Whenever the owner of a micro, small, or medium enterprise (MSME) evaluates a choice of vehicle to fit the needs of the company, there are three very important things to consider: pricing, capability, and dependability.
Those three are the fundamentals, and it's very important that they are all met. No business owner wants any question marks hanging over the vehicles in the motor pool, especially if the bottom line -whether they stay in the black or dip into the red- depends on it.
For larger corporations, the same principles apply, albeit scaled up and much more critical.
That's why I've ended up driving the largest Isuzu in the Philippine model line up, the Isuzu EXZ77.
There are few auto brands in the Philippines -or anywhere else for that matter- that has quite the reputation for dependability like Isuzu. This brand is really built on the promise of getting the job done, and it's a reputation well earned through the decades and all across the model range from the D-Max all the way up to the commercial vehicles like Traviz or the Isuzu N Series.
The E Series, however, is a different field altogether. While the Traviz, N Series, and F Series are great for MSMEs, the C and E Series line of Isuzu is for the big boys. We're talking about those involved in businesses like construction, logistics, shipping, manufacturing, and the like.
The EXZ77 is part of the E Series line up; a 10-wheeler tractor head. In terms of competition, the E Series would normally go up against similar tractor heads from other companies such as Hino and Fuso; both of which are also Japanese brands. But there's something different about the E Series from Isuzu, and that's something we'll save for later.
In Japan, this model range is called the Giga series. I'm actually surprised that Isuzu didn't retain the Giga name for this truck here because it would work well to fully distinguish it from the rest of the lineup. It is what it is, and the naming style also makes it clear which Isuzu trucks are from where; if you see an Isuzu Giga rolling on our roads, it's very likely a secondhand surplus truck from Japan. And it's been converted.
Isuzu has several versions of the E Series for customers, but they brought out two new examples for us to look at, and both are fresh off the boat. The smaller of the two models is the EXR77; a 6-wheeler tractor head that has a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) of 18,000 kilograms. In other words, it weighs about 18 times a normal compact car, more or less. With its rated Gross Combination Weight (GCW) of 45,000 kilos, that means it can tow 27,000 kg of trailer and cargo.
The other model is the one we were allowed to drive, and that one is the EXZ77. This is the bigger of the two, as evidenced by the extra axle holding more wheels and 4 more tires. As such, the weight is much higher: this one has a GVW of 24,900 kilos. But that also means this has a higher GCW at 60,000 kilograms; that means it can pull along 35,100 kilos worth of trailer, container, and goods. Yes, the E Series is one of those vehicle lines that can serve as the backbone to any country's economy.
Normally, we wouldn't say that trucks are good looking; most of the older ones we see on the are often dirty, dilapidated, or in various states of disrepair. Of course, when these trucks are new, they look good, as evidenced by the E Series.
While trucks aren't exactly hallmarks of design, Isuzu does have two good looking examples of the E Series for us to look at. Previous versions of these look plain and functional, but they did give it a new look especially with the massive chrome grille upfront. The whole thing does have a brutish and purposeful look about it, and I'm quite excited to climb up and see what the EXZ77 can do. But first, we have to take a look at the engine bay... something that involves opening the access door in front, unlatching a lever, selecting the setting, and pressing a button for almost a minute to tilt the cab over body forward.
Standing on the rear deck of the E Series, we can see what powers the EXZ77 and the EXR77: the 6UZ1-TCG50. OK, so it's hard to make out what the engine is about by the codename, but basically, it's a 6-cylinder turbodiesel from the U-Series of engines. The displacement is a whopping 9.8-liters, and it makes 380 PS with an earth-moving 1,765 Newton meters of torque. In the EXR, that means the one rear axle handles all that torque, while the EXZ has it shared between the two rear axles.
From the back, we can also spot the massive Jost fifth wheel on each model; this is basically the tow hitch for the trailer to latch on to, and for the tractor, head to fulfill its purpose as the backbone to big business and move the economy forward.
Climbing up to the cabin may seem daunting, but it isn't. The steps are perfectly placed and there are grab handles that can easily stand up to someone weighing 200 pounds climbing up. Once in the driver's seat, you really get a commanding view of the road ahead, to what's on the left and right, and even towards the back. Of course, that all changes once there's a trailer with a container fitted, but you've got massive mirrors in the sides and the front to help manage maneuvering in traffic and around 90-degree corners.
The cabin itself doesn't look all too complicated, unlike other trucks I've driven before wherein I asked for a member of the company to sit next to me and explain the features you normally wouldn't find in a road car. This one is much more straightforward; a steering wheel, shift lever, brake pedal, clutch pedal, a couple of buttons for lights, a few extra gauges (for the emissions control fluid), a handbrake, and a few other bits and pieces. The cabin of the E Series isn't intimidating to look at, but it still demands respect and focus.
Trucks aren't known for comfort, but this EXZ77 is. The driver's seat is comfortable; air-suspended, as expected. The passenger seat isn't, but it's the driver that's going to be doing most of the work on the road. And if they want to switch roles, they can, and the driver can take a nap on the cushioned cot in the back that stretches the width of the cabin.
Twist the key and that massive 9.8-liter diesel judders to life. There's really something special about powering up and driving one of these big behemoths; I know these aren't meant for fun, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the drive. It really does feel very powerful and extremely torquey to drive around; you just feel in command of the road with that high view and a massive steering wheel that makes light work of such a heavy vehicle.
I was also enjoying the gearbox. Unlike the previous tractor head I drove, this one has a proper truck gearbox: a 16-speed manual. That's probably the one that takes the most getting used to as it has high and low range versions for all 7 forward gears, as well as high and low versions for reverse. All this comes in to play when there's a trailer being pulled, as a driver really needs to know which gear to pick for which load and for what speed.
The air brakes work extremely well, as the vehicle comes to a full stop almost as soon as you step on the brake pedal; mind you, we're not pulling anything, so the stops would be immediate. The air system would also be connected to the brakes of the trailer via hoses in the back of the cabin, helping everything stop safely. One thing we do have to note is that the gearshifts can be clunky, but that would improve as time got on; this is a brand new truck that only arrived in the country a few weeks prior, and got stuck in customs for the lockdown. Once it's driven more and fully broken in, it should improve significantly.
I had initially requested to drive the EXZ somewhere we can pull a trailer along, but the problem is the quarantine really does restrict our movements somewhat. Nevertheless, we can already get a feel for how the EXZ77 performs, and how ruggedly it was built. The EXZ77 seems simpler compared to the tractor heads I drove before with a rather simple A/C system, simple audio system, and a lot of other rather basic looking features around a largely plastic cab. But this isn't a luxury vehicle, and more basic vehicles are often better for the long run; more electrical features means more potential points of failure.
Now we come to the price. Normally these vehicles aren't priced by SRP because companies don't buy such big trucks at SRP. More often than not, they purchase by fleet and not per unit, and that means significant discounts and negotiations. But what we can tell you is that since Isuzu is significantly undercutting many of their competitors from Japan with the E Series in terms of price while offering high levels of capability and dependability
And at a time when the economy in need of help to recover, having business mobility that can get the job done at a great price for the same reliability and quality is going to be the key to getting there more quickly.