Off-road Test: Time warp to 2001 with Isuzu KB 280 DT
This, of course, has made the whole team very nostalgic about past issues. As a tribute, we’ll be posting road tests and driving impressions for the good, the bad and the ugly vehicles of the past 15 years. Many of these are relics – and some are missed more than others.
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Time Warp 05
The year: 2001, Leisure Wheels issue 13
The car: Isuzu KB 280 DT Double Cab
The scenario: Having captured the high ground in the turbo diesel double-cab market during the 1990’s, Isuzu has rationalised its range for 2001, with the popular KB 280 DT retained as the flagship. But how does it shape up in the face of newer competition?
Isuzu KB 280 DT: A Likeable companion
Nowhere does the saying “if you snooze you lose “apply more vividly than in the booming 4×4 market, but the Delta Motor Corporation has continuously refined and updated its KB range to maintain its competiveness against even-more serious rivals. For a time the 280 DT reigned supreme and virtually unchallenged, although more recently a formidable threat has been mounted by the Colt Rodeo, Ford Ranger , Mazda B-Series , Nissan Hardbody , and finally , the latest Toyota Hilux , now with the 3.0 litre Prado turbo diesel engine that it deserved from the beginning.
It was the Isuzu that was introduced an aerodynamic rounded nose to this style-conscious market sector. The flagship looks entirely contemporary with bold styling addenda that includes a roof mounted aerial, nudge bar and spotlights and six-spoked alloy wheels. Meanwhile the KB range has been rationalised in recent months, with the company strategists taking a fresher look at equipment levels.
FEATURES AND EQUIPMENT √√√
While the face of the top of the Isuzu is entirely familiar, the latest versions recognise the demands of 21st century motoring in South Africa, providing a hands-free cell phone wiring harness as standard, along with a “drive away door lock”. All four doors automatically lock when a road speed of 10 km/h is reached, unlocking when the driver either removes the ignition key , manually releases the driver’s door lock, or –in the event of an accident- when a crash sensor triggers the unlocking mechanism. The central locking system is also linked to the interior dome light for added safety and convenience.
With standardisation on a transponder immobiliser system, which is linked to an audible alarm, the insurance industry no longer requires any additional protection, and the gear-lock has been deleted from the equipment list. As you’d expect at this end of the light commercial market, there are many of the comfort features found on expensive 4×4 estates, although it is still necessary to climb out and manually lock the front hubs. It is then possible to shift between two and four-wheel drive on the move, with a push-button electro-pneumatic rear differential lock offered as standard.
In keeping with modern audio and security preferences, the 10-CD shuttle has been replaced by an in-dash four-disc CD changer and radio combination. The electric windows can also be raised or lowered for around 90 seconds after the ignition key is switched off. The KB doesn’t sport the handy pop-out cup holders you’ll find on a Helix, offering a recess in the console between the seats instead, although some would argue that the electric rear-view mirrors that are missing on the Toyota are a more practical feature. And a handbrake between the seats seems more natural, than one you tug out from under the dash, even if it does sacrifice some possible stowage space.
The cabin of the KB has always been a comfy place, and even in the face of newer competition it still looks good. What you get is a tastefully appointed interior, finished in quality materials that appear to be hard wearing, although rainy weather and mud during the test made us with for protective rubber mats. Drivers of various sizes and shapes seem to be happy behind the tilt-adjustable steering wheel, with enough room to stretch out with crushing the legs of rear-seat passengers.
The driving position is natural and relaxed, ensuring an enduringly comfortable position that doesn’t lead backache on long hauls, with good forward visibility and decent mirrors to tell you what’s going on behind you. Rear seat passengers are reasonably well catered for, with oddment space rating about average. The Isuzu’s occupants have the choice of smallish door pockets, a couple of recesses in the console between the front seats, and magazine or map pockets in the front back seats.
As is normal in a double cab, there’s always a dilemma where to stow valuables or that briefcase or camera bag. With the rand price of these range-topping bakkies having reached the quarter of a million mark , maybe it is time to that some ingenuity was devoted to creating a more secure or hidden compartment . Boot space is what you expect, although the arrangement to release the tonneau cover is awkward and fiddly, falling short of the sheer simplicity of the Hilux’s elasticised loops. When it comes to safety equipment, Toyota remains unique in offering ABS brakes and twin airbags, the opposition maintaining that there is little demand for those features or it is too early to assess.
Of course, if you’re in a hurry and prepared to pay the fuel penalties, Isuzu does offer the option of the 3, 2 litre V6. It offers power and torque peaks of 132 kW at 5 400 r/min and 265 Nm at 4 200 r/min, that are impressive by any standards. Check out the diesel opposition now and you’ll find that the others have been busy too. Mazda’s B2500D Drifter, and its Ford Ranger sibling can muster 80 kW at 3 500 r/min and 257 Nm at 2 000 r/min. The Colt boasts a muscular 92 kW at 4 000 r/min and 294 Nm at 2 000 r/min. And, after trailing behind in the two years since launch, Toyota has remapped the Prado engine to deliver 85 kW at 3 600 r/min and a truly formidable 315 Nm at 2 000 r/min, to become a new yardstick. Nissan, meanwhile, had not gone the turbo route, its naturally aspirated 3, 2 Hardbody rated at 76 kW at 3 600 r/min and 216 Nm at 2 000 r/min.
Of course, you can argue that sheer potency isn’t everything, and you’d be right. One has to appreciate refinement, willingness, throttle response and fuel consumption, especially now that each thankful costs so much more. Look at the total package and the Isuzu does well, providing a reasonably polished and undemanding companion that delivers better-than-average mileage out of every litre. In the real world, where absolute power or zero to 100 km/h acceleration figures matter little, it is generally quiet and willing, cruising swiftly without undue noise or fuss.
And when you are coaxing it over dongas or boulders, there’s grunt enough to idle you over in low range without too much throttle, and enough to battle the energy-sapping traits or deep sand or dune ascents.
RIDE AND HANDLING √√√√
There have been some suggestions that the KB was too softly sprung, but at the top end of the lifestyle double-cab market it is a joy to discover a vehicle that rides so well, continuing to set standards with the wonderfully cushioned feel of the suspension. A supple ride is sometimes at the expense of handling balance, especially over imperfect surfaces, but the KB can be hustled along briskly with the steering responding faithfully and eagerly both on tar and dirt.
Inevitably it is the ride comfort that endears the Isuzu to recreational buyers, although a stint on the 4×4 trail also tells you that it is as simple to manoeuvre over obstacles as it is to park in a city lot. It will sometimes scrape its underpinnings where a rival might not, which is a legacy of a wheelbase that is the longest in its class. Now that the price of the double cabs is rivalling that of lower slung station wagons, it is necessary for them to deliver high standards of refinement, with the KB committing itself commendably. Braking also seems well up to standard, although ABS is not an option.
You can’t help liking the KB 280 DT. It provides stylish, comfy and quiet riding with road manners that are in keeping with its status as flagship of the range. But Isuzu no longer enjoys dominance in the turbo-diesel market, the new opposition emerging as formidable rivals to be feared, especially if power and torque are major considerations.