Test Drive

Taking 12 Isuzu trucks for a test drive in one hectic day

In 2006 I was working for Truckin’ Life magazine which had achieved 30 years of being No.1 in the marketplace.

We looked to do something special with the front cover and I came up with the idea of a cut-out figure 1. Who to sell the idea to?

The client had to be No.1 as well, which left only one choice – Isuzu. At the time the company had led total truck sales in Australia since 1989. Isuzu bought the inside double-page spread, paid for the dye-cut and spent their good money on the ad congratulating Truckin’ Life.

Who would have thought that in 2022 Isuzu would still be the No.1 seller of trucks, now for 33 years straight. It is a remarkable achievement for a company celebrating 50 years in Australia.

It’s been quite a while since I climbed behind the wheel of an Isuzu so when I got the call recently inviting me to drive their product, I jumped at the chance. The invite was to drive 12 trucks in one day! Hmmm.

Greeted at Isuzu headquarters I was relieved to find that the drive would be within 100km so no need to fill in the logbook. That alone would have taken up half of the allocated time. 

First things first, the assembled trucking scribes are given the obligatory company presentation where we are taken through the range on offer. 

There is of course reference to the company’s proud achievement at the top of the trucking sales ladder, followed by the range of trucks we are to drive. There’s the F, FX, FY, FRR-FTR, FV and too many other letters to remember. But if you’re in the market you’ll know what you’re looking for.

The diverse Isuzu range covered all driving situations.

More important is Isuzu’s updated warranty/s which are the best in the business bar none. This alone is a reflection of the company confidence in their product. 

Of growing importance to the business are Isuzu’s Ready-to Work models which cover much of the range. Isuzu has partnered with the very best body builders, such as Shinmaywa tippers, to allow ‘off the rack’ purchases.

The latest in safety technology has been added across the range from Led headlights to AEB and ESC to Adaptive Cruise Control across the range are also there. From a user point of view all trucks now have a 10.1 inch touchscreen placed within easy reach, high on the dash. I’m to find out that this Apple Car Play/ Android Auto User Interface is super easy to use, is crisp, clear and quick to respond to gestures – something the opposition with their 7 inch jobs could do well to copy. There’s also 32 Gb of onboard storage and a standard reversing camera.

Presentations over, it’s time to meet the trucks. Out into the dank weather and there’s the N-Series Ready-to-Work NLR Servicepack-X, NPR Tradepack Premium and NNR Crew Traypack. Moving up to the F-Series and we have a range of Freightpacks, Tippers and an Agitator. 

The drive will take us around Melbourne’s western suburbs, down the Geelong Road to Port Arlington, Anglesea and Torquay. The mix of suburban, highway and rural drives covers all driving situations.

I climb into my first drive and am greeted by a modern, well laid out interior. Where’s the cup holders? “They pop out of the dash”. Where can I put my phone? “All trucks have a wireless charging pocket”. Where’s the clutch pedal? “They’re all two pedal, bar one – reflective of market demand.”

Now, I could give you a corner-by-corner, mile-by-mile rundown on each of the 12 trucks I drove over the day but, apart from boring you silly there is no need. The fact is that no matter which vehicle I hopped in, from the smallest car-licenced jobbie to the 14-palleter, these trucks all drove the same. ‘Same’ means ‘superb’!

Isuzu says that User Experience is a key priority and they have achieved it in spades. Engine noise – muted. Rattles – none. Squeaks – none. Wind noise – none. Ride and handling – brilliant. Braking – also brilliant. Steering – the best in the business. It is easy to believe Isuzu’s long-standing motto: ‘Reliability is Everything’.

Isuzu have teamed with Allison to provide full auto and AMT gearboxes and it is a match made in heaven. The engines in these things are not necessarily the most powerful in class but you’d never know it. 

The power and torque curves are mated superbly with the appropriate gearbox to provide seamless changes at just the right time. With the vehicles loaded to 75 per cent, take-off was outstanding, keeping up easily with traffic and leaving many other trucks behind.

Steering was equally good. Of course, it is easy to place a small tray truck in the middle of the lane and ‘throw’ it around corners, but to get into a 12- or 14-pallet tautliner and have it feel exactly the same is no mean feat. 

Turn the wheel and you know where the wheels are pointing. Hit a ragged road edge and tramlining is non-existent. Feedback through the steering lets you know what’s going on underneath you but it’s never a chore.

Suspension also deserves a mention. One of the trucks had an air-suspended front end and it truly wafted over many and varied road surfaces. That said, the sprung suspensions of the rest of the fleet were only a smidge behind. In conjunction with that steering (and great seats, whether Isri or not) you are going to sit in your ‘office’ all day and love it.

The weather turned really sour in the afternoon. I’m heading down a country road in one of the bigger pallet trucks when my Isuzu travelling companion tells me – a little late – to hang a left into a road that climbs steeply. 

In the steady rain I plant my foot on the brake and go around said corner a little faster than I’d like. Did I tell you that the brakes are light and very progressive? Going around that corner I notice the ESC light come on the dash. That’s all I noticed because I didn’t feel a thing! 

The big truck behaved impeccably. It also powered up that rise like a gazelle rather than an elephant. A bit of journalistic licence there, but you get my drift – no pun intended. It brought home yet again just how well these powertrains and gearboxes are mated.

Reliability is Everything has long been Isuzu’s mantra, but this goes well beyond just the trucks themselves. 

As managing director and chief executive officer, Takeo Shindo (“please call me Tac”) who has been with the company for over 36 years says: “The sale of a truck is just the beginning. Our motto must extend beyond that to accessibility for the customer, to servicing of the vehicles and attracting and training the very best people to do those jobs. Reliability for our customers must extend through the entire life of their purchase and beyond.”

Managing director and chief executive officer Takeo Shindo.

It’s a mantra that worked well for the company given their status of No.1 for all these years. Would I lay money on them still being No.1 for 50 years in a row? If I thought for a moment I’d still be on this earth 17 years from now then I’d be on the phone to one of the betting companies right now.

Postscript: all those years ago at Truckin’ Life the editor was a legend by the name of Jim Gibson. 

Isuzu’s engineering support manager is one Jeff Gibson, Jim’s son. Ah, it’s a small world. “How’s Jim?” I ask. “Still kicking on,” replies Jeff. “Still as reliable as ever.”

They love that word reliability at Isuzu.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend