Isuzu NPR200 tradepack truck video review

By: Matt Wood


Although completely hopeless with tools, Matt Wood decided to test the towing capabilities of the baby Isuzu NPR200

 

 

There’s no small irony in me being behind the wheel of the limited edition Tradepack in the first place, mainly because I’m really crap with tools.

The famed "mentalist" Uri Geller had the world convinced that he could bend spoons with his mind.

In my case I can do the same thing with nails. All I have to do is wave a hammer in their general direction and they lean over like shrubs in the wind.

Measure twice, cut once? More like cut, measure, swear, cut again, swear, throw offending tool.

In fact my favourite tool is the shifting spanner because it has so many uses; it can be a spanner or a hammer and it makes a really satisfying clang when it bounces off shed walls and fences.

So, really I had no right to be sitting behind the wheel of the tradies’ friend, but rightly or wrongly I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the N series Isuzu.

The Tradepack has popped up again for 2013 and now features the N series cosmetic updates released earlier in the year, the main things being sliver highlights in the interior, cornering lamps.

But the Tradepack comes ready to work with a drop side 4,500mm x 2,122mm tray and ladder racks fitted out back.

The premium option also adds a chrome bullbar, a chrome grille, fog lights and a silver paint job on the cab.

Engine

The 5.2-litre powerplant in the NPR is usually quite a rev-happy little engine and, in delivery van form, will willingly zip about town without much of a worry.

Transmission

A 6-speed automatic manual transmission (AMT)  comes with the Premium, which makes it a lot easier to eat a pie while heading to the next job.

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Cab and Controls

Inside there’s plenty of storage space for iPods and phones, which makes it a lot easier to hook into DAVE the touch screen multimedia unit.

Satellite navigation also comes with the Premium and is installed in the touch screen digital multimedia unit found on all Isuzu models. There’s now no excuse for not being able to find the next job site.

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Performance

The car licence-friendly NPR represents quite a bit of truck and the tray back gives quite a bit of acreage for carting bulky building materials and tools, but I was also interested in the factory fitted tow hitch under the back of the little Isuzu.

The rated tow capacity of the Tradepack is 3,000kg un-braked and up to 3,500kg braked, which only adds to the appeal of the tradies’ truck for getting small plant trailers, concrete pumps, mixers and generators to a job site.

But I was wondering how the rather modest-sized NPR would go when loaded up to near capacity and towing a hefty load. So with 1,500kg of concrete blocks on the back I went in search of a suitable load for the Tradepack to tow.

Given my lack of qualifications in the trade area, I figured that maybe I should do my bit for truck-caravan community relations and find a caravan to tow.

Thanks to Paul Golding, General Manager at Nova Caravans, the answer came in the form of the flashiest caravan I’ve had anything to do with: the Nova Pride Platinum — a 3,300kg, tandem axle, slide out bedroom, luxury monster. As if I needed an excuse to stop and have a lie down.

My main view of caravans over the years has mainly been from behind as I’ve sat on the open road contemplating just how I was going to get around the wobbling slow-moving speed hump ahead.

Maybe it was time for me to get out and see just how the other half live.

As far as caravans go, the Nova Pride is a beauty and I got to wander around the double bed and bathroom-equipped van, flicking all sorts of switches, one that made the bedroom slide out, another that rolled out the awning, another that made the lights go on and off.

Maybe the grey nomads are onto something after all?

I realise that I’m probably making a pretty tenuous link between truck and caravan but Nova do make a Workabout van for mobile tradies and those who are working their way around the country. It even comes with its own little office.

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The 1,500kg in the tray gave the Isuzu’s engine something to think about but it still answered the call of the right foot quite eagerly, though I did have to watch the AMT didn’t drop down too many gears at intersections as it was prone to down-change when rolling up to a roundabout and rob the vehicle of the momentum needed to get going again in good time.

But then I turned up to Nova’s Somerton, Victoria, headquarters to take on the big pull.  Paul took one look at the standard hitch on the NPR, sniffed and made a quick phone call.

The result was a massive Hayman Reece tow hitch complete with stabiliser bars that slotted neatly into place where the factory version had been.

That done, I hooked up the van and hit the road to see what the little Tradie was made of.

Right off the bat, the NPR surprised me with its eagerness to have a go when loaded close to its maximum GVM.

The Sitec engine was making noises I’d never heard it make before like a squeaky-voiced teenager whose voice finally breaks.

The variable nozzle turbo charger could be heard huffing away as the Tradepack put its all into shouldering the load. Getting up to 60-70km/h was actually quite easy and I didn’t have to fiddle with the transmission at all.

But as I wound the little donk up for a highway merge, I had to switch to manual mode and keep the revs up to get to highway speed.

While it took a while, we did get to the legal 100km/h limit and the Tradie seemed happy enough to hang onto top gear as I made my way out of town.

There are advantages to using a light truck for towing, one of which is stability.

With a decent-sized van on behind, the wheelbase and weight of the truck meant that the NPR didn’t wiggle around much at all, even with a gusty crosswind and the steady stream of passing trucks as I headed up the Hume Highway out of Melbourne.

There’s plenty of room for those bulky items like timber, piping and weldmesh — things that you’d have to put in a trailer if you had a ute.

The downside, however, is the ride quality. Even with the counterweight in the tray, the cab tended to hop and bounce on slightly undulating surfaces and, no matter what I did with the sprung seat, I couldn’t get comfy after getting a few kilometres down the road.

It does stand to reason, though, that the seating position over the front steer axle is going to cop a bounce or two with a heavy load on the tow hitch.

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The NPR is really still only a work machine, while a ute or SUV will fill a few more roles other than workhorse. You can’t fit through the McDonalds drive-through in it.

The overall performance of the NPR and van was not unlike a scaled down prime mover and trailer.

In fact, I even managed to pass a couple of B-doubles out on the open road, by this time I was wishing I’d bought a "Mavis and Arthur UHF CH40" sticker for the back.

I decided the scenic and highly underrated Broadford heavy vehicle weighbridge would be an appropriate place to stop and take a few snaps.

As expected, the vacuum-operated exhaust brake was pretty useless at this weight, but as I rolled off the highway

I realised that may well be the only time I’d taken a break at a weighbridge that wasn’t being enforced by a bloke in a uniform with a big stick.

The trip back into Melbourne really made the Tradie work as a headwind had sprung up.

Climbing past Clonbinane and Wandong had me manually intervening to drop down a cog and then another; I needed to keep the tacho needle at around 2,500rpm, at the peak of the torque range to keep the NPR cracking along.

Back in Somerton, Paul was happy to see his $110,000 van back in one piece and

I could almost hear the Tradepack sigh with relief as the van was unhooked but the NPR had worked to carry the load gamely.

I headed back towards the freeway and it was then that the diesel particulate diffuser (DPD) went into a regeneration cycle as the burner underneath fired up to clean out the DPD. Clearly I had been working the little truck hard.

The fuel gauge had dropped considerably and, according to the on-board computer, the truck had averaged 20.1km/l — not bad considering the weight and the terrain.

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Verdict

With the exception of some recent advances in towing capacity, utewise in this country, the 3,500kg tow capacity market is, on the most part, a very pricey one.

Light trucks such as the NPR fill the role that used to be occupied by pick-up style workhorses like Ford’s F Series, which hasn’t been on sale in Australia for quite a few years now.

But from a work perspective, you’d have to spend a hell of a lot of dough on a four-wheel drive or ute to drag the same load, yet the Premium will only set you back $51,990 excluding on-roads.

The day’s drive in the Tradepack proved to me it was more than up to the task of dragging a heavy load as well as carrying one, and for the average tradie who’s working in the ’burbs, the NPR does tick a lot of boxes.

Specifications

Make/Model: Isuzu NPR200 Tradepack Premium

Engine: Isuzu Sitec 3, 5.2-litre, 4 cylinder diesel with variable nozzle turbo charger

Power: 114kW (153hp) @ 2,600rpm

Torque: 419Nm (309ft-lb) @ 1,600 – 2,600rpm

Emissions: Cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR)

Transmission: 6-speed AMT

GCM: 8,000 kg–9,000 kg

 

 

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