The N Series has been the light duty leader for nearly three decades and Isuzu plans on keeping it that way, as the manufacturer pushes forward with a host of improvements.
We attended the launch of the new N Series range last week at Isuzu Australia Limited’s (IAL) new headquarters in Truganina, before driving west from Melbourne to Myrniong to test the trucks on-road, and then off the beaten track at Lerderberg State Forest for some fire trail fun.
The day kicked off with an outline of the key improvements to the range, most notably independent front suspension (IFS), availability of two-pedal automated manual transmission (AMT) in 4×4 models, a new in-cab multimedia system, and two engine and emission control options.
“Our 2018 N Series model range provides more of what Australian truck customers are looking for from the market leader,” IAL director and chief operating officer Andrew Harbison says.
Harbison says the latest N Series range updates highlight the approach that has kept Isuzu on top for so many years.
“We feel that the 2018 N Series release is a study in what has kept Isuzu at the top of the Australian truck market for the past 29 consecutive years,” he adds.
Driving a total of 13 loaded N-Series trucks across the day gave us a good taste of what the new range offers, both on and off the blacktop, but the real star of the show was the IFS offered on NNR models.
The first drive of the day was in an IFS-equipped NNR and while it did feel unusually compliant for a light-duty truck, it wasn’t until we jumped into the older leaf-spring style vehicles that we realised just how different the two performs are. Driven back-to-back, the two IFS and leaf-spring trucks are night and day.
Isuzu also opted for a new rack and pinion type steering box to complement the IFS, providing a truly car-like experience from the cab.
IAL chief engineer Simon Humphries says the suspension changes aim to offer drivers improved ride and handling, without impinging on payload.
“With most of the NNR line-up, we’ve moved away from a more rigid leaf spring set-up over to an independent coil spring assembly, which is designed to improve ride quality and handling, while still able to support a decent payload,” Humphries says.
“IFS reduces bump steer, where if one wheel bumps or jogs on the road in isolation, the entire axle responds.”
“IFS also provides responsive cornering behaviour as it imparts autonomy to each wheel on the steer axle, allowing it to respond independently to Australia’s sometimes less than friendly road surfaces.”
Powering the new range of trucks are two engine options, the tried and tested 3-litre 4JJ1 and the higher output 5.2-litre 4HK1.
The turbo-charged four-cylinder 4JJ1 has powered countless N Series trucks over the years without a hitch, punching out 110kW and 375Nm in its current form and available in everything from the 4.5 tonne GVM NLR 45-150 right through to the 6.5 tonne GVM NNR 65-150.
The big 5.2-litre 4HK1 turbo-charged four-cylinder is offered in two states of tune, the first being the 114kW/419Nm option offered in the 4.5 and 5.5 tonne GVM NPR 45/55-155 models
The pepped up 140kW/513Nm 4HK1sits in the 6.5 tonne NPR 65/45-190, the 7.5 tonne GVM NPR 75-190 and the 8.7 tonne GVM NQR 87-190 models.
What’s more, the 4HK1 in both variants uses a diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC) to manage emissions, a low-maintenance option for customers with high idle time.
Humphries explains that a reason for this is that the manufacturer predicts mandatory Euro 6 is still another five years away, giving customers the option of a hassle-free exhaust system without the need for AdBlue or particulate filter regenerations.
“AdBlue and SCR systems are the norm and we will eventually have to go that way, but we want to make hay while the sun shines,” Humphries says.
“Our best estimate…is that we’re still four to five years away from having mandatory Euro 6.”
An added benefit of the DOC system is improved exhaust brake performance, something we experienced first-hand in the off-road testing we did.
Towing capacity on NLR and NLS models has also been uprated to 3.5 tonnes, lifting GCM for the two models to 8 tonnes – a welcome improvement for tradies or those towing regularly.
On the after-sales side, service intervals for all models have been extended to 12 months or 15,000km for the 4JJ1, and 20,000km for the larger 4HK1 engine.
The off-road component of the drive saw us crawl the NPS 75/45-155 4×4 AMT models into the Lerderderg State Forest to tackle some of the more technical fire trails on offer.
Isuzu claims this to be the first ever two-pedal light-duty 4×4 truck on offer in Australia, which makes the already popular NPS an even more enticing emergency service, mining or remote field service vehicle choice.
The 5-speed AMT operates much like it does in the on-road N Series trucks, but has been calibrated specifically for Aussie off-road use.
When low range is selected, the AMT reverts to a clutch-less manual, holding gears and forcing the operator to shift as needed.
We particularly liked this feature, because the engine brake on the NPS’s 4HK1 5.2-litre engine was so effective we found ourselves actually having to accelerate down steep descents to avoid coming to a complete stop.
Of course, the aforementioned DOC system and its effect on exhaust brake performance really helps the NPS off-road – this truck never feels like it’s running away from you on the downhill.
The new model range comes at a time when Isuzu is already projecting record-breaking sales, according to IAL CEO Phil Taylor.
“I’m pleased to say that our own in-house projections are pointing towards an all-time record in 2018, with the market on track to break the 40,000-heavy-vehicle-sales barrier for the first time ever,” Taylor confirms.