In economics Ďutilityí is defined as a measure of relative satisfaction. John Henderson our regular wheelman trials Isuzuís Forward 7.5 tonner, on and off road, in the kingdom of Fife and finds plenty to his liking.
AT THE time of writing, tipper truck sales figures were not breaking any records and finding a suitable steed to trial for our Tip-Ex preview edition proved slightly more challenging than usual.
However a quick call to Keith Child, Isuzuís marketing director, saw an appropriately bodied 7.5 tonne Forward model delivered to my local Isuzu dealership just before Easter.
As usual branch manager Alistair Cormack and his hard working team at AM Phillipís Broxburn base pulled out all the stops to allow me a whole afternoon with the rigid.
To get an accurate measure of the Forwardís capabilities, I picked a route which included motorways, dual carriageways and a mixture of A roads. Just for good measure, a few miles on gravel tracks and a quarry visit were thrown in.
This particular Isuzu was brand new and part of a large order destined for a major utilities provider, so no fuel measurement was possible during the day. That said though, itís fair to say that feedback from current Forward users confirm there are no nasty surprises with the motorís mpg returns.
I took time during my walk round check to carefully examine the Forwardís chassis construction and fitment of ancillary components. Starting on the offside, the windscreen washer reservoir caught my eye first as its tucked just behind the main front mudguard. Thereís no excuse for letting this bottle run dry, as the level can be easily checked every time you climb aboard.
Behind this ensemble a circular air filter housing and the adjoining intake stack fit unobtrusively on the cab rear wall, while last but not least, a plastic 100 litre diesel tank has plenty of space to itself on the 3,365mm wheelbase rigid.
At the rear of the truck, Isuzuís good sized light clusters were joined by a steel drop frame housing a tow bar and ball coupling, including the required seven pin electric plug connector. Over on the nearside the battery box sat in front of a combined electric motor and hydraulic gear for the underbody ram.
The alloy tipper body was constructed by SB Components (International) Ltd and the Wisbech based firm delivered an impressive product for this Forward, with the standard of build engineering on the dropside example being superb.
Finally on the exterior, Isuzuís Hexapod cab design must be one of the least aggressive looking commercial vehicles around at present. Perhaps itís the smiley design effect delivered by the combined outline of its front grille and neighbouring light clustersÖ
As the Isuzu was destined for a customer, loading was not possible for my evaluation run. However on the productivity and payload front, this Forward model must rank up amongst the best of them, with the 3,365mm wheelbase offering 4,780kg of body and payload allowance. Add in the fact that it can pull a trailer with a maximum GVW of 3,500kg, with a correctly licensed driver of course and the package looks even more attractive.
Out on the road, the engine worked away effortlessly and always seemed punchy or eager to deliver.
Isuzuís 4HK1TC is a compact four in line unit which benefits from an overhead camshaft and EGR technology to comply with Euro 4 regulations. The 190hp maximum power figure is delivered at 2,600rpm, whilst the 513Nm top torque is contained in a relatively wide band from 1,500 to 2,600rpm. Common rail fuel injection is used and although the engine can be heard from inside the cab, the noise level is not obtrusive. Power delivery is smooth and a two position exhaust brake is controlled from the steering columnís right hand stalk. The slowing power from this device gave acceptable levels of retardation bite and it certainly keeps heat off the main service anchors.
Iíve used Isuzuís Easyshift electro hydraulic controlled transmission several times before and the robust system has to be one of the best light commercial vehicle automated set ups around. The brake pedal must be depressed before drive or reverse is selected and once on the move, gear changes are quick, smooth and well timed.
Light or heavy throttle use, logically alters the gear change patterns to suit and a kick down facility on the throttle drops a cog smartly for spur of the moment situations like overtaking.
In addition to an ĎEcoí button located near the selector, manual control of the ratios can be facilitated by knocking the stick to the right. I used this feature when off road, as the gravel track leading to old Brackmont Quarry was uneven and rutted in places, so a low gear was required for most of the track.
Ratios for the six speed unit range from 6.389:1 in first gear up to an overdrive 0.782:1 in top. Direct drive (1:1) is selected for fifth, with reverse coming in at 6.369:1.
Taking the drive to the tarmac was an Isuzu fully floating rear axle with a standard fit ratio of 4.10:1. Careful progress through the quarry was vital with a standard ground clearance vehicle, and the Forward coped admirably, negotiating a series of ruts and camber changes, together with sharp up and downhill gravel ramps.
For all on-road driving I left the Easyshift in full auto and it never put a foot wrong. The Fife town of Cupar provided stop/start traffic conditions at some strangely sequenced traffic lights and I used the handbrake and gear selectors often. Good driving practice dictates that you should select neutral when stopped for a while and if you should forget, the Forward sounds a warning buzzer if it has been left stationary in drive mode for too long.
Isuzu use a robust steel suspension set up on the Forward with semi-elliptical alloy steel leaf springs fitted front and rear. The reverse Elliott I-beam axle below the cab is cushioned with shock absorbers and an anti-roll bar and the same combination is used with the rear unit.
The A914 between Dairsie and St Michaels has some interesting corners with varying camber angles and quieter than usual traffic conditions let me explore the Isuzuís handling within safe parameters. The truck coped well with whatever was asked of it and I suspect that even fully loaded, the Forward will perform well within any normal driving limits.
This section also put a focus on the steering system which consists of a recirculating ball unit with full integral power assistance. At slower speeds the smallish sized steering wheel delivered good feedback and easy to gauge operation, but I found the set up required a wee bit more correction in a straight line at 50mph. I suspect this could have been a fine adjustment issue, as every other Forward Iíve tested has been absolutely A1.
ABS divided hydraulic brakes are used on the N75.190 model and these are assisted by a brake booster, whilst benefiting from electronic brake distribution (EBD) and anti slip regulation (ASR). Such is the effectiveness of the front 310mm ventilated disc and rear drum set up that on the road I was convinced they worked as well as a full air system.
Some of Fifeís bus drivers seemed determined to test my reactions around Auctermuchty and a couple of maximum pressure reductions in speed were twice required. The Isuzu pulled up straight and quick both times, whilst delivering much in the way of stopping confidence.
In more general use the left hand pedal travel is sharp to bite and easy to measure, whilst delivering consistent performance. A mechanical handbrake also scored top marks and itís located neatly left of the driverís seat.
The Isuzu Forward cab displays the ĎTardisí effect well and thereís plenty of room on offer, in what looks like a smallish cab from the outside. I found the driverís suspension seat easy to adjust and this together with a moveable steering column, offered the correct seating position for a six footer like me.
Visibility from the Hexapod design cab is brilliant thanks to a large windscreen and side windows that all come with deep cut low baselines. The rear view mirrors are well located and generous in size offering the minimal of blind spots, whilst the rear wall glazing is protected by a mesh grille and offers a good view of the cargo area. Our test steed came with some useful looking Isuzu protective seat covers, which would be ideal for the trials of tipper work.
The dual passenger seat features a fold down centre backrest section which can be used as a table top. Storage levels are good with the overhead roof shelf, door pockets and rear wall bin all looking particularly useful. The main dashboard contains four circular dials in which a digital gear display and mile per hour readings predominate on the speedometer. Other manufacturers please take note! A host of warning lights are located around these main instruments and the nearby switches are well placed and robust. Plastic facias are finished in either dark grey or black and look easy to clean.
Isuzu offer four different wheelbase lengths on the N75.190 range, complemented by either a day or crew cab. Chassis extensions or reductions are both on the manufacturerís options list, together with a tick box for air suspension.
The Forward is a competent no-nonsense vehicle which has delivered extremely reliable performance levels to date in many local authority and public utility spheres. A host of other own account or hire and reward buyers have also taken advantage of this range that offers five to 18 tonne trucks in the marketplace.
Driver acceptance has increased substantially after the introduction of this Hexapod cab design with most wheelmen and women reporting favourably on the Easyshift gearbox and Forwardís manoeuvring abilities in multi drop work.
Isuzu Truck (UK) Ltdís after sales team have delivered on their revolutionary CARE programme and in the process have almost rewritten the book on customer support and communication.