The 4x4 ute has woven its way into the great Australian dream these days. Something that’s comfortable and capable, with a big payload and towing capacity for hard work, as well as off-road capability.
But what if you have outstripped the capacity of a typical ute? And let’s face it, the modern-day ute has shirked some of its payload and utility in search of comfort and compliance. If that sounds like you, then you might need something bigger.
And that something bigger could be in the form of this: an Isuzu Truck. This Isuzu NPS could be a logical step for some, who are aiming to get the most off-road ability and load-lugging capability in their working vehicle.
Priced from $88,432 before on-road costs and GST, the Isuzu NPS 4x4 is the entry-level 4x4 truck. Although the cheaper and smaller NLS offers permanent all-wheel drive and some off-road ability, we’ve got off-road tyres, a low-range transfer case, and raised suspension.
What we have here is an Isuzu NPS 75-155 AMT Servicepack X, with a maximum retail asking price of $136,090 before on-road costs.
N-Series refers to Isuzu’s light truck range, with GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) ranging from a passenger-licence-friendly 4500kg up to 7500kg, which is the maximum for a light truck. F-Series comes above that going into medium truck and heavy truck ranges. Isuzu’s so-called Gigamax tops out the range, with a 15.5-litre six-cylinder diesel good for 382kW and a 70,000kg Gross Combination Mass.
Breaking the nomenclature down further, the P refers to a body style and chassis. And, lastly, the S points towards the 4x4 drivetrain.
So, although our NPS can be registered with its wings clipped to suit a passenger car licence, we’ve got a truck with the full 7500kg GVM. This requires the commensurate licence, but yields a stonking 3.7-tonne payload, even with the so-called ‘Ready For Work’ Service-Pack body on the back.
And if that huge load space and payload somehow aren’t enough, a 3500kg braking towing is there regardless of the load you have on board. The Gross Combination Mass changes from 8000kg or 11,000kg GCM depending on what GVM is specced.
In our test vehicle, the so-called Servicepack X throws a well laid out and practical tray and service body onto the back of the NPS truck. Just behind the cab is a space 2070mm long and 2100mm wide, with gullwing doors and operating on central locking. Behind that is a flat tray area measuring in at 2163mm long and 2100mm wide. There are lights inside the canopy, tie-down points in the tray, and toolboxes on each side. Although, we found these to let in plenty of water when driving in wet conditions.
It’s an impressive set-up on the back, with lots of attention to detail for a proper working vehicle. And, on the other hand, this would make for an impressive base to build up into a full-time round-Australia tourer with proper off-road ability.
Big payloads and capacities? Tick that box. Plus, you’ve got acres of space to use it, more than double what a ‘normal’ ute can offer. And if you need to carry more than three people, you can opt for a shorter tray area with a double-cab truck.
What about what’s under the bonnet? No, wait, cab. Somewhere between the seats and chassis sits a 5.2-litre turbocharged diesel engine, which makes 114kW at 2600rpm and 419Nm at 1600–2600rpm (or limited to 377Nm in reverse or low-range). That doesn’t sound like a lot, especially when compared to how some smaller diesel engines read on paper. However, there’s enough torque on offer to get the job done. At 100km/h, you’re sitting on 2725rpm.
Stepping up into the cab reveals an interior more reminiscent of a mid-2000s Triton rather than any contemporary utes. It’s not bad or uncomfortable, but let’s just say we won’t be harping on about soft-touch materials in this review for very long. Or at all.
Not that it’s a bad thing, but this is a truck not doing an impersonation of a car. The steering column sits between the legs, and is more horizontal than vertical. The driver’s seat has its own suspension: dial in your weight, and the seat takes a lot of the harshness out of the Isuzu’s ride.
Otherwise, the interior is a fairly straightforward affair. It’s missing the same versatility and storage that you might get in something like a Mercedes Sprinter or Volkswagen Crafter single-cab trucks: there are slide-out twin cupholders in the dashboard, but not additional storage on top. There’s a parcel shelf up top, as well as a big bin behind the seats.
The infotainment display yields Bluetooth and a surprisingly sharp rear-view camera, but no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Considering the Isuzu D-Max ute just picked this technology up for 2020, it might take a few years for it to transfer across to Isuzu’s truck department.
Sitting up high with plenty of glass and mirrors, visibility is good. And with only two pedals in the footwell, Isuzu’s six-speed automated manual gearbox is used. For those who want to shift their own gears, a traditional synchromesh six-speed manual gearbox is also available.
This gearbox, using robotised shifting and clutch mechanisms along with a torque converter, is unlike any other gearbox I have driven before. It shifts slowly – about as quickly as you would be doing your own gears in a truck of this size.
The speed of changes can be tweaked by buttons on the dashboard, but it doesn’t make much difference. And once you are used to its operation, the gearbox is easy enough to live with. Although, I felt a little more in control when choosing to time my own gear changes, especially loaded up.
If you’re more used to 4x4 utes being truck-like, something like this Isuzu NPS will need a recalibration in terms of driving. It’s very truck-like, and with a 3395mm wheelbase, you’ll need to keep an eye on cutting corners and when your back-end swings out. The turning circle of 13.6m will surprise many, however.
In terms of fuel usage, we averaged 15.0 litres per 100km over our 600-odd kilometres of driving.
With a ute-busting payload of 3.7 tonnes – enough to literally carry an overloaded 4x4 on the back – the Isuzu’s unladen ride is harsh over bumps. Sitting directly over the front axle, some potholes can really put the suspension seats to task and bounce you around in the cabin.
But when loaded with two tonnes in the tray, a little over half of what the Isuzu can handle, and the ride settled down noticeably. Some weight in the back increases bump-stop spacing, and reduces the big hits coming into the cabin. It’s still a bit firm, and you can feel that it can easily handle plenty more.
Engine and gearbox performance didn’t seem to change much either with the load on board. Braking performance remained decent under load, and steering was also unchanged.
Unlike most load-lugging trucks, this Isuzu NPS is also a proper 4x4 truck under the skin, lending it to be such a popular choice for the NSW Rural Fire Service. Along with a proper two-speed transfer case, the front axle has manual locking hubs – handy for those times one might need to use low-range on the blacktop.
Bridgestone L330 tyres, in a 225/80R17.5 (33.6 inches) size, give plenty of underbody ground clearance, thanks also to the spring-over leaf packs. And while there are no driving modes or locking differentials at your disposal, this big truck is impressive off-road.
Low-range gearing, combined with that big diesel engine under your bum, lets the NPS amble up and over challenging sections of track without any wheel slip. I suspect that although load-carrying leaf springs don’t articulate much, this thing would have a fair amount of chassis flex at its disposal.
The selectable exhaust brake, which is operated by a stalk on the steering wheel, is of huge benefit off-road (as well as on-road). It’s better than almost all hill descent control systems I’ve used, allowing a slow meander down steep descents with oodles of control.
I have to stress that when you take an automated manual like this one off-road, you need to run it in manual mode. Hold your gears for as long as possible, because the slow gear changes (which throttle off for a second or two) can leave you lurching gracelessly on steep inclines or declines. Going down, in particular, can be hairy.
While sitting so far forward and high over the front axle does take some getting used to (especially going downhill), think of this Isuzu Truck as being just as capable as your average 4x4 ute. It’s got more clearance, but the general size could be a challenge in some scenarios. Throw some bigger, super single tyres on this truck, and you’ll have something very competent off-road.
This Isuzu Truck cannot compete in terms of the creature comforts, technology and safety that allow mainstream utes to act as part-time (or full-time) family cars these days. However, you may need a truly large payload with proper off-road ability to boot. While it might not suit day-to-day usage beyond work, it’s a capable and competent beast where it counts, and for some that will be well worth the asking price.
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