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GBX could have been the SUV of choice over Fortuner if Isuzu pushed through with it

2020-04-30 08:00

Lance Branquinho

Isuzu GBX

Isuzu GBX. Image: Isuzu Media

Isuzu has a marginal presence in the South African SUV market, but things could have been significantly different.

Locally, the Japanese brand's MU-X sells in limited numbers, especially compared to its success in remarkably similar markets such as Australia. 

This was not always the case.

Back in the late-1990s, Isuzu dominated South Africa's SUV market. Before the Fortuner, there was the Frontier, an SUV built on the Isuzu KB's.

Despite its popularity, it was inexplicably discontinued without a replacement.

Isuzu effectively gifted the burgeoning South African SUV market, which it created, to Toyota, who, in turn, executed a brilliant product strategy with Fortuner. But could things have been different?

Isuzu GBX

Isuzu GBX. Image: Isuzu Media

A concept that could have pushed the Frontier 

Back in 2001, Isuzu debuted an interesting concept vehicle. It was called GBX and served as a general-purpose design study for the company's SUV styling and engineering team. 

With the benefit of hindsight, it is now apparent that a production version of this GBX would have been boundlessly popular, especially in South Africa, where Frontier had already captured customer loyalty for Isuzu. 

Beyond the outrageous looks, which have aged remarkably well over nearly two decades, Isuzu's GBX had a treasure of clever design details. The tailgate featured a lockable gear stowage port, and its front seats did not mount to rails but swivelled. 

With those front seats not having dual mounting rails, it allowed for a lot of accessible storage space under them. That meant you could easily store side-access items under the seats when the GBX's suicide-doors were opened. 

Isuzu GBX

Isuzu GBX. Image: Isuzu Media

Smart designs

Other smart cabin design highlights included a large centre-stack infotainment screen, with Isuzu's futurists having an inkling of what was to happen in the years ahead with pixels being paramount. The GBX also had a very novel transparent speedometer and tachometer pairing, mounted atop the centre-stack.

Isuzu's product specialists realised that running boards were an issue with SUVs. Customers desired them for aesthetic appeal and convenience, especially when entering or exiting a vehicle with high a ride height and mud-splattered door panels

The problem was that running boards were also easily destroyed in testing off-road terrain. With the GBX concept, Isuzu's engineers had devised a smart solution: electrically operated drop steps, which could easily fold sway, when not required. 

Isuzu GBX

Isuzu GBX. Image: Isuzu Media

Isuzu's V6 turbodiesel 

Powering the GBX concept was a 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel engine. It was an unusual configuration for Isuzu, which was better known for its 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engines, back in 2001. 

The GBX's engine was an example of Isuzu's advanced diesel engine technology of the time. It was the world's first V6 turbodiesel engine with a closed-deck diecast aluminium cylinder block. Outputs were competitive, too, pushing out 130kW and 350Nm. 

A four-speed automatic transmission trandsferred power to a torque-on-demand all-wheel drive that was developed by Borg Warner. If Isuzu evolved the power- and drivetrain of the GBX to the Frontier, it would have been without rival in the early 2000s. 

Strikingly styled with a host of clever features, the GBX was also appropriately sized. It measured 4.47m bumper-to-bumper, 1.87m across, and stood 1.89m tall. Those measurements made it 235mm shorter than Toyota’s eventual first-generation Fortuner, but 30mm wider and 40mm taller.

Isuzu GBX

Isuzu GBX. Image: Isuzu Media

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