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