The job of a medium-duty tipper is to get basic work done without fuss and be available to do the job whenever needed. Historically, these trucks had the simplest specifications with a low level of comfort for the driver. Put simply, there was no need to make a factory tipping trucks anything special – it was a tool to get the job done as cheaply as possible.
But something must have changed over the years, as the specification level on a lot of these trucks is now even more sophisticated than on a top-of-the-range truck of the 1990s. While the jobs they have to perform are still as simple, the trucks themselves are no longer that basic. In a way, we now see state-of-the-art trucks doing the most mundane of jobs.
A quick glance at the specification sheet of the Isuzu FRR 500 shows us just how far the new truck world has come. We now look at a truck with a GVM of 10.4 tonnes that is fitted with an engine just over five litres I size that can put out 202 hp (151 kW) and 637 Nm (470 ft lb) of torque. This kind of torque and power is much more than would be deemed necessary in most global markets – probably only the US and Australia want that kind of performance.
To achieve such engine performance, you need to use some up-to-date technology, and the electronically controlled variable nozzle turbo definitely is a sophisticated piece of kit. Another high-tech component is the direct injection high pressure common rail fuel system, unheard of just ten years ago. The engine also uses cooled EGR to keep exhaust gas emissions down, alongside a diesel particulate diffuser (filter). This means the truck is not only ADR 80/03 compliant, but the emissions are down to the more stringent European EEV levels.
On the Prime Mover test drive around the Brisbane area, the kind of performance level created by this set of specifications becomes obvious: The FRR 500 goes very well and responds to pressure from the right foot by taking off at a high level of acceleration. And even fully loaded, it can maintain that speed up an incline. The new technology also means this truck is quiet, both from inside and outside the cab, and there’s no hint of smoke from the exhaust.
Other aspects of the driving experience are also well catered for in the FRR 500. A good positive steering system and tight turning circle are absolutely essential for this kind of work – and the Isuzu delivers again. This is one area where Japanese trucks have excelled for quite some time, as the Japanese domestic market needs small manoeuvrable trucks.
Going up through the gears is an effortless process, the engine has enough power and torque to make gear selection straightforward and the gear box itself is a simple-to-use synchro shifter with six speeds and a relatively short throw from one gear to the next. It also has an overdrive top gear, which makes the truck comfortable out on the highway without making the ratio jumps between gears too large. Given the choice for this kind of application, the gearbox is probably preferable to the Isuzu AMT, which can be ponderous and may get confused in difficult situations.
To make things easy for the driver, Isuzu also offers a hill start aid system, which takes the grief out of stopping and starting with a loaded truck on a grade. It’s so simple – stop the truck, take it out of gear, keep your foot on the brake until the hill start indicator light comes on, then release the brakes and they will remain on for as long as required, until the clutch is released and the truck needs to get moving again.
This system can be turned on and off and it is adjustable by the driver with a small switch. This option of adjustment does mean the hill start aid can be set up wrongly, in such a way as to stall the truck when setting off. It might be better to leave the set up to those servicing the truck and deactivate the driver control. Another improvement could be an audible beep to tell the driver the hill start aid is activated in order to make it clear the system is working.
The hill start function comes along with the electronic package as part of the ABS system, which also gives you ASR traction control. This brake system still activates the traditional drum brakes, as discs don't seem to be preferred in the medium duty world. The suspension – both front and back – is a basic steel multi-leaf system. The ride and braking are excellent in this truck and there does not seem to be a need for more sophistication in this area.
The rest of the driving experience is just as positive. The visibility is very good all round, the windows are deep enough to ensure the driver can see what’s going on in every direction and in close proximity to the truck. The large rear view mirrors on each side include a main and a spotter mirror, both adjustable. The actual electric controls for these mirrors are probably the least contemporary item in the cab, they look like they come from the 1970s and sort of go back to the original perception of that kind of truck.
The rest of the cabin interior is quite modern though. This cab first appeared in 2007 and it still looks as up-to-date as any of its competitors. The Isri 6860 seat is at a comfort level any truck driver would be pleased about. The passenger seat is OK, but would be rarely used, and the middle seat works best when folded down and the back is used as extra storage.
It is probably the entertainment system, which exemplifies just how far we have come in the past ten years. To have a piece of equipment like this in a medium-duty tipper made in Japan would have been unthinkable back then. It was the sort of thing the latest and greatest European line haul prime mover might offer as an expensive optional extra.
Today, however, fitting this state-of-the-art electronics in a relatively low cost truck is standard. Isuzu broke the ice back in 2007 and offered the first generation of this all-singing and all-dancing entertainment system, but the others have all eventually followed. Slowly but surely, one by one, the other three Japanese truck manufacturers have all made a double DIN sized entertainment/information unit standard on the trucks they offer to market.
These systems are not just fancy radio/CD players, but offer some serious add-on value. Apart from buzzwords like touch screen capability, the system can be useful and it will hook up to and scroll through four cameras fitted to the truck. The price of the little camera units has plummeted in recent years and it is possible to fit them relatively cheaply, especially as part of the deal when the truck is first being bought. This FRR 500 tipper could probably do with a rearward-facing camera too, mostly to ensure there is nothing or nobody in the way when the tipping control is activated.
Add to this the navigation capability. The SD card reader can load up the navigation system which has been tailor-made for Isuzu. Not only does the map have all of the Isuzu service locations included, but it also includes mass and bridge heights. The driver simply enters the vehicle's height and the GVM and the route will be calculated taking these facts into consideration.
The SD card reader can also be used as a source for music in the cab. The system will also connect to a USB or with an auxiliary cable in order to play music off anything from a USB stick to an mp3 player/phone. Bluetooth connectivity is also available and, on this road test, the method of connecting up this driver's iPhone 5 couldn't have been simpler. This now makes hands free phone conversations possible.
Probably just as important, in the long term, is the telematics option on the system. At this point there are only few ways to interface with the truck and communicate with equipment or information systems outside the truck, but we can be certain this kind of communication will become more prevalent in the years ahead and Isuzu are already fitting an interface today.
With all of this high-tech electronic stuff happening, the onus is also on Isuzu to protect it from problems. One of the major issues for a truck manufacturer is what happens after the truck leaves their hands, when owners take it to a bodybuilder or to get some ancillary equipment added. They will tend to go wherever they please to find power or an electronic signal for their purposes. This has prompted the inclusion of the CANbox on the latest iteration of the Isuzu F Series. Basically, it is a junction box, kept isolated from the truck's essential electronics to which these bodybuilder can connect, with a full set of instruction, to whatever they need without compromising the truck's own electronic signals.
It would have been hard to believe, ten years ago, that a review of a 10.4 tonne GVM Japanese tipper would have concentrated on high power, comfort and electronics, but that is exactly what is so remarkable about the industry’s change of mind. This truck exemplifies a quantum shift in the way we think about trucks and the way we handle applications. It's not just about simply getting the job done at lowest possible cost anymore – it's now about getting the job done with a comfortable and happy, well-connected driver.