Words and Photographs by Stephen Smith
People frequently ask me what car I’d buy if I could only have one car and if budget wasn’t an issue.
It’s a question that’s almost impossible to answer, and my reply changes depending on the time of day, the day of the month, incoming weather systems and my plans for the upcoming weekend. So I usually cast aside the impractical temptations of Porsche or Lotus, of cars like Subaru Imprezas and Mazda MX-5s, Land Rover Defenders and Toyota Land Cruiser 70s, and head where so many of our fellow countrymen head – to the place of the double cab. For me, as with so many of you, a double cab ticks almost all the boxes. (In fact, the second-most common question I’m asked is which double cab I’d buy.)
And this is why. Family trips are unpredictable, and the packing list can be fraught with tensions. What to leave, what to pack, on what to compromise. And while an SUV is more comfortable than a double cab and has loads of packing space, the bin of a bakkie is unencumbered by that third dimension. You can pack to the roofline and beyond with dirty stuff that you don’t want in the car with you, if it comes to that.
So when my wife Emily, two-year-old son Gray and I decided to join the rest of my family on a traditional trip to the Kruger, I organised a double-cab bakkie with a diesel engine and a towbar. The towbar was because I was going to borrow a friend’s camping trailer – one of those fancy things where the roof folds open to reveal a rooftop tent, but that you can still pack a heap of stuff into. And since Isuzu had just released the 2017 version of the KB range, I didn’t have to look far to find the perfect travelling companion.
Essentially the 2017 KB bakkie is the same Isuzu we’ve loved for years, but with a few relatively minor updates. While the engine, gearbox and other mechanicals remain unchanged, it boasts some styling changes to the front fascia and rear tailgate, as well as a redesigned instrument gauge cluster. There are new headlights, a few small changes to the bonnet, radiator grille and fog lamps, and the more expensive LX models also get a rearview camera and integrated LED running lights.
The model we used was the entry-level double-cab, the KB 250 D–TEQ Hi-Rider 4×2. And while it is entry level, it isn’t by any means basic. In terms of comfort features there isn’t an embarrassment of riches, but there is an elegant sufficiency. Electric windows, a decent sound system with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, nice cloth seats, air conditioning (vital for the Kruger) and a few other odds and sods. It also has Isofix anchor points for baby seats, which makes life easier and safer.
Speaking of safety, the KB 250 is equipped with ABS braking with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, as well as stability control with traction control. There’s also hill start assist, but no park distance control, which some people might miss from a large car. There are just two airbags in front (the LX models get a couple more).
I was sceptical about the towing capabilities of the 2.5ℓ engine, which produces 100kW and 320Nm and which is paired with a five-speed manual gearbox. A 3ℓ engine might be a better match, I thought. But the KB 250 D–TEQ surprised me on the long trip up from Durban to Ermelo and onward to the Kruger. It was very happy to tow at 120km/h, and while it doesn’t produce an overabundance of power or torque, there was enough to overtake on hills safely and efficiently. And while fuel consumption is claimed to be 7,6ℓ/100km, we got figures of just under 9ℓ/100km, which is excellent for a car of this size towing a trailer of that size.
Some say that they choose SUVs over double cabs to be more comfortable, but I don’t buy that. Yes, there is a difference, namely the bouncy nature of a bakkie’s suspension, but modern double cabs are aimed at the lifestyle market and make this flaw negligible. Even after eight hours on the road we were comfortable. In fact, this is one area where the 2017 KB has been improved over the outgoing generation – the rear suspension.
We spent whole days in that car, spotting leopards, honey badgers, lion and the like, and the list of faults we found with it were few. A sixth gear would be nice, as would cruise control, a rear diff-lock and leather upholstery (it’s much easier to get spilt NikNaks and Purity off them). But overall, the KB 250 D–TEQ Hi-Rider 4×2 offers practical, relatively affordable motoring for a family with an adventurous spirit.
So back to my original point. The next time I’m asked what car I’d buy, I’ll be answering with an Isuzu KB-250 D-TEQ. I know the Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux are more modern bakkies with more power and better looks, but the Isuzu suits me.
The KB 250 D-TEQ offers good value for money, especially when you take a look at what entry-level SUVs and family hatchbacks cost. Prices include a 5-year/90 000km service plan and a 5-year/120 000km warranty.