Isuzu Grafter N35.125 Review by John Kendall

A versatile 3.5-tonner available with a number of ready-bodied options to suit many needs, says John Kendall.

The vast majority of 3.5-tonne GVW light CVs sold in the UK are semi-forward control panel vans, because that is the configuration most are built with. Other configurations are available and there is a niche market for forward control models such as the Isuzu N35 and Mitsubishi Fuso. Forward control is a reference to where the drive sits. It is something of a misnomer in that the driver usually sits over the axle with feet forward of it.

The advantage of this layout is simply that the body and cab can be packaged within a shorter length than a semi forward control layout where the driver sits further back, with the cab taking up more space within the vehicle’s overall length. A more compact cab can also mean a higher payload, but usually it is the more compact dimensions that matters most to buyers.

We haven’t driven the Isuzu Grafter for a while and for this test we have combined two vehicles in one test.The Grafter has the advantage of a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission and this test enabled us to sample a manual model fitted with a factory dropside body adapted for traffic management work, including a DEL tail lift. The second Grafter was fitted with a TGS caged tipper body equipped with automatic transmission.
There’s something slightly old-fashioned about the feel of a small forward control cab, possibly because back in the 196Os, our streets were full of Ford Thames, BMC J2 and VW Transporter vans, not to mention Renault and Peugeot models that all used this layout. While the Isuzu looks crisp and modern on the outside, the interior does have the feel of Japanese light CVs from the 199Os. That’s not necessarily a criticism though. It is practical, with easily cleaned surfaces and good cross cab access, allowing the driver to get in and out from the passenger side.

On the road. you are aware of sitting over the axle because there’s more bounce than you would find in a semi forward control model. Considering that the driver is sitting over the engine, noise is also well suppressed. The 1.9-litre diesel is shared with the Isuzu D-Max pickup range. The two vehicles are produced by the same company, even though they have different importers for the UK market.

The automatic transmission is ideal for frequent stop/start work and driving on congested urban roads, allowing the driver to concentrate fully on driving. It would be our choice with the Grafter, because it makes urban traffic easier to deal with, but we are aware that it comes at a cost. The chassis-cab based Grafter also gives buyers a wide choice of bodywork. Isuzu provides a range of ready-bodied models including dropside, curtainside and a choice of tippers. Combined with a choice of short or long wheelbase chassis makes it a very versatile vehicle.
Bodywork such as the traffic management dropside and TGS caged tipper really taps into that versatility. offering customers a range of uses in one vehicle.

A deep windscreen and open bodywork help to provide excellent all-round visibility, aided by the large door mirrors, although these can generate blind spots looking forward. If you need compact dimensions and a choice of bodywork beyond a panel van, the Isuzu is definitely worth a look.

Versatility is the Isuzu’s strength, providing a platform for a wide range of bodywork. The compact dimensions help in tight spaces and the automatic transmission is a winner for urban operations.

Isuzu grafter truck used for traffic management