ROAD TEST: Isuzu KB 300 D-Teq Extended Cab LX 4x2
Given how hard GMSA has been pushing the Chevrolet brand in the last decade, someone not well versed in local motoring matters would wonder why they haven't unleashed the Chevrolet Colorado onto our bakkie-mad market.
In fact given that it shares most of its bits and bobs with the latest Isuzu KB, GM could easily have launched both - Like Ford did with the Ranger and Mazda BT-50.
Yet the local division is putting all its eggs in the Isuzu KB's load bin and it's not hard to understand why. Just look at the sales figures of the last few decades or listen to a few conversations around braais and it becomes clear that many South African bakkie-heads have an Isuzu badge tattooed on their soul.
Naturally, the new KB has a lot of hype to live up to and some tough competition to fend off in the form of sophisticated new options like the VW Amarok and Ford Ranger.
If we start crunching the specification numbers, the new Isuzu makes a good-enough case for itself.
It's well sized, being fractionally larger than the Toyota Hilux but still a bit smaller than the barge-like Ford Ranger. Its 220mm ride height is within the ballpark, albeit slightly lower than rivals. The 80 litre fuel tank is on par, while the 1180kg payload of the Extended Cab Isuzu surpasses that of its rivals. It also has a class-leading towing capacity of 3500kg, if you fit a heavy-duty towbar.
As for the all-important guts - its new 3-litre D-Teq engine enters the fighting ring with outputs of 130kW at 3600rpm and 380Nm from 1800rpm. Though it comfortably trumps the 120kW/343Nm 3-litre Hilux, it still falls somewhat short of the 147kW/470Nm Ranger.
It must be said, though, that the Isuzu KB drives better on the road than it does on paper.
FLEXIBLE 3-LITRE DIESEL
It might only have five forward gears (where most rivals have six) but this is hardly a problem as torque is ample throughout the rev range, even at the bottom end.
On a 1200km round trip, I was impressed by how it chugged forward enthusiastically, and without requiring a down-change, every time a surge of power was required. Over this distance, and at rather average highway speeds, it returned a rather decent consumption figure of 8.6 litres per 100km.
Punchy, frugal and flexible is how I'd describe this engine in a nutshell.
The KB offers a rather relaxed driving experience, by bakkie standards. The gearshift action is smooth enough, the pedals aren't too heavy and the steering offers some feedback around corners, although there is a smidgen of play at dead centre. They did admittedly cut another corner by not offering reach-adjustment on the steering, although I didn't battle to get comfortable behind the wheel.
One thing I had been a little concerned about, before taking delivery of the vehicle, was the interior quality. The KB shares its basic interior design with the Chevrolet Trailblazer and the earlier examples of those that I experience didn't seem very durable inside. While the KB is not going to top the charts for interior ambience, build quality is very solid and the cloth seat trim looks and feels like it was built to outlast Africa. Big ups to the local guys!
In range-topping LX trim, the KB comes well loaded for comfort, with automatic climate control, multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, park distance control, Bluetooth and a CD/MP3 system. For some reason it only has a mini-USB port, so you'll have to buy a special adapter if you want to play your tunes via an iPod or flash drive.
SOME ITEMS MISSING
The Isuzu's features argument starts to fall apart when we talk safety features. In the Ranger Super Cab you get six airbags and stability control, while the Isuzu makes you settle for the obligatory dual front airbags and ABS.
Buy a double cab Isuzu and you get the extra side and curtain airbags, but not the stability control that the Ranger, Amarok and Hilux offer.
The new Isuzu is a very likeable bakkie. It's brutishly good looking and offers strong performance along with a rather easy-going driving experience and a fairly comfortable ride quality.
It's a great bakkie and I certainly bonded with it during the week it was under my care. But when we're crunching the numbers, it's impossible to make a good case for it.
Regardless of whether you're going single, extended or double cab, the more powerful and better-equipped Ford Ranger is actually somewhat cheaper than the Isuzu, as is the Hilux and Amarok. Unless the Isuzu dealer offers you a much bigger discount, this is not where the smart money is. Unless you really don't want that tattoo removed.
Isuzu KB 300 D-Teq EC LX (130kW) - R359 400
Ford Ranger 3.2 SC XLS (147kW) - R344 900
Mazda BT-50 3.2 FC SLE (147kW) - R356 700
Toyota Hilux 3.0 D-4D XC Raider (120kW) - R332 900