If five years ago you’d told me Mercedes-Benz would be selling a Nissan Navara-based double cab bakkie in the South African market, I’d probably have told you you’d sooner see the legalization of marijuana in the country. Surprise, surprise, I’m no good at prophesying the future, and we live in the midst of both phenomenon – though the former is the one I’d like to highlight for the moment. Said Mercedes-branded bakkie is an expensive affair, and when I recently tested it, I came away unimpressed. It’s not that it isn’t an alright bakkie, it just doesn’t warrant the cost. Nothing highlighted that more than a recent excursion in the Isuzu KB 250 X-Rider 4×4 double cab – a good old fashioned non-premium bakkie experience that left me wanting for nothing.
Based on the standard KB 250 Hi-Rider double-cab, the X-Rider was initially brought in as a primarily cosmetic limited edition upgrade. But demand for a touch of style in the bakkie segment – made plainly obvious by the number of faux Raptor kits on Ford Rangers seen just about everywhere – has driven the decision to keep the X-Rider trim line as a permanent fixture in the Isuzu model line-up.
What differentiates the KB 250 X-Rider from the Hi-Rider sibling is entirely visual – a red Isuzu badge up front, black bumpers, mirror housings, and grilles (rather than chrome or body-coloured items), black tubular steel running boards, blacked out B-pillars, and diamond-cut 18-inch alloy wheels clad in Grabber AT all-terrain tyres differentiate the exterior, along with the obligatory X-Rider decals. Inside, full-leather upholstery with red stitching, a leather steering wheel, and leather gear-lever boot are all standard, along with piano black door inserts and dash trim details, and ‘X-Rider’ nomenclature vinyl where appropriate – suitably differentiated from a standard model, though not garishly distasteful.
However the mechanical bits remain the same, and that’s no bad thing in the slightest. The Isuzu KB 250 has built a solid reputation as a competent workhorse that can stand the test of time in the toughest of environments, and the dollied up X-Rider should be no different. The 250 offers a 2.5-litre displacement 4-cylinder turbo-diesel powerplant – one of the few vehicles whose displacement matches the badge denomination – churning out respectable outputs of 100kW and 320Nm. In 4×4 guise, selectable high and low range transfer cases send the power to either the rear wheels or all four corners dutifully through a 5-speed manual transmission.
As is to be expected, the KB 250 X-Rider is primarily seen as a piece of agricultural equipment – this despite the added visual styling cues. As such, the clutch is fairly heavy and the diesel mill is coarse and unrefined – particularly when cold. It’s heavily reliant on boost to keep things rolling, but once warmed up, responses are decently suitable for road use, and the 320Nm available between 1900 and 2200 rpm certainly make for a welcome overtaking punch, even if that window of peak torque is a little narrow. Twin-turbo rivals like the Navara and aforementioned X-Class make do with slightly smoother power delivery and a wider window of overtaking operation, but this by no means suggests the Isuzu is underendowed in the slightest. It even offers relatively frugal consumption figures of 9l/100km, on par for segment rivals.
Of course, as bakkies are primarily workhorses, the true test is towing or carrying a full load and the KB 250 X-Rider is happy to perform either task, with a rated payload capacity of 1020kg and towing capacity of up to 2100kg (braked) more than par for the segment. In practice, the KB 250 X-Rider doesn’t break a sweat with either undertaking; it’s road manners exemplary and its power delivery never truly found lacking.
It’s those road manners that are of particular importance and should be regarded highly by those in the market for a capable-yet-comfortable double cab offering. While the X-Class and Navara make use of coil spring, multi-point rear suspension for supposed benefits in comfort on road, the Isuzu KB 250 X-Rider forgoes this in favour of traditional leaf-spring rear suspension. What’s most commendable though is that there’s little difference between the ride qualities – suggesting not a failing on the part of Nissan or Mercedes, but rather that Isuzu should be highly commended for the exceptional setup of their own bakkie.
Over the very same roads and dirt tracks I’d traversed with the X-Class just a few weeks ago, the Isuzu KB 250 X-Rider behaved impeccably, and dare I say, better than the Mercedes did in some aspects. While primary ride comfort was more or less on a par between the two, the KB 250 offered better manners over larger bumps, with better secondary support on the way down. Over corrugated dirt roads, the Isuzu seemingly coped better too, despite the all-terrain tyres potentially adding to the levels of discomfort one might experience.
On-road, where all-terrain tyres should definitely have been a downside, the road manners were impeccable still. Tyre roar was somewhat intrusive, as was wind noise, but the Isuzu resolutely abstained from tramlining or tracking camber, and never felt loose or disconnected from the road. Despite the body on frame constructions obvious weakness on road – the rubber bushings between body and frame tend to lead to disunited body control – the KB 250 still managed to feel compact and manoeuvrable, even shrinking around me as a driver for easier placement on the road surface. It’s a difficult task, that, but it makes for far higher levels of comfort being able to place such a large vehicle within a lane without fear of straying. The steering, despite being slow and lazy, was well-paired with the suspension, offering direct enough responses and linear progression, albeit requiring about double the input a regular SUV might.
It was, however, the interior accommodations of the Isuzu Kb 250 X-Rider that impressed me most – a reminder that for the most part, all bakkies are on par with one another in most ways. Compared to the Mercedes of a few weeks earlier, the KB offers numerous storage binnacles inside the cockpit – firstly. Secondly, the seating position, though still odd by ‘car’ standards was conducive to long-distance travel without too much physical fatigue creeping into the equation. The leather upholstery was also fairly plush, and considering the X250d was nearly double the price of the X-Rider yet didn’t have leather, it was the interior of the Isuzu that drove home just how overpriced Merc’s bakkie really is.
Let that not take away from the fact that the Isuzu is ergonomically on point though – it is – though it is still lacking in a few areas. Remedied if you opt for the more powerful, more expensive KB 300, the KB 250’s infotainment system is best described as basic, with a dot-matrix display controlled by a range of poorly labelled buttons and knobs. Pairing a phone via Bluetooth is a painful affair – though the system is notably one of the quickest when it comes to re-pairing upon start-up of any infotainment system I’ve ever tested – worth a mention. The KB 300 gets a touchscreen system, which I feel wouldn’t be amiss in a special model such as the KB 250 X-Rider, perhaps its only major weakness as far as the interior goes.
That aside, the rest of the interior felt solid, as did the KB 250 on the whole. It gives the overt impression that it’s ready to stand the test of time, which is arguably one of the key selling points of double cab bakkies. Crucially, it pairs this ruggedness with a sense of comfort and refinement, one which few rivals have managed to match at the same price point.
Piloting the Isuzu KB 250 X-Rider for a week emboldened a few things for me; that the humble Isuzu double-cab is still as capable and as hardy as ever, that a double-cab bakkie can actually offer comfort and refinement, and crucially, that Mercedes-Benz’s double cab offering really is taking the piss out of the buying public. While the Isuzu’s 2.5-liter diesel engine might be a little agricultural, a smidge underpowered, and lacking the broader power band I wish it had, at nearly half the price of an X-Class, the KB 250 X-Rider is the X you really want in the long run.