The Isuzu FR 1318 front-engine bus looks ‘premium’, and is refined and comfortable.

Story by: Bhushan Mhapralkar

Photos by: Mahesh Reddy


The view ahead is uninterrupted almost. The seating is high, and the large ORVMs that protrude ahead ensure that little is lost in terms of the view of what is in the vicinity. Behind the two-spoke steering wheel is an instrument cluster with a large speedo dial, a smaller rev counter and two smaller dials for fuel and temperature. There is a small digital display strip at the bottom of the speedo dial. The cluster is part of the sprawling driver console with a bank of switches and controls on the right. These include a switch to pneumatically close or open the passenger door, and to level the head lamps. Other bits include a toggle switch to adjust the ORVMs electrically. Warning lamps include a low coolant indicator. There’s an ABS switch too. On the left are two air brake pressure dials. Below them is an entertainment system head unit. The six-speed gear shifter is well within reach. It is indicative of an ergonomically well sorted driver compartment. The parking brake lever, as per the industry practice, is placed behind the driver’s seat. The seat is adjustable for height, reach and recline; is supportive and comfortable.

Impressive in appearance

Measuring 10.9 m in length and 2.6 m in width, the Isuzu FR 1318 is a front-engine bus that targets tourism as well as staff segments. It was introduced in 2015 with an ulterior motive to provide a high quality, fully built-up bus that meets the AIS052 Bus Code regulations. Drawing the attention of visitors at Auto Expo 2016, the FR 1318 measures 3.3 m in height. The wheelbase is 6260 mm. Flaunting a ‘mono’ look when viewed from the front, the FR 1318 is reflective of the high levels of fit and finish the bus industry is comming to imbibe upon. Putting up a ‘premium’ appearance, a large windshield brings the front up to speed. The head lamps are situated in what resembles a streak on either side of a simple horizontal slat grille. The fog lamps are situated in the bumper.

Walk over, and the large windows come into view. They are flush fitted, and contribute towards a ‘premium’ image the FR 1318 conveys. The side panels also reflect high standards of fit and finish. The appearance of the bus hints at a modern construction with tight panel gaps and a smooth surface finish. Lockable lids dot the lower portion. They provide access to storage compartments. There are two compartments between the axles. The one aft of the rear axle is the biggest, and can be accessed from the side as well as the rear. On either side of the rear lid are the tail lamps placed. They are a grey coloured enclosure. The tiny windshield at the top adds to the airy feel inside.


Open the driver’s door and climb up. There are steps built into the side. The passenger door is on the left. A foldable seat near the passenger door goes unnoticed almost. It adds to the seat count nevertheless. Separating the driver and passenger compartment is a partition. It plays an important role in curbing noise from entering into the passenger compartment. For passengers, the FR 1318 makes a refined and comfortable bus. This one was fitted with 39 seats of the push back (reclining) variety. The FR 1318, claim SML Isuzu sources, is capable of seating up to 41 people. Supplied to Mumbai-based Vigneshwar Travels, the 2×2 push back seats on this bus are of Harita make. The emergency door on the right (as per the bus code) necessitates more space between the third last and second last row of seats. Besides the emergency door, there are fixed windows marked as emergency exits. The glass can be broken with the help of hammers (painted in red) placed on the pillars if and when the need arises. Another safety feature is the roof hatch.

Ample glass area adds to the ‘premium’ feel the FR 1318 provides. The quality of fit and finish is good. A well designed hat rack has a console above every seat that contains air-con vents, individual reading lights, and their switches. Common lighting is in the form of bright LED light strips. At the front centre is a foldable video screen. The speakers are situated in the hat rack.

_dsc0142-copy _dsc0148-copy _dsc0282-copy

Premium ride

Built at the SML Isuzu’s facility at Ropar, Chandigarh, the FR 1318 is a blend of Japanese technology and Indian craftsmanship. According to SML Isuzu sources, the bus enables the buyer to press it into service from the very moment he acquires it. He does not have to send the cowl chassis to a body builder and get it built to his preference as has been the practice in this segment largely. Bus Code compliant, the FR 1318 is claimed to be based on the Isuzu NQR series. It offers a fine ride. This was revealed on the Ahmedabad highway (on the outskirts of Mumbai). The Harita seats are supportive and comfortable. The low noise levels in the passenger compartment also contribute to the level of comfort. The suspension soaks up the irregularities well. The front suspension of the FR 1318 is made up of parabolic leaf springs (and hydraulic shock absorbers). Rear suspension is pneumatic in nature, and is made up of four bellows. If the flush fitted windows also contribute to lower the level of noise in the passenger cabin, the Denso supplied AC does a good job of cooling the cabin. The controls for the engine-driven compressor and blower are situated to the right of the steering wheel; below the bank of switches.


The drive

Get into the driver’s seat, and the noise in the driver compartment is considerably higher than that of the passenger compartment. It is not intrusive. Devoid of vibrations, the bus comes across as refined. The power steering offers fair amount of feedback. At low speeds it may call for some more effort, on the highway, at good speeds, it feels light. The 173PS, 5-litre four-cylinder intercooled (BS III emission compliant) turbo-diesel engine is sourced from Japan along with the transmission and a few other bits including the engine wiring harness and the instrument cluster according to SML Isuzu sources. It is located longitudinally at the front with the drive going to the rear through a six-speed manual transmission. The engine is electronically governed, and makes the FR 1318 a powerful bus in its segment. Its four-cylinder engine is also claimed to be frugal. The local content, according to the sources, amounts to 70 per cent approximately. The live rear axle, for example, is sourced locally.

_dsc0203-copy _dsc0209-copy _dsc0212-copy _dsc0216-copy _dsc0225-copy _dsc0226-copy _dsc0229-copy

The hydraulically controlled single plate diaphragm clutch is light to operate. The quality of gear shift is good. The tall first cog helps for an energetic start. The second cog helps to gather momentum; is useful in slow moving traffic conditions. The third and fourth cogs are what help to gather speed. Developing a peak torque of 706.5 Nm at 1500 rpm, the FR 1318 pulls well from lower revs. The spread of torque, it is clear, is wide, and starts from lower down. Above 2000 rpm, the engine does tend to get a bit vocal. It feels best in the 1200 rpm to 1500 rpm range. It is at these revs, that the bus makes for a pleasant mix of speed and refinement. 


Market positioning

Capable of a top speed of 110 kmph, the FR 1318 impresses. Its 12.5-tonne GVW places it at the start of the 12- to 16-tonne bus segment. It is a competitive segment, both in terms of specifications and costs, and has been largely reliant on local and regional body builders. To this segment, SML Isuzu has been quick to offer a Bus Code compliant fully-built bus. It is powerful and fuel efficient. The 280-litre fuel tank should provide a good range between refills. Leveraging the capability and experience of Isuzu, Japan, the FR 1318 is equipped with pneumatically operated brakes and ABS. The brakes exert a strong bite. Priced at Rs.38 lakh approximately, the FR 1318 could be had without air-conditioning too, according to the SML Isuzu sources. It costs considerably less than this particular version, and is fitted with sliding windows instead of the fixed, flush fitted windows this bus has. Plans are in place to support the product as well as to ensure that it is marketed well. The fact that this particular bus, procured by Mumbai-based Vigneshwar Travels, will be deployed in the service of package tour operators should present an idea of how the FR 1318 is being positioned. Presenting a ‘premium’ feel, the Isuzu FR 1318 makes a lasting impression. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *