You can never tell a Filipino to pack light for a trip. We'll pack the kitchen sink if we can and don't even get me started about what we pick up along the way. It's like saying pasalubongs are just a suggestion and not a requirement. We'd bring our whole house with us if it had wheels but since we can't, of course, the next best thing we have are our pickups.
Anyone born in the 80's will remember the default road trip vehicle back then - the high-side pickup with a roofed truck bed. Think Ford Fiera and Toyota Tamaraw (pre-FX). Their popularity has spawned two entirely new classes of vehicles - AUV and pickup-based SUV - because of their sheer versatility. While some went the direction of the AUV, a couple brands have stayed true to the ladder frame truck formula.
It would have been easier to put a shell over the truck bed, but Isuzu does one better to create the Alterra. An SUV based on the D-Max platform, the Alterra has an extended wheelbase for much more room for five and a generous cargo bay, or two more seats in the rear.
Indeed, it's been around for some time but a couple of improvements have been made to keep it up to date while much of what make it an enjoyable drive have remained.
From the outside, the Alterra comes with yet another new palette of colors, our test unit being the Omega White Pearl option. New wheels, body colored and chrome accented door handles and a revised side mirror turn signal repeater are among the improvements.
Inside is a brand new stereo head unit that will play anything from DVD's to music from your iPod, to even your cellphone call via Bluetooth connectivity. The head unit's display area doubles as a monitor for the back-up camera as well as your movies, whether from DVD or your iPod. Like before, two LCD monitors are mounted behind the front seats to give passengers the best seat in the house for a 5.1 surround sound movie experience via 13 speakers in the car, the most in an SUV this side of a Lexus.
Towards the back, the second row has been improved to ease ingress and egress of passengers in the third row - it now slides forward as well as tilt. The third row is perhaps the most plush of the pick-up based SUVs. Armrests and cupholders make those relegated to the back feel better about sacrificing some legroom. Of course, the last row can also be folded up and is secured by a sturdier lock that doesn't let the seat rock back and forth like the last.
Once everything is packed and ready, that locomotive of an engine is still there. The 3.0 liter i-TEQ common rail turbo diesel engine imbues the vehicle with the feeling that it's got so much more power than the brochure belies. Not to worry about heavy loads as this one will likely haul it all with ease. The only thing you need to worry about is reigning in the sheer torque of the car as it can be jerky and a bit rough for the passengers.
Being based on the D-max hadn't hindered this car's civility as interior appointments were definitely a notch above the pickup. The climate is cold and coddling. The ride is very soft and comfortable, gliding over the bumpiest of roads. It does make the car a bit floaty though and certainly doesn't help its handling. It's almost 5 meters long, after all, and the SUV can be a bit difficult to maneuver in tight spaces. What the Alterra lacks is some noise and vibration isolation as the diesel engine and wind noise can be terribly intrusive at high speeds.
All told, the vehicle's got a few great tricks up its sleeve but there are also a few rough factors that take away from it. For one, the car is pricey, costing as much as some competitors' 4x4s even if it's just a 4x2. The second is a matter of taste as it certainly has the right idea about pampering but the faux wood and cheap material make the price hard to justify. Third, it's a great ride but not exciting to drive. That shouldn't be an issue if you have a driver. The appearance is really more subjective, but certainly doesn't make it the most popular in this class. It's these three factors that make its age most apparent.
Nevertheless, the vehicle seems tailor-made for long trips, especially the kind that involves stir-crazy hyperactive kids. There's enough room to breathe, certainly more than enough cupholders, power outlets for everyone's gadgets and entertainment to pass the hours away.
There are just few downsides to this vehicle and they're thankfully on the subjective side. If you can overlook those, it's one of those vehicles best enjoyed as a passenger. I can't guarantee it will end the dreaded "Are we there yet?" but I'm pretty sure it will reduce its frequency.