Isuzu early this year announced an all new 2008 model-year N-Series with increased driver comfort and productivity. Another plank of the launch platform is the fact that the optional gasoline engine gains a significant cost advantage over diesels, now that the latter get particulate filters and advanced combustion to meet 2007 diesel engine emissions.
To experience this engine, as well as drive the upgraded diesel and enjoy the roomier cab, Isuzu arranged a two-day driving event based in California's beautiful Santa Barbara and taking in a stunning drive up to the wine country around Los Olivos.
The drive was relatively short, yet we managed to take in not only the rugged countryside but also a lunch at Fess Parker's resort and restaurant, a tour of the Firestone Winery (maintaining the automotive connection, of course) a stopover to feed some ostriches, and then an hour or so on a tight-handling course that showed how well these little N-Series trucks handle the demands of narrow streets in busy cities.
But before we get ahead of the story, let me recap the changes to the N-Series.
The new truck gets a larger and more spacious cab with increased side-to-side as well as front-to-back room. This allows for more seat travel and increased headroom, shoulder room and legroom on both the standard and crew cab models.
More significantly, the windshield header rail has been pushed forward, making the cab squarer in profile but giving a lot more room up ahead of the driver's face. The cab's sides are straighter as well, curving in less toward the roof, adding to the spacious feeling in the header area.
The cab is built from galvanized steel panels with electro deposit paint primer and high-quality enamel paint top coat. The close section and increased gussets and reinforcements also improve the durability of this new cab, as well as increasing the safety of the driver and passengers. Additional safety items on the 2008 N-Series include a new seatbelt design; low-cut side windows; larger, 17-inch by 8-inch side mirrors with integrated convex sections; and available heated mirrors.
The standard diesel is the 5.2-liter 4HK1-TC with horsepower now at 205, up from 190. Torque is up, too, by 14 percent to a very useful 441 pounds-feet. The optional gas engine is the familiar GM Vortec 6-liter V-8 with 325 horsepower and 360 pounds-feet of torque. This engine is available in the NPR and the NPR HD up to 14,500 pounds GVW. The diesel powers all, including these and the NQR and NRR, which go to 19,500 pounds.
Transmissions are automatic Aisin six-speed, with a manual Isuzu transmission available. For the gas engine, there's the GM Hydra-Matic 4L80.
For our driving pleasure, we had NPR, NPR-HD and NRR models, among them several of the special-edition Onyx vans for image-conscious buyers. They have a 14-foot body built on a 132-inch wheelbase NPR-HD and include a host of special features, including air deflectors, stainless steel wheel trims, air conditioning, AM-FM CD player radio, and a unique black exterior onyx paint with silver highlights.
Other test-drive trucks included van and utility bodies on regular and crew-cab chassis.