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Isuzu Trucks FVR1000 vs UD Trucks PK17 280 Condor

Photography by: Matt Wood


Matt Wood comapres the merits of the UD Trucks UD PK17 Condor against Isuzu Trucks’ reliable FVR1000 auto.

Isuzu Trucks FVR1000 vs UD Trucks PK17 280 Condor
The UD PK17 Condor romps through the undulating, winding, and sometimes rough country blacktop with ease, while the Isuzu’s interior was simple, sturdy and well set out, giving the impression that it could deal with the rigours of a workday with ease.

Medium-duty trucks tend to get a raw deal in the glamour stakes. Often the utilitarian roles they play finds them just sliding by unnoticed in traffic, taken for granted as just another part of the urban scenery. Sure, they are invariably white and initially there isn't a great deal of variation cosmetically to differentiate between makers. But some might say they are the backbone of the supply chain, dealing with narrow backstreets, traffic gridlock and shopping centre mayhem on a daily basis.

The domination of the Japanese manufacturers at the lighter end of the market is no accident. The bulletproof reputation of these trucks has seen the big players lead the market for many years with tough, economical and competitively priced vehicles.

When Japanese manufacturers first started making inroads into the Australian market in the late 1970s, there was many a grateful driver who limped away from their TK Bedford, Leyland or International, never to look back after being installed behind the wheel of a new Japanese truck.

But more than 30 years on, beneath the sometimes 'plain Jane' exterior of these vehicles, beats a technological heart as innovative and advanced as some of their flashier competitors.

 

UD TRUCKS TAKES OFF

UD has just released its new medium-duty Condor range onto the market. The company has moved to rebrand itself after finding its new place under the Volvo umbrella and is making an effort to overhaul its image with the unveiling of its new range of medium-duty trucks.

A new logo and now new trucks are all a part of UD's new corporate identity. In addition, a range of new low-emission engines feature highly on the list of changes in the new range. In a first for a Japanese manufacturer, selective catalytic reduction (SCR) now gives UD some green credentials to flaunt. The Volvo-UD developed 7-litre ECO fleet engines represent a giant step forward in the technology stakes as UD ups the ante on emissions.

The new driveline as well as a completely new cab have brought UD back into the fray, determined to be taken seriously as a player in this already crowded and rapidly expanding part of the market.

 

AND SO DOES ISUZU TRUCKS

Isuzu trucks need no introduction, being the biggest selling manufacturer in the country for many years. Isuzu's ability to build well-equipped and impressively reliable trucks has won the truck maker a lot of loyal customers over the years.

Venerable old Isuzus, such as the popular SBR, can still be found knocking around the city, working as hard now as when they first hit the road. From government fleets to light freight and beyond, Isuzu has continues to dominate the sector. The current range of medium-duty trucks cements its reputation as 'king of the hill'. Isuzu's current medium-duty model line-up has been on the market since 2010. And while Isuzu's SiTEC EGR DPD (diesel particulate diffuser) engines pack more than a little punch, the next jump in emissions laws will probably see a shift to SCR, most likely resulting in a new range of engines. So, bearing all of the above in mind, both UD and Isuzu's medium-duty (16.5 tonne GVM) contenders were taken for a drive to see how the new UD shapes up to the market leader.

 

UD TRUCKS PK17 280 Condor

On climbing into the new UD cab for the first time, the contrast between the old cab and new was immediate. For a start, the entry steps have been relocated in an attempt to prevent you scrabbling in mid-air as you exit the cab. Gone are the dated quarter vent windows, replaced by one piece windows with a deep forward sloping cut out to increase side visibility.

Out front, a huge expanse of windscreen stretches from below dash level to just above head height, giving excellent visibility with no distortion near the windscreen edge. A touchscreen audio visual, multimedia unit with Bluetooth, SD card and USB connectivity dominates the dash. Images from the standard equipment reverse camera are also displayed on the unit's screen.

Underneath, basic rotary dials control the hot and cold air side of things. The audio visual unit also comes with truck specific satellite navigation (sat-nav) from Navteq as standard, with free updates for three years. One neat bonus of the sat-nav is a 'find
AdBlue' function which gives you the location of the nearest AdBlue outlet and directs you there if required. This should go some way to allaying the fears of customers wary of running SCR vehicles because of AdBlue availability.

Inside, the overall effect is a basic, grey, tidy and functional environment, pretty much what you'd expect from a truck at this level of the market. Two overhead lockers provide storage, a welcome move from the old parcel shelf setup that could find the unwary head butting against a flying street directory/clipboard/empty coke can, while negotiating a speed hump.

A completely new seat developed for UD by CVG, the makers of KAB seats, is a valiant attempt to bring a comfortable air ride seat into a utilitarian vehicle. A driver's airbag lurks in the steering wheel in case the unforeseen happens, and multi-function stalks on the steering column deal with head lights, cruise control, indicators and exhaust brake. The Allison 3000 Series automatic transmission selector is just where you'd expect it to reside, to the left of the driver's seat. Behind the seats is an ADR42-compliant sleeper complete with mattress, but I'd challenge anyone of above average build to camp in there
for an extended period comfortably. I reckon one good sneeze in that space would be enough to set the aforementioned air bag off. But, just in case you are required to use the bunk on a regular basis, there are curtain rails running around the entire perimeter of the cab.

 

ALLISON ENGINE

On the road at a gross weight of just over 13.5 tonnes, the Condor PK gets down to business with a typically Allison auto-induced roar. I'm probably going to make myself unpopular at Allison HQ for saying this but I always get the overwhelming urge to stop and pick up people's garbage bins when I drive an Allison-equipped vehicle.

Nonetheless, driving the auto is just a matter of point and shoot as the tough 3000 Series 6-speed transmission does its thing, winding up through the gears according to load and accelerator position. The new 7-litre ECO fleet engine is a superbly smooth little unit as well as being deceptively quiet, and the sat-nav voice alert is quick to let you know the speedo needle is getting a bit too high.

At 206kW (280hp)it does an admirable job of pushing the little PK over hill and down through Queensland's lush Sunshine Coast landscape.

No driver intervention is required to keep the gearbox in the right ratio and the exhaust brake, though questionable in its effectiveness, does a good job of working with the auto, down-changing early when extra braking is needed.

On the whole, the new cab is well insulated with road, engine and wind noise kept at comfortable levels.

The Condor romps through the undulating, winding and sometimes rough country blacktop with ease. The tacho needle rarely leaves the green torque band, except when launching from a standstill or on a steep climb, making for an effortless drive.

The only real gripe I have, though, is with the small digital readout below the speedo and tacho. Where the rest of the instrument panel has simple analogue gauges for fuel levels, AdBlue levels and the like, the coolant temperature is an LCD digital readout that has to be selected by scrolling through a small menu using buttons at the bottom of the display. It's a bit fiddly and very difficult to read in sunlight, especially on the move.

 

ISUZU TRUCKS FVR1000 AUTO

Climbing into the Isuzu, I can't help but notice that the FVR cab is higher off the ground than the UD and marginally more strenuous to enter. But once inside, the similarities between the two trucks are immediately apparent. The same touch screen audio visual sat-nav unit sits in the centre of the dash console, although the truck-specific sat-nav on the Isuzu is an optional extra.

The doors have similar forward sloping cut-outs to maximise visibility and open out past 90 degrees, providing easy cab access. Behind the seats resides an ADR42-compliant bunk, apparently designed to sleep a well-proportioned jockey. The differences however, lie in the detail.

The heated side mirrors, with the spotter down the bottom, are bigger than the Condor's and sit lower on their brackets, giving a good view down both sides of the truck, though there is a slightly higher possibility of a kamikaze cyclist being hidden behind the larger, lower mirror housings.

The twin overhead storage lockers are well sized and are designed to click shut when not being held open, a nifty feature to stop the cab occupants wearing the contents of an unlocked cupboard while on the move.

The windscreen is slightly smaller than the Condor's but gives little away in visibility. Looking through the airbag-equipped steering wheel at the instrument panel, I'm faced with the usual assortment of easy-to-read analogue gauges with a small digital readout to indicate the DPD regeneration level. Two simple dials under the radio take care of climate control duties.

As with most Japanese trucks, two steering column-mounted multi-function stalks operate exterior lighting, exhaust brake and cruise. The ISRI seat proved to be comfortable but lagging behind the UD in the padding department. As with the UD, the Isuzu's interior is simple, sturdy and well set out, giving the impression that it could deal with the rigours of a workday with ease.

This vehicle is also equipped with an Allison auto, the same 3000 Series 6-speed as in the UD but sitting behind Isuzu's ADR80/03 (Euro 5) compliant SiTEC 295 EGR/DPD engine.

 

SITEC ENGINE

With the wheels turning towards Melbourne's Westgate freeway, the auto leaves me free to battle with the morning traffic and its usual flood of terminally insane couriers and Facebook-ing, iPad-ing motorists. The FVR is grossing 13.2 tonnes, slightly lighter than the PK17, and the slightly higher output engine of the Isuzu deals with the load easily, getting up to highway speed without any effort.

The grey, gloomy, weather turns to rain and the wipers do a great job of dealing with the freeway spray, as do the heated mirrors. The weather has turned the Werribee South roads into a greasy mud-caked quagmire. But the Isuzu retains its manners as the fields of lettuce and broccoli slide by. The combination of the tight, well-insulated cab and the climate control leave me nicely isolated from the elements with wind noise kept to a minimum.

There's no doubt that the 7.8-litre SiTEC engine is a superb unit; from a standing start, the engine pulled strongly up a tight, winding 30 percent grade, with the engine rarely exceeding 1,800rpm. The auto swapped gears easily and smoothly and I was able to deal with the winding wet road with both hands on the wheel.

On the whole, the truck gave the impression that it was capable of a whole lot more; the FVR is rated to a GCM of up to 32 tonnes gross. I felt that this particular unit would deal with a plant trailer with ease. Surprisingly, the FUPS (front underrun protection system) bar mounted underneath the 'roo bar looked like an afterthought and a bit agricultural. At highway speeds, this truck was also unexpectedly noisy with a noticeable driveline rumble through the cab.

 

WOULD I BUY ONE OF THESE TRUCKS?

In a nutshell, both trucks provide a comfortable environment to work in. At first glance, you might say there's a bit of a 'me too' aspect to the new Condor. The Isuzu has been on the market for over 12 months, so UD appears to be playing catch up. Both trucks have many similarities, from sharing the same audio visual system to cab layout and transmission options. Adding to this, both are FUPS-equipped with a 6.5-tonne steer axle, but UD do a better job of making the FUPS bar look like part of the vehicle with an aerodynamic shroud enclosing it.

The big sell for UD though is the ECO fleet engine, with the company predicting AdBlue use of 4 percent of diesel burnt but a 10 percent improvement in fuel consumption over the previous engine range. Also, the marginally smaller engine of the UD gives nothing away to the Isuzu in terms of driveability and performance.

The new driveline will also get through the next round of Euro 6 emission laws (ADR80/04) with only minor tweaking whereas Isuzu will most likely be looking at a major engine revamp.

As mentioned before, the differences are in the detail, with UD making the most of the sat-nav capable audio/visual unit shared by the two trucks to provide real time vehicle information and location via its FleetMax web portal.

Service intervals for the Eco fleet engines can be scheduled at 30,000 km as opposed to Isuzu's 20,000 km. Isuzu, though, is the market leader for a reason. It makes a tough, well-appointed truck with a formidable reputation for reliability and performance. My drive in the FVR1000 only served to back this up, showing the Isuzu to be a tight, well performing truck.

For a long time now, UD has played Dannii  Minogue to Isuzu's Kylie; pleasant enough but always in the background. With the release of the new Condor, however, UD may well have found the X factor that they need to step back into the limelight.

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