After several years of absence, Isuzu's gasoline-powered, medium-duty trucks are back for the 2012 model year. I had a chance to test drive the new 2012 NPR Gas truck, as well as the comparable NPR Eco-Max diesel,
Driving the Isuzu NPR Gas is an entirely different experience compared with the diesel models.
Driving the Isuzu NPR Gas is an entirely different experience compared with the diesel models.
at an event for Isuzu dealers this May in Schaumburg, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. The gas truck, I found, has some real spring in its step.

At a glance, the NPR Gas is nearly identical to the N-Series diesel, with the exception of the silver brand markers on the doors. They share the same chassis, and the same cabs across several different options: side-by-side, they appear to be essentially the same vehicle.

The same similarities apply to the interior. With both the NPR Gas and the NPR Eco-Max diesel I drove the standard cabover, and the surprising amount of legroom was instantly gratifying. So, too, was the large, single-piece windshield offering impressive visibility, even to only inches in front of the vehicle. The only discernable difference is in the dashboard - the NPR Gas is missing a digital DEF gauge.

Turn the key, however, and the NPR Gas really comes into its own. The first thing you notice is how extraordinarily quiet the cab is with the engine running. That's not to say I wasn't also impressed with the Eco-Max's noise level, but with gas truck I barely noticed the engine was running. I could easily make small talk with the Isuzu representative riding shotgun without having to shout, or look away from the road for supplemental lip-reading.

Driving the NPR Gas is an entirely different experience compared with the diesel models. The pedal is a bit more sensitive, so I had to take care maneuvering out of the parking lot and onto the street. Once out on the road, the most obvious difference in the truck is acceleration: Its very peppy, maybe even too peppy. In fact, besides the ride height and steering sensitivity, it felt a bit more like driving a car than a medium-duty commercial vehicle. Indeed, none of the nearby cars out-accelerated me leaving a stop light.

Because the NPR Gas and NPR Eco-Max are essentially the same vehicle, there were virtually no differences in other aspects of handling. Like similar-sized vehicles, the steering wheel was sensitive, and driving at highway speeds required constant minor adjustment. The sharp turning radius allowing me to comfortably turn around in a parking lot, and the cab-over visibility gave me confidence to make tight maneuvers without fear of bumps and scrapes.

The truck is available in two weights: the NPR Gas, and the NPR-HD Gas, at 12,000 and 14,500 lbs GVWR respectively. Both versions are also available with a crew cab, which cuts payload capacity by a little over 700 pounds in both vehicles. Max payload for the NPR and NPR-HD is 6,997 and 9,411 pounds.

The NPR Gas and the HD version both use General Motors Vortec 6-liter V8 engine that produces 297 horsepower at 4,300 rpm and generates 372 pounds-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. Both versions are mated to a GM Powertrain 6-speed automatic transmission with double overdrive. Previous N-Series gasoline models offered only a 4-speed automatic.

Gasoline-powered N-Series trucks had previously been assembled by GM at its plant in Janesville, Wis., until the plant ceased operations in 2009 - hence the trucks' recent absence from the market. Despite the loss of assembly location, Isuzu announced in March 2010 that GM would supply the transmissions and gasoline engines to be used for gas-powered Isuzu NPR and NPR- HD trucks, but that a new assembly location was still sought after.

Isuzu eventually decided to partner with Spartan Motors. Assembly is now done at the company's facility in Charlotte, Mich. Spartan designs, engineers and manufactures specialty chassis, specialty vehicles and truck bodies for RVs, emergency vehicles and some military applications. They are also assembling Isuzu's Reach, a work van done in partnership with Utilimaster.

The Last Word

If you find yourself deadlocked deciding between gasoline and diesel versions of Isuzu's N-series, here are some important details to keep in mind.

In terms of raw working ability, the NPR Eco-Max and NPR-HD are very similar to their gasoline counterparts, with the diesel trucks having a smaller payload capacity by only a few hundred pounds, because the diesel weighs more than the gasoline engine.

According to Isuzu, 25,000 annual miles is the threshold of choice between the gasoline and diesel alternatives. If you're over that mark, the extra durability and better fuel economy of the diesel engine will likely save you money in the long run. But if your trucks run lower mileage, the correspondingly lower wear will negate any cost benefits a user may net in purchasing a more expensive N-Series diesel. For up-front savings, the NPR Gas is about $5,000 cheaper than the diesel trucks.

Bottom line: The NPR Gas is very similar to its diesel cousin. It's on the market for low-mileage applications, and that is what a customer should most consider when making a purchase.