Baby Of The Bunch

Diesel News got a chance at test driving N Series models released by Isuzu. The first cab off the rank is baby of the bunch, an NLR 45-150 fitted with a van body. Outward appearance is little changed over the previous N Series, with new badge work and larger turn signal repeaters on the doors being the most visible difference.

For more than a decade the N Series cab has been a great example of functionality and space efficiency with its virtually oblong form. Yet despite the passage of time it remains modern and unpretentious which is why there’s no need for any major changes at this stage.

From the first moment of hopping into the cab a sensation of car-like ambience is powerfully evident, particularly after glancing at the new shifter. However, in my view there should be a few degrees more rake and longer telescopic adjustment of the steering column to cater for taller drivers. It might be a niggly thing but surely it wouldn’t be too hard, particularly given the stated importance of the Australian market to Isuzu Japan.

After firing it up and selecting D the car-like synergies keep coming as the NLR gently creeps forward thanks to the torque converter drive. Similarly, once underway the independent coil sprung front end soaks up the bumps extraordinarily well. Also impressive is the shift pattern of the AMT which seems to be a perfect match for the 3.0 litre diesel.

As with modern automatic cars, it progressively downshifts when slowing down. This combined with adequate exhaust brake retardation makes for sparing use of the service brakes and subsequent longer brake pad and disc life. Indeed, descending the Westgate bridge towards the city sees the loaded NLR holding steady at 70 km/h in 6th gear without any exhaust or service brake intervention. Cruising at 100 km/h in 6th sees the tacho needle resting on 2400 rpm.

A number of roundabouts give rise to several tests of the kick-down function which proves invaluable for swift entry into small gaps in the traffic flow that would be foolish to attempt in a manual truck. With the pedal planted, acceleration is brisk and linear by Japanese light truck standards with upshifts occurring at 2400rpm in economy mode. Switching to power mode sees upshifts at 3200 rpm which really only waste fuel since peak torque of 375 Nm is delivered between 1600 and 2800 rpm.

Indeed, I’m not a fan of power mode in AMT-equipped trucks. Unlike petrol engines which produce more power at higher revs, modern diesels provide their best within the broad, flat band where maximum torque is produced. Far from improving performance, revving them harder simply makes more noise, uses more fuel and ultimately wears them out quicker.

Nearing the end of the test one final observation is noted after missing a turn and doing a quick ‘Ue’ in a narrow street. With precise rack and pinion steering and just 4.2 turns lock to lock, the NLR twirls around on a dime, negating the need for the customary three-point turn.

At the end of the day there’s no doubt about the improvements in driveability and performance due to the 3rd generation TC-AMT in the new N Series. Cleverly, Isuzu has effectively imbued a more car-like driving feel in its volume selling light truck, many examples of which are driven by car licence holders without truck driving experience. It’s this sort of canny perception of market needs and wants leading to progressive product improvement that’s kept Isuzu at the head of the pack for going on three decades.