When Pumba, the lovable warthog from Disney’s Lion King movies, described his favourite insect hors d’oeuvres as “crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside”, he could have been describing modern-day bakkies.
Today’s pick-ups are tough-on-the-outside working vehicles, but under their robust shells they’re getting ever more refined, comfortable and car-like. So it is with Isuzu’s sixth-generation KB bakkie, which was launched in South Africa this week.
Built in 21 derivatives at General Motors’ Port Elizabeth assembly plant for South Africa and the rest of the continent, the new KB follows the trend set by rivals like the VW Amarok and Ford Ranger towards more modern and aerodynamic styling, with more premium-feeling cabins and improved sophistication.
The interior, which is shared with GM’s recently launched Chevrolet Trailblazer, is a major step up from the previous KB in terms of contemporary design and modern feel.
The bakkie’s also significantly larger than before, and the KB double cab now has one of the roomiest cabins in the business, with a rear door that opens especially wide for easier access.
The KB’s improved as a workhorse, too, with larger load boxes for all three body derivatives (single-cab, extended-cab and double-cab) and enhanced towing prowess. The range-topping 3-litre turbodiesel KB out-tows any other one-tonner with its ability to haul a 3 500kg braked trailer.
When I drove the new Isuzu at its media launch in Limpopo earlier this week, what impressed me most was its comfortable ride quality, thanks to its longer wheelbase and new suspension.
Changing the front suspension from the old torsion-beam to a coil-spring system has done wonders for the way the KB soaks up bumps, especially on dirt.
Although the KB retains the necessary leaf-springs at the rear to cater for heavy loads, it doesn’t have the usual jittery ride of this type of suspension set-up, and feels composed on a rippled dirt road even when unladen.
Refinement-wise the new Isuzu’s a well-sorted bakkie with a robust, rattle-free feel and well-supressed noise levels.
In the 4x4 versions, going offroad is made simple by means of a new terrain command dial between the front seats which allows you to shift on the fly between two- and four-wheel drive at up to 100km/h. For rougher turf there’s a low-range gear and a rear diff lock, which are just as easy to select.
IN THE ROUGH
With their rock-straddling 235mm ground clearances and more robust new chassis, the KB 4x4s made easy work of a rough offroad course Isuzu set up at the media launch.
The four engines on offer are carried over from the previous-generation KB but two of them have been put on steroids.
The sole petrol engine is a 2.4-litre 16-valve four cylinder with 112kW and 233Nm outputs, a notable jump over the 94kW/207Nm made by the previous 8-valve 2.4 engine.
The range-topping 3-litre D-Teq intercooled turbodiesel has also grown bigger muscles, with 130kW/380Nm on offer versus its predecessor’s 120kW/360Nm – although it’s still out-punched by rivals like the Ranger, BT-50, Amarok and Navara.
The other two Isuzu KB engines are the existing 2.5-litre low-pressure turbodiesel with 58kW/170Nm (these versions arrive in three months’ time) and the more powerful 2.5 D-Teq with 85kW/280Nm.
A five-speed manual transmission does duty across the range (unlike the six-speed units becoming more prevalent among the competition), with a new five-speed automatic available for the top-of-the-range LX double-cab.
Four specification levels are available, ranging from the workhorse-oriented base and Fleetside models to the higher-specced LE and LX leisure versions. The base models are truly that, fitted with PVC bench seats, no bells or whistles, and no airbags or even seatbelt pre-tensioners.
Items like dual front airbags, ABS brakes, central locking, electric windows, aircon and audio systems (some with MP3, Bluetooth and USB functionality) become available as you move up the price ladder. The range-topping LX models come with six airbags, luxury cloth seats, cruise control, park distance control and steering wheel audio controls.
The new Isuzus are, however, somewhat down-specced against some competitor bakkies – despite being generally more expensive than the opposition. No KB model, for instance, has reach-adjustable steering (there’s height adjustment only) or electronic stability control, and only LX models have an onboard computer. There’s also no offroad ABS setting, like in the Amarok, to shorten stopping distances on dirt. -Star Motoring
Isuzu KB 240 Base - R218 900
Isuzu KB 240 Fleetside - R233 700
Isuzu KB 240 Fleetside 4x4 - R258 500
Isuzu KB 240 LE - R253 200
Isuzu KB 250 D-Teq Base - R229 300
Isuzu KB 250 D-Teq Fleetside - R242 700
Isuzu KB 250 D-Teq Fleetside (Safety) - R244 900
Isuzu KB 250 D-Teq LE 4x4 - R315 700
Isuzu KB 250 D-Teq LE - R274 800
Isuzu KB 300 D-Teq LX - R311 700
Isuzu KB 300 D-Teq LX 4x4 - R362 300
Isuzu KB 250 D-Teq LE - R290 700
Isuzu KB 300 D-Teq LX - R359 400
Isuzu KB 300 D-Teq LX 4x4 - R412 300
Isuzu KB 240 LE - R309 100
Isuzu KB 240 LE 4x4 - R380 200
Isuzu KB 250 D-Teq LE - R363 200
Isuzu KB 250 D-Teq LE 4x4 - R384 100
Isuzu KB 300 D-Teq LX - R410 400
Isuzu KB 300 D-Teq LX AT - R423 400
Isuzu KB 300 D-Teq LX 4x4 - R464 400