Busting Namib dunes in the new facelifted Isuzu KB

Busting Namib dunes in the new facelifted Isuzu KB
 

A collective gasp escaped from the passengers of our tiny Air Namibia plane as we touched down in Walvis Bay. Not due to pilot mishap or anything, but because of the impressive sight of a Nasa-branded Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft.

It cemented the impression that the sparsely populated country, with its fascinating topography, is a place of science-fiction daydreams. The recent Mad Max movie was filmed there, after all.

And it was a fitting location for Isuzu to launch its mildly revised KB-series. Earlier this year we staged a pick-up truck battle with all the usual suspects and found that the General Motors product fell short when it came to the areas of plushness, refinement and technology.

Isuzu KB

These three tenets have become crucial in the genre — contemporary bakkies strive to emulate the virtues of loftier SUV offerings. However, we deemed it the most honest of the lot. It is unashamedly agricultural. And loyal followers seem to love that it shuns all the upscale, urban pretenses held by its competitors.

So if you were not a fan of it before, your sentiments are unlikely to change now. Despite a few minor tweaks, the KB is still perhaps the “bakkiest” bakkie available on the market today.

Before we delve into the happenings of our gruelling two-day test through some of the most desolate parts of the country, allow us to expound on the enhancements of the vehicle.

At the front you will spot a new radiator grille and fog lamps. There are new headlamps too, with top-tier versions benefiting from daytime running lights.

Extended-cab and double-cab variants get subtly redesigned tailgates, while new alloy wheels are also part of the mix. The LX version sits on chunky-looking 18-inch rollers and lesser siblings get 16-inch footwear.

Isuzu KB

Climbing into the cabin, not much has changed. The KB soldiers on with hard but robust plastics and the same fascia design as the outgoing vehicle. However, a new instrument cluster has been introduced, with a more modern font and smarter display.

Engineers also sought to offer a more accomplished ride, fettling the suspension of certain models. The Hi-Rider 4×2 versions get new front and rear dampers, while 4×4 models received new rear dampers only. As for engine and transmission choices, those remain untouched — 2.5-litre and 3.0-litre units across the board, with various outputs.

Our stint with the model was mostly spent in the KB300 4×4 Extended Cab LX (130kW and 380Nm) derivative, equipped with a five-speed manual.

Hustling through the empty, straight roads of Namibia we were reminded how torque-enriched and (relatively) smooth this motor is. Noise levels are acceptable too: not grumbly enough to assault the ears, but with just enough presence to help you remember that something rather stout sits under the hood.

Isuzu KB

“If reliability had a sound, this would be it,” quipped my driving partner. Well, reliability would definitely be your priority should you wish to successfully tackle the dunes of Namibia. Old, rusted-out husks of dead vehicles is a fairly common sight out there.

At one point we came across the remains of a steering wheel and front axle. Smugly, we were told by tour guides that it used to be a Jeep. A perfect opportunity for the friendly folks at General Motors to assert the merits of robustness boasted by their product. But we would soon glean for ourselves just how capable the KB could be.

Low-range and differential-lock settings are engaged via a dial on the centre panel in the KB, which makes off-roading just a little easier for urbanites like myself.

Most of what we tackled was performed in 4H, with 4L only necessary when things got really treacherous.

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For the most part, the KB sauntered over the soft, sandy terrain with ease. And when a sticky situation did arise, it was the result of driver error — we got stuck only once. Or three times.

As bundu-bashing aficionados will attest, momentum is essential in conquering rough terrain. The grunt from the KB300 made summiting the sandy peaks of Namibia less of a challenge.

Downhills were interesting too. With the omission of hill-descent control in our vehicle, the old method of using engine compression to ease the vehicle down stood us in good stead.

After a full day of trundling through the dunes, we arrived on the beach, greeted by the crashing waves and seals frolicking on the shore.

This standard, just-out-the-factory Isuzu got us to one of the most remote parts of Southern Africa without a hiccup. And our feeling of smugness grew as we were driving out. We saw a heavily modified off-roader from another manufacturer about to make the same journey.

I guess that could be one of the reasons the KB has such a fiercely loyal, if small, following. It is by no means the most sophisticated or polished offering in the segment. But it has a get-you-there integrity that soothes the conscience. – Brenwin Naidu