On The Road
Getting on board the new cab is a snap. The doors are wider, and the additional forward headroom makes it easier to swing up and into the driving seat, an important feature on a distribution vehicle.
In front of you is a new, modern dashboard with a full complement of easy-to-see gauges and warning lamps. It features a dash opening for such optional equipment as radios, GPS-enabled equipment and rear view cameras. Storage includes seat-back pockets, a glove box, overhead storage shelves and rear storage organizers. There are also large map pockets built into the fully trimmed door panels. Cup holders in the center console hold oversized drinks and in the dash hold regular-sized cans and cups.
With the comfortable seat adjusted for the pedals and the tilt and telescope steering column set, I selected Drive on my first N-Series, a black HD Onyx. With a little weight in the van body, we set off on the route from the oceanfront Biltmore Hotel to the middle of beautiful Santa Barbara, then off to a driver change overlooking Cachuma Lake, nestled in the nearby mountains.
The NPR-HD was quiet, rode nicely and steered and stopped like a car. I was allocated another Onyx, but I was not to have it long because it was just a short hop to Fess Parker's Inn and Spa for lunch in quaint Los Olivos. (Fess Parker - you may know him better as Davey Crockett from the TV series of a half century ago - also has a prize-winning winery with some excellent varietals.)
The next driver change was at the Firestone Winery, which was started by Harvey Firestone's grandson, Leonard. As I was about to take a crew cab NPR, I agreed not to sample the product, instead puzzling over the next item on our agenda: Ostrich Farm. On the way, I had Todd Bloom, Isuzu's marketing vice president, in the back seat and found the overall noise levels so low we could chat easily. The utility body on this truck was relatively light, but with its longer wheelbase, the ride of this NPR was excellent. As before, steering was light and precise.
Upon arrival at our next destination, an ostrich farm it proved to be. Here we were given the opportunity to stretch our legs and to feed the giant birds ( I can report their table manners are less than gracious).
On then to a handling demonstration course, where we could drive anything around a tight course that a mid-sized Chevy S10 could only just manage. It was most impressive, with even the longer-wheelbase crew cabs wheeling easily around the tight course.
Most delightful was the sweet gasoline-engined NPR. The Vortec 6-liter V-8 is silky smooth and extremely quiet. Bloom had commented earlier during the drive that, because the gasoline option doesn't have the 2007 diesel additions, the savings have jumped from around $4,000 previously to $6,000 to $7,000 over competitive diesels - both from Isuzu and from competitor cabover importers. The break-even point has stretched out so that vocations where the trucks do 30,000 miles or less are better served by gasoline than diesel.
The maneuverability course marked the end of the drive.
Then it was back by bus for a dinner at the Biltmore. Deary me. It's a tough life.