Let me start by saying that in the brand-name bakkie royal rumble happening in our market, there are no outright losers. If one is strong here, another makes up for it there. The playing field is reasonably level and brand loyalty often takes precedence over measurable differences in price, power and other fiddly features such as breakover angles, load-bin sizes and reach-adjustable steering columns (or, in some cases, the lack thereof).
So with that I bring you the all-new Isuzu KB. Launched just weeks ago in South Africa, this locally-made pickup is the latest to debut with a shiny new face fit for the 21st century, and there’s a huge following of loyal Isuzu okes who’ve eagerly awaited this day to see how their new bad boy stacks up in the ongoing bakkie brawl.
The new KB comes in 21 different guises, ranging from low-slung workhorses through butch four-wheel drive doublecabs and everything in between, meaning there’s a model to contest every weight category. On test here, though, is the roost-ruling KB 300 D-Teq 4x4 Doublecab in LX specification with a not shy pricetag of R464 400. Ouch.
Spec for spec this is the most expensive bakkie on our market.
Only a couple of limited-edition Ford Rangers and Nissan’s powerful but insanely priced Navara V9X sell for more.
In this top KB model, specification is fair. For the money you get cruise control, park-distance control, Bluetooth connection for the radio that also accepts a mini USB cable, two 12-volt outlets and other extras that were once only found in passenger cars but are now spreading into the bakkie realm.
However, there are some noticeable omissions; there’s no stability control in any KB, unlike almost all of its bakkie rivals, even the ageing (but still best-selling) Hilux. Fancy electronics systems such as offroad-specific ABS braking and hill-descent control (à la Amarok) also can’t be found here. Moreover, the steering’s only adjustable for height and not reach.
But, as mentioned earlier, most mainstream bakkies get their own claim to fame to separate them from the rest and the new KB, in this specific trim, holds the title of South Africa’s strongest tower. The 300 D-Teq has a class-leading claimed towing capacity of 3500kg with either 4x2 or 4x4 drivetrains (with an optional heavy-duty towbar), and a wonderfully torquey three-litre turbodiesel that makes a manly whistle like a Mack truck.
On paper its 130kW/360Nm rating isn’t the strongest by a long shot when compared to market rivals, but the way it delivers power over a wide rev range makes for a relaxed drive and infrequent gear shifts. I found it best to pull off in second most of the time, and even though there are only five manual gears to Amarok, Ranger and Navara’s six, the broad torque spread deals nicely with the longer ratiosy.
Diesel consumption averaged just under 10 litres per /100km while in our hands, and is a good reflection of a daily driver without any fuel-sucking towing or four-wheeling involved, but the trip computer, which only comes in top LX versions, still reads in old-school kilometres per litre measure. Some old-school okes might prefer it that way.
Selecting four-wheel drive is achieved via a fuss-free dial in the console and can be done on the fly at speeds up to 100km/h.
A rear differential lock is standard in the LX and the suspension, as in most other 4x4 pickups, comprises a double wishbone front and leaf spring rear setup. On a scale of one to ten I’d give the ride quality here a seven on road and an eight off, which is very good considering how bouncy other bakkies can be.
Driving controls are rather weighty, though, and clutch, steering and gearshift operation require some muscle. Smaller-built drivers might struggle manhandling this beast around inner cities.
I am disappointed with the interior quality, though. The dashboard’s styled with a modern flair that matches the exterior’s aggressive look, but all the plastic, and there’s lots of it, feels a little cheap and hollow.
The seats in our test unit were covered in a cool looking chocolate brown leather, but it doesn’t feel as durable as it should for a vehicle that might live a hard life.
Also, the climate-control system which looks like it’s straight out of a Tron movie, is simple to use and perfectly placed but its big red display orb becomes impossible to read in the daytime if you drive with your headlights on like I do. It’s a silly oversight that could be simply fixed if the dashboard-dimming rheostat switch would go brighter.
Where other modern bakkies are incorporating a touch of finesse to make them easier to drive daily, the new KB – while a big leap forward over its predecessor in refinement – is more focussed on pure brawn.
It gets a stylistic veneer that puts it at the cutting edge of the current bakkie fray, but this one’s no where near as soft as it looks. - Star Motoring
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