Au­to­matic choice

Mar­ket leader shifts gears with a new auto for its light duty truck

Herald Sun - Motoring - - WORKING WHEELS -

ISUZU sub­stan­tially up­graded its N-Se­ries light duty truck range last year to keep the com­peti­tors at bay.

It seems to have done the trick be­cause the N-Se­ries, cost­ing from $48,570 for the cab-chas­sis model, is still on top af­ter 27 con­sec­u­tive years.

That sort of suc­cess doesn’t come eas­ily. In Isuzu’s case, it’s due to the whole pack­age; the right prod­uct, ef­fi­cient ser­vic­ing, wide dealer net­work and strong re­sale.

An­other vi­tal in­gre­di­ent for suc­cess these days is an an au­to­matic light duty truck, or a “two pedal” in truck par­lance, with car-like drive feel.

It’s a grow­ing trend in­ter­na­tion­ally and makes sense, as light duty trucks over­whelm­ingly spend their time in ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments.

Two ped­als are be­com­ing dom­i­nant in US and Euro­pean com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles and as trucks un­der 4500kg Gross Ve­hi­cle Mass (GVM) are drive­able here on a car li­cence, there’s grow­ing pres­sure for au­tos from rental com­pa­nies, sea­sonal em­ploy­ers and others.

Aside from the ease of op­er­a­tion for driv­ers, op­er­a­tors en­joy the fuel sav­ings and lower ser­vice costs associated with new-gen­er­a­tion au­tos.

If the time taken taken chang­ing man­ual gears — be­tween 4 to 7 sec­onds ev­ery 400 me­tres of city driv­ing — is re­duced so are run­ning costs.

Isuzu has just launched gen­er­a­tion three of its six-speed Torque Con­verter-Au­to­mated Man­ual Trans­mis­sion (TCAMT) on all au­to­matic NSeries mod­els in Aus­tralia fit­ted with the 110kW/375Nm, 3.0litre turbo diesel. Some larger ca­pac­ity mod­els also have au­to­mated man­ual trans­mis­sions avail­able.

The TC-AMT has a torque mul­ti­pli­ca­tion fac­tor of 1.5 times. A con­ven­tional five or six-speed man­ual re­mains in the line-up.

Some new mod­els have been added to the N-Se­ries lineup with rear disc brakes while elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol is now stan­dard across the en­tire range. Isuzu has also re­vised the cabin to make the N-Se­ries more car-like.

Buy­ers will cough up more for the auto but Isuzu says the trans­mis­sion pays for it­self in lower run­ning costs, ser­vice costs and stronger re­sale val­ues.

The lat­est gen­er­a­tion TCAMT fea­tures P (for park) mode on the shift lever, with a sub­stan­tial park gear and notch mech­a­nism at the rear of the trans­mis­sion that will hold a fully laden truck on a hill with­out us­ing the hand­brake, though that’s still ad­vis­able.

Un­like the pre­vi­ous auto, the new TC-AMT has been set up for en­gine stop/start, which shuts down the en­gine at the lights to save fuel in city driv­ing.

Isuzu en­gi­neers came here to for­mu­late the TC-AMT’s lo­cal shift pro­to­col re­sult­ing in a kick-down func­tion be­ing in­stalled pre­dom­i­nantly for coast­ing into traf­fic freer­ound­abouts then ac­cel­er­at­ing quickly through.

The trans­mis­sion of­fers an “Econ­omy” mode and has a but­ton-se­lect first gear start when fully laden. Nor­mally it starts off in sec­ond cog.

Cars­guide got to test drive a se­lec­tion of new N-Se­ries trucks in var­i­ous GVM with tray and pan­tech bodies and in TC-AMT and man­ual guise.

Most in­ter­est was on the new “auto” which has proven pop­u­lar on pre­vi­ous mod­els in less so­phis­ti­cated form. And to be hon­est we don’t like it.

The TC-AMT is too slow chang­ing cogs, es­pe­cially the 2-3 change. The truck lurches too much be­tween cogs and is gen­er­ally not as user-friendly as a con­ven­tional fluid auto trans­mis­sion. We won­der why there’s an F1-style throt­tle blip on down changes — in a truck?

We tried it in man­ual mode with the same an­noy­ing ef­fect.

On the pos­i­tive side, the in­ter­me­di­ate ra­tios are fairly closely spaced to keep the en­gine in the torque band. Our ex­pe­ri­ence with other au­to­mated man­u­als (in cars) has been the same and none of them were good from a driver’s per­spec­tive, even in D mode.

But given the choice be­tween this TC-AMT and slog­ging daily through the traf­fic with a man­ual stick shift and clutch, you’d go the “auto” ev­ery time.

Other as­pects of the NSeries are in­deed car-like such as the tight turn­ing cir­cle, im­pres­sive ride qual­ity from the front coil spring sus­pen­sion and the low noise lev­els in­side the all steel cab. En­gine per­for­mance is good too.

VER­DICT

The mar­ket leader has spo­ken and has cho­sen to go down the au­to­mated man­ual route. It’s a case of putting up with it or shift­ing cogs man­u­ally.

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