing to sell a truck into this market segment has to pit themselves.
Prime Mover took an Isuzu NPR 300 out on the roads of Central Melbourne to gauge exactly where this model now sits. It is an opportunity to see how far we have come in recent years, with the introduction of new technologies and new exhaust emission regulations, as well as making sure the design hasn’t come too far away from the simple basic needs of the transport industry.
The basic statistics tell some of the story, Isuzu continues to dominate the light duty segment of the Australian truck market and many of those sales are NPR models. The sales figures so far in 2011 see Isuzu representing over 36% of the market, with its nearest rivals Hino and Fuso fighting it out for second place at below 20% of the total light duty truck market. The GFC may have come and gone, but Isuzu has held their position as number one and, incrementally, improved market share through both economic boom and bust.
The look and feel of the new Euro 5 NPR is very similar to the truck’s immediate predecessor, the Euro 4 model. The technical requirements of the change from ADR 80/02 to ADR 80/03 exhaust emissions have been relatively minor for this model. Compliance has required some adjustment to the EGR cooling system and beefing up of the particulate filter. A new program for the engine control module has been introduced to run the engine to produce lower nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.
The driver of the new NPR 300 remains oblivious of these changes and the truck seems very much the same as its predecessor. The ride has improved with the introduction of taper leaf front springs but the ride was already to a high standard. The poorly maintained backstreets in the Melbourne CBD do not cause too much discomfort for the driver.
Out on the road, the performance of the engine makes life relatively easy getting around the city. Going up and down through the gearbox, trying to maintain road speed, as traffic lights and traffic constantly slow progress, is helped by the well-placed ratios of the various gears. Maximum power at 153hp (114kW) is available at just over 2500rpm but maximum torque at 419Nm (309 ft lb) is available all the way from 1600 to 2600 rpm. This means acceleration, even with a load on, is quick and efficient away from traffic lights.
Negotiating around the gearbox is not quite so smooth, the action of the gear stick feels a little notchy. A driver with little experience of this particular truck may find it a little difficult to get the gear first time every time. Over the period of the test drive, the gearbox did seem to become easier to use as this driver got a little more used to its geography and feel.
Manoeuvrability of the truck is never in question. Its positive steering feel and excellent wheel cut make it easy to constantly swap from lane to lane and get the truck in an out of tight delivery areas around badly parked vehicles. Visibility in these tight situations is also excellent. The cab, introduced back in 2008, has large windows all round and the mirrors are big enough and dependable enough.
The whizz bang entertainment system introduced back in 2008 has now been made standard on all Isuzu trucks. The system does have a large number of features to improve life for the driver and the owner. Apart from the basic radio and CD player there is also provision for audio input from a USB, an MP3 player or iPod and through an SD memory card. The SD memory card slot is also used for the mapping card, this has to be bought separately, for use with the integrated satellite navigation hardware already built into the system. The mapping system, customised by Isuzu, includes truck routes, truck stops, bridge heights, fixed speed cameras, accident black spots, etc.
The screen for the entertainment system can also be connected to three cameras, optional extras, to give the driver even better all-round visibility in tight areas where safety is paramount. The system also uses Bluetooth to act as a hands-free system for the driver’s mobile phone, again improving safety and keeping the driver’s hands on the wheel.
Another relatively new technology which comes into its own in areas like Melbourne’s CBD is the Hill Start Aid (HSA) fitted to the NPR and many other Isuzu trucks, but not to those using the automated manual transmission (AMT). This system works very well in stop/start traffic. Simply bring the truck to a halt, take it out of gear and the system will automatically engage the braking system. The brakes will remain on until the clutch is pressed in, a gear is engaged and the clutch is released.
This takes a lot of heartache out of stop/start traffic as the driver simply pulls up to the junction, waits for the green indicator light to come on and then can relax, knowing the truck is safe. It would probably be even better if the illumination of the green light indicating the HSA has been engaged was also accompanied by a beep, or a similar audio cue.
This truck has a GVM of either 4500kg or 6500kg depending upon whether the truck buyer wishes to specify it to be driven by drivers with a car licence or those with a light rigid truck licence. This means, in many ways, the design has to be accessible to someone who has zero experience behind the wheel of any sort of commercial vehicle.
The truck also has to be used by professional truck drivers who are looking for, and expect, the kinds of features needed in the transport industry, systems to make the driver’s working life a little easier or safer. This is where elements like the HSA come into play. The cabin is also fitted with driver and passenger airbags with seat belt pre-tensioner also included. The cab complies with the ECE R29 cabin strength safety test. There is no productivity to be gained from compliance but it does set a higher safety standard in the light duty sector.
The model, as tested, is the standard NPR 300 available to the market. The other option available is called, by Isuzu, the Premium Pack. This has a number of extra items available to the operator. First and foremost is the AMT gearbox along with other features like cruise control, automatic air conditioning control and driver’s seat suspension. This more expensive option would seem attractive and would be effective in the vast majority of operations. However, experience with the AMT would suggest its gear ratios are not suited to handling trucks close to maximum GVM manoeuvering up and down steep slopes.
What Isuzu does the best is the simple stuff. Getting into an Isuzu truck, the driver knows all of the basics have been well thought out and the truck will function as it is supposed to function when at work. Isuzu makes sure any systems fitted into the truck will work in a real operating environment and the driver can rely on them being effective. A lot of the smaller items are also well thought through and only included in the specification if they are necessary.
Simple things like remote locking work well, the instruments are clear and concise, all of the controls are well positioned and intuitive. Any driver jumping into this truck would be able to get it from A to B with little fuss and without damaging the vehicle. There is also enough in the systems available for a more experienced driver to get an improved and safer driving experience out of the NPR 300.