The Isuzu KB made a name for itself as a rough and robust workhorse. These days, though, it offers a very different experience.
This is a big year for Isuzu: the brand is celebrating its 80th anniversary. Locally, the brand is synonymous with the KB; a name, incidentally, that’s used nowhere else in the world. The South African Isuzu story started in the early 1970s with the launch of the Chevrolet LUV (light utility vehicle), in essence the first Isuzu ‘bakkie’ which was imported from Japan. Local production of the LUV commenced in 1972 at the Kempston Road plant in Port Elizabeth and in 1973 Isuzu-based trucks were introduced for the first time. The KB nomenclature was introduced when the facelifted LUV was released in 1979, but this time branded as an Isuzu KB. The following year saw the South African introduction of the Isuzu KB40, the first petrol and diesel powered four-wheel- drive pick-up from Japan.
Think of Isuzu, though, and diesel power comes to mind. Indeed, the Japanese brand has a storied history when it comes to oilburners. Isuzu established a diesel research committee in 1934 and poured its energy into the development of diesel engines, a technology that had not yet been commercially established even in Europe and North America. In 1936, the company introduced the air-cooled 5.3-litre DA6 diesel engine, followed three years later by the DA4, which went on to serve as the foundation of all later generations of Isuzu diesel engines. These were Japan’s first commercial diesel engines and marked a breakthrough in the history of diesel engine development. Automobile Industries was merged with two other companies into Tokyo Automobile Industries Company Limited in 1937, and in 1941, the Japanese government designated the company as the only one permitted to manufacture diesel-powered vehicles. The company was renamed Isuzu Motors Limited in 1949 and established itself as an industry leader in diesel engine technology.
Since then, the company has supplied industrial engines for various types of applications, including construction machinery, generators, and even snow vehicles to be used for expeditions in the harsh and precarious conditions of the South Pole, maintaining a strong reputation among industrial machinery manufacturers both in Japan and overseas. Looking at this history, it’s easy to understand how the KB has garnered its reputation. It is very much a product of Isuzu’s decades-long commercial/diesel focus. It is a robust, efficient and reliable workhorse that’s perfect for getting the job done, but not necessarily the most comfortable or refined vehicle around. Well, this might have been true at one stage, but the KB is now a very different beast. The clattering and agricultural KB of old has been replaced with a bakkie that is as much a life-style vehicle as it is a workhorse. The latest version of the KB, released late last year, boasts the sort of features you’d expect to find in a luxury SUV. It has, for example, a touchscreen infotainment system with Wi-Fi, internet, satellite navigation and smartphone integration.
It also has rear park assist, keyless entry and leather seats. What about the ride quality? That has also improved. Local engineers covered more than 100 000km refining the suspension of the latest model for a smoother ride on all road surfaces. Hi-Rider 4×2 models received new front and rear dampers, while 4×4 models – like the one featured here – received revised rear dampers only. Rebound control was refined to have more compliant characteristics at both low and high piston damper speeds. Combine the above with the legendary toughness, practicality and go-anywhere capability of the KB, and you have a vehicle that is well suited to overland journeys, especially if you’ll be dealing with harsh conditions.
Open-road rating 7 out of 10.
The good Tough and capable.
The bad Still not as comfortable as an SUV.
Specifications – Isuzu Kb 300 D-Teq Lx 4×4 Auto
Engine 2 999cc Turbodiesel
Power 130kw @ 3 600r/Min
Torque 380nm @ 1 800r/Min
Transmission Five-Speed Automatic
4wd System Part-Time 4wd, Low Range, Diff Lock
Fuel Tank 80 Litres
Fuel Consumption 7.9 Litres Per 100km (Claimed)
Tyre Size 255/60 R18
Spare Yes (Full-Size)
Luggage Space 1 534mm X 1 483mm (Bin Size)
Price R563 500