Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Vince Pornelos | posted December 23, 2013 14:52
Truck to the core
For the better part of a decade, the first generation D-Max has been the Isuzu brand's mainstay pick up truck in the segment. Reliable, efficient and quite handsome, the D-Max has proved itself time and time again, even when up against some younger, larger, more powerful models in the segment.
Good as it was, time did catch up to the D-Max as more and more new trucks came to the market, not to mention the fact that (as a personally owned pick-up) it was competing against crossovers and SUVs for the similar price range.
Isuzu needed a game change. The diesel authority had to prove it still has the the chops to keep up with the new kids on the (engine) block... and here it is: the next generation Isuzu D-Max in 4x4 LS trim with the manual transmission.
Let's see what this bad boy can do.
The all new D-Max has been around for a while, particularly for our neighbors over in Thailand who have had the 2nd gen pick-up since 2011. The Thais also make the D-Max including this particular model that we're testing, but production of D-Maxes for local consumption have now shifted to Isuzu Philippines Corporation's plant in Santa Rosa, Laguna.
In terms of looks, the D-Max is quite interesting. The front end is quite striking, with an upswept pair of projector headlamps and a prominent chrome grille with ISUZU emblazoned in the middle. The design is edgy and modern thanks to the fenders, the stance and the height. As it stands, the D-Max does look quite muscular, having grown to 5,295mm long, 1,860mm wide and 1,795mm tall, along with a longer wheelbase at 3,095mm.
Inside, the D-Max gets a modern interior with a predominantly black cabin, silver trim and white/red illumination for the gauges and electronic functions. The interior is actually quite spacious with ample head, hip, elbow and legroom. There's also a variety of storage options around the cabin with the big center console, an upper and lower glove box and the usual assortment of pockets and cubby holes around. Also, there are pull-out cupholders under the side A/C vents.
For features, the D-Max LS gets an extensive list of equipment. Of course power windows, mirrors and power steering are all standard, along with the power adjustable driver's seat. An AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system is standard, and it comes with an Aux-in port and a USB-port. The radio gets Bluetooth for handsfree calls, and also comes with steering wheel audio controls. The A/C is a powerful manual control unit, wh
If the interior looks familiar (or even the exterior, for that matter), it's because the D-Max shares it with another model we've driven before: the Chevrolet Colorado. The Isuzu and Chevrolet partnership has been around for a while, given that General Motors used to own a stake in Isuzu. As a result, Chevrolet (under GM) and Isuzu share the platforms, parts and components used for the D-Max, Colorado, Trailblazer and the recently revealed MU-X... otherwise known as the 2nd generation of the Alterra. One thing that I wish the D-Max didn't share with the Colorado/Trailblazer is the mini-USB port, as locating an adaptor is quite hard; to this day I still haven't been able to use an iPod or USB flash drive on any of those three models.
The new D-Max 4x4 may share quite a lot with the Chevy duo, but one key thing that is all-Isuzu is its heart: the venerable and ever reliable 4JJ1-TC engine. The 3.0 liter, twin cam, 16-valve turbo intercooler diesel is a carryover from the previous generation model, making 146 PS at 3800 rpm and 294 Newton-meters of torque from 1400 to 3000 rpm. This particular example of the D-Max is the LS, the one equipped with the 5-speed manual transmission; customers can opt for the D-Max LS with the 5-speed automatic (overdrive as 5th) as well, an improvement over the previous generation which had only 4 speeds.
Driving it around, the D-Max feels quite familiar. The engine and transmission feel a bit smoother than the previous model, though the sound levels of the diesel could have used a bit more attention. Acceleration is good, though the gearing could have been a little taller for better speed on the expressway because at 100 km/h in 5th gear, the 4JJ1-TC was doing just under 2500 rpm (if I remember correctly); a bit high to keep noise and vibrations down.
Ride comfort is decent, though speed bumps/humps should be taken smoothly. Handling on tarmac is okay too, and like most pick-ups, the ride “improves” with the load. On dirt trails, the D-Max performs well too, and the positioning of the knob to activate the 4x4 High and 4x4 Low drive modes is intuitive and easy; a definite improvement over the previous model that had the buttons on top of the 2-DIN head unit position on the dashboard.
One thing that is undoubtedly good about the engine is the fuel economy. In the city, the D-Max 4x4 M/T made a very decent 12.4 kilometers to the liter with 3 passengers with moderate traffic; driving alone (but on a different route) yielded 14.6 kilometers per liter. Both those numbers were from top ups with an eco-minded right foot. I hadn't really tried to drive it efficiently on the highway, but after a quick reading on the fuel computer, it was delivering 19.2 kilometers per liter.
Overall, the 2014 Isuzu D-Max 4x4 LS is a solid contender in the pick up segment and at PhP 1,398,000, a solid deal too. There are still some rough edges that need polishing for it to become a lifestyle pick-up, but to real truck enthusiasts (and for commercial customers, i.e. construction contractors) the D-Max is rough and tough as it should be.
(The particular D-Max we tested came with a few extra accessories such as the window visors roof rails and bedliner -ed)