There are many who believe that the D-Max is the most important Isuzu right now. Their pick-up truck is impressive in a lot of ways and we expect even more from the mu-X which is undoubtedly being prepared for the Philippine market.
I would argue, however, that the most important Isuzu isn't the D-Max or even the mu-X. I believe it's the Isuzu Traviz. Yes, I'm talking about the delivery vehicle.
While Isuzu does make the D-Max and the mu-X for the general market, there is a lot more riding on the Traviz because it competes directly against the longest selling and longest produced vehicle in the country: the L300. Can this Isuzu truly challenge the champ from Mitsubishi?
In the design department, yes. While there isn't much to talk about when it comes to the design of what are essentially commercial trucks that usually only come in white, it is still a big plus to look good while making deliveries. First impressions are very important.
This truck does look very modern upfront. The Traviz has that signature Isuzu “6-hole” grille that can be seen on the brand's other models from big tractor heads to even the D-Max and mu-X. The interpretation in the Traviz actually makes the bumper a part of that look. There are some other details like the unusual shape of the headlamps, but other than that it's really a decent, rounded, and modern-looking truck. The more important thing to note is the angle of the windscreen; it's actually raked quite a bit.
The Traviz has a straightforward but modern cabin that clearly prioritizes function, particularly for cleaning. You won't find leather here or a lot of fabric like you would in a passenger car. Every surface (apart from the actual seat upholstery) is easily wipe clean, and that's always a good thing.
Immediately some things become very apparent, like how roomy and surprisingly comfortable the cabin of this work truck actually is. The seat cushioning is quite soft. It doesn't feel cramped in the leg area or uncomfortable given that the driver sits over the engine.
What I like the most is how easy the controls are to manipulate. Unlike the L300, the steering wheel of the Traviz has a better purchase; the thicker rimmed urethane wheel just feels so much better in the hands. I particularly like how Isuzu put the shifter beside the seat and not on the steering column; that makes it easier to drive. The handbrake is also beside the driver and not on the dash. The pedals are good, and the clutch is fairly light for a vehicle like this. Windows aren't powered, but that's not a big deal.
There's a rather rudimentary audio system with USB in front; the audio quality is basic, but it's better than nothing. Even the optional A/C unit is very cold, and there are two cupholders on the left and right side vents to help keep drinks cool. Keep in mind that the Traviz doesn't come with A/C as standard from the factory so customers have to pay to have it fitted.
Every Traviz that is sold by Isuzu actually comes in cab and chassis form, and there are two different versions available. The first version is the Traviz S while the other is the Traviz L. The letters stand for either the short or long wheelbase; the S has a wheelbase of 2250mm while the L is at 2400mm. This model sent to us is the Traviz L.
Without a rear body, you can easily get a peek at the mechanicals of the Traviz, but with the body, you'll have to lift the seat cushion. The engine is a 4JA1. Those familiar with Isuzu engines would know that it's the same engine code found in the now discontinued Crosswind AUV. The engine's internals are simpler; it's an overhead-valve unit or OHV. And there are only 8 valves. But the lack of complexity does give it an advantage when it comes to maintenance. It is very easy (and cheap) to keep running and a lot of mechanics are already familiar with the engine.
But the engine itself poses a question: how will it pass modern emissions standards? Fans of the Crosswind know that the vehicle was discontinued because it can't meet the newer emissions standards that came into effect a few years ago, yet somehow the same engine is in the Traviz.
What Isuzu did was to give the engine an upgrade. Instead of a distributor-type injection system, the 4JA1 Traviz has a common rail direct injection system. Yes, this is a CRDI unit. The turbo is also paired with an intercooler, and the emissions are also kept in check by a DPF or a diesel particulate filter. The result is a diesel engine that makes 78 PS and 176.5 Nm of torque.
That's actually the only point of concern; those numbers could be improved, but what Isuzu also did was to match the 5-speed gearbox to it, one that is optimized for acceleration at low gears even when loaded. Top speed won't be high, but a vehicle like this isn't meant for speed anyway. What you want is low-end torque and efficiency. But more on that later.
Without the body, it's easy to spot the chassis of the Traviz. This one actually uses a more modern frame that is derived from the Isuzu D-Max; probably the previous generation one. That's why the front suspension is a double-wishbone system (ala D-Max) and the rear is a leaf spring unit. The fuel tank is on the driver side of the vehicle while the battery is on the other side; typical truck.
When a Traviz is sold, it is up to the customer to select a body they want to have aft of the cab to suit their business. The body is a separate purchase on top of the base price of the cab and chassis. Some customers pick a dropside body; that's perfect for businesses that deal in products that don't have to be kept dry like hardware stores delivering hollow blocks. Some opt for a refrigerated body if they deal in perishable or frozen goods. There are versions that have an aluminum van; this is ideal for deliveries.
What is undoubtedly the most sought after is the multipurpose body. It was popularized by the L300 as the FB or Family Business body style, but Isuzu refers to their derivative as the UV or utility van. There are many manufacturers that Isuzu contracts to build the bodies for their trucks, but for this one it's Centro.
The rear UV body for the Traviz L measures 2995mm long, 1695mm wide, and 1680mm tall. The body is actually a special spec that was pursued by Isuzu particularly with the overall height. Even with the rear UV body fitted, the height of the Traviz should classify it as Class 1 on the expressways. That means savings when it comes to toll fees.
What's important, though, is the configuration inside which has four peripheral bench seats that give this Traviz L a seating capacity of 8 on either side. That means the rear can carry 16 passengers plus 3 more occupants in the front. Isuzu had the rear glass of the cab removed so passengers in the back can talk to the driver. This version also has the optional dual A/C system, and the rear A/C blower unit was peppered with 7 rear-facing vents and 2 round ones on the side. While it can be a little noisy, it's a worthwhile compromise for our kind of summer heat.
If space is needed for cargo, then the seats can fold up to the side. In this configuration, you can fit items up to 10 feet long inside the rear body so long as the maximum height is under 53 inches and the maximum width is under 63 inches. If we crunch the numbers, the interior volume is about 232 cubic feet or about 6.57 cubic meters.
Driving the Traviz around was actually easier than I thought. Larger trucks do feel very different to drive because of the way the engine behaves, the gearing, and the way the brakes are particularly if you have to deal with pneumatic brake units. The Traviz is still an LCV, so it will feel somewhat more like a van than something like the NHR; formerly the smallest commercial truck in the Isuzu lineup.
The power steering is really good for a truck and the turning radius is tight; like it can easily negotiate U-turns without taking over so many lanes to do so. I did notice quite a bit of noise in the cabin when going over concrete; there's quite a bit of rattling from loose items all over the cabin. This truck has been used quite a bit, and so there are some loose things rattling like tools and such. I can also feel some warmth on the back of my legs coming from the engine bay, but that was to be expected of a cab-over truck; it's not uncomfortable, but it's there.
We didn't have any significant cargo to haul around, but we have no doubt the Traviz can haul. The power and torque can definitely be improved, but surprisingly the acceleration is quite decent. That's the magic of shorter ratios at the first few gears, but top speed is sacrificed. What we can't deny is the fuel economy; while we weren't able to fully test the fuel economy on a delivery run, the AAP-verified DOE-style fuel economy run by Isuzu yielded 23.4 kilometers per liter. Mind you, that's at night and on the highway only. The real number will be lower, but it gives us a benchmark to look at.
There was also a second fuel-economy test, but the difference is that the vehicle was taken up to Baguio with a 500-kilogram load on the back. The fuel economy for that run was 8.57 kilometers per liter; quite respectable and better than a lot of leading competitors.
After driving the Traviz for a bit, I can't help but be impressed at the potential of this Isuzu. This truck is by far the easiest to drive and we have no qualms about the durability of it and how easy the Traviz will be to maintain long term. The only real compromise is the performance. While Isuzu did make up for it in the gearbox, the dated technology in the 4JA1 cylinder head (OHV and 2-valves per cylinder) is limiting what the 2.5L should be capable of. The more restrictive emissions also restrict the performance, which is why even with CRDI and a turbo intercooler system, the 4JA1 in the Traviz has less power and torque than the Crosswind.
Still, we can't deny that it's efficient if driven properly. And that snorkel (yes, snorkel) does make for a unique selling point for this delivery truck. Isuzu didn't give us any water-wading numbers, but it does give the Traviz a better chance of getting through a reasonably deep flood if you judge it properly. By our estimate, a 2-feet deep flood shouldn't be a problem.
This Traviz L, as configured, comes in at PHP 1,273,500. The base cab and chassis Traviz L is PHP 992,000, while the rear body with the A/C is an extra PHP 211,500, and the dual A/C upgrade adds another PHP 70,000. It will undoubtedly be more premium than the L300 with a similar configuration, but the Traviz L is a much larger vehicle overall. It comes as no surprise that we're seeing more and more on the road, and with all kinds of company logos on the side.
Isuzu hasn't had an easy time after losing the Crosswind. Honestly, Isuzu's headquarters in Japan should have engineered a successor to the Hi-Lander/Crosswind/Panther but they elected not to. I don't think they wanted to go toe to toe with the Toyota Innova anymore, and that's understandable. But with the Traviz, they do have a very strong contender to challenge the L300.