If history is any indication for future success, Isuzu’s all-new N Series has the potential to stir up the Australian medium-duty truck market in the year to come. After all, it can trace its heritage all the way back to 1959, when the Isuzu Elf was first introduced to the Japanese market as a light-duty truck for metropolitan transport work.
From that humble beginning, Isuzu not only expanded successfully into the Australian market, but evolved into the top-selling brand down under – displaying a special expertise for the sub-8,000kg GVM segment of the market, where the brand’s ability to tailor-make a vehicle has become almost legendary. Until today, Isuzu is known for having an especially broad product range that doesn’t leave much to chance in the medium-duty bracket.
The updated 2016-17 Isuzu N Series will continue with that tradition, offering six new model variants from the get-go. All up, it now comprises a record 16 versions that can be driven by holders of car licences, a selling point that Isuzu has been especially keen to promote.
According to Isuzu, the latest updates align with the automotive industry trend toward lower displacement engines. The three-litre 4JJ1 engine for the 2016-17 season now delivers some 150hp at 2,800rpm and a solid 375Nm of torque between 1,600 and 2,800rpm. The cooled EGR engine is equipped with a diesel particulate diffuser (DPD) and available in models up to 6.5 tonnes GVM across the N range. A second, 5.2-litre 4HK1 engine is found in the higher-weight NQR and NPR models and produces 190hp at 2,600rpm and 513Nm of torque between 1,600 and 2,600rpm.
Also new: Isuzu’s third generation six-speed Automated Manual Transmission with its fluid Torque Convertor (TC-AMT) is now available in the N Series, supposedly providing the car-like shift quality and launch feeling expected from a full automatic with the fuel economy of a well-driven manual. The use of the full torque convertor will effectively add 50 per cent to the engine’s torque rating, which should be a great benefit when starting off loaded on an incline. A transmission kick down function has been added, too, in order to make that car experience tangible when negotiating roundabouts and city traffic.
The kick down feature comes into effect when the accelerator is depressed beyond a spring-loaded detent that causes the transmission to downshift and has been an Australian-driven innovation, as there are almost no roundabouts in Japan. The addition of the detent system allows the transmission to be left in ‘Eco’ mode to maximise fuel efficiency and still benefit from a short power boost without having to manually select a lower gear.
Isuzu has consciously honed in on the automotive market by opting for a two-pedal solution in the new N Series. According to the OEM, the availability of the two-pedal set up will be especially welcomed by rental fleets that have to deal more than others with occasional drivers with little truck experience.
Statistics from the Australian Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) show that just 13 per cent of all passenger cars sold here in 2014 were fitted with manual transmissions – a significant drop from the 33 per cent sold in 2000. As such, Isuzu is confident that making automatics and AMTs more readily available will help expand the future pool of truck drivers, too.
In line with Isuzu’s goal to create a car-like driving experience, the shift lever of the TC-AMT was designed much like a comparable car unit and features a ‘P’ position for parking. Selecting ‘P’ also engages a locking pawl with a substantial gear wheel located inside the rear of the transmission – with Isuzu claiming that it is capable of holding a fully loaded truck on a ‘reasonable’ incline. To be safe, the parking brake should always be applied as well, though. The parking pawl and the associated gear add some 11kg to the weight of the transmission and extend its length by 88mm.
For the new generation, Electronic Stability Control is now fitted as standard across the 4×2 range, with Australia being the first market outside of Japan to receive that feature. In addition, other complementary safety systems such as anti-lock braking, electronic brake force distribution, anti-slip regulator and a hill-start hold function (on manual transmission trucks, ed.) are now standard, too.
As well as promoting the benefits of the TC-AMT transmission, Isuzu has also stepped up the promotion of the company’s ‘Connect’ telematics product for the launch of the N Series, which – in its base form – monitors and transmits key performance parameters such as location, mechanical and service status, as well as speeding, harsh braking and acceleration.
A more complex version of the product, labelled Isuzu Connect Plus, is able to report on additional engine management data – from clutch activation and fuel consumption through to idling time. Also part of the extended package are driver security features such as an Assist button, collision alert and door-open monitoring. What’s more, the Connect Plus system is integrated into Isuzu’s Digital Audio Visual Equipment (DAVE) touchscreen, enabling tracking of individual driver performance through a Personalised Identification Number (PIN), and allowing for two-way messaging between fleet despatcher and pilot.
The widespread digitisation of the N Series, in combination with the extension of the line-up itself, is a sign that Isuzu is serious about keeping the number one spot in the Australian medium-duty sales ranking. The availability of various factory tipper models and the ute-competitive Traypack line only underscore that ambition and demonstrate that in modern-day Australia, small trucks mean big business.
The story appears in the November edition of Prime Mover – out now!