Stuck in the boondocks
If you listen to 100.3 RJFM long enough, chances are, you've heard a song sung by Billy Joe Royal back in '65 called "Down in the Boondocks." The more astute ones will know that the term derives from the Filipino word "bundok." It obviously means mountain, but in the US, the context is uncivilized flatlands or rural areas.
The term has certainly come full circle as Isuzu has named their latest special edition Global D-Max such. Whether they named it after the mountain or the flatlands is certainly our guess but either way, it's clearly targeted to rural consumers.
Kidding aside, it seems only apt that Isuzu create a special edition geared toward their largest market. It's no coincidence the special edition was initially made available in the Visayas and Mindanao for customers that demand more than simple stock offerings.
So on to the vehicle. In no subtle way, the name itself taunts you to take it precisely there. Right off the bat, the unusual touches are very apparent as my unit came in a unique forest green and grey two tone paint job. A new mesh grille distinguishes the front. A gigantic "Boondock 4x4" sticker is emblazoned on the side of the bed, reminding you it's no ordinary D-Max. Finally, larger Bridgestone Dueler tires give it a towering 235mm of ground clearance. This all adds up to provide steep approach angles on both front and rear that allow the Boondock to scale up steep slopes or lean on its side up to 48 degrees.
Of course, the inside has been given the opposite treatment. The tougher truck is much more civil inside. Much of the D-Max's interior will seem familiar like the plush fabric seats, round air con dials and dual power outlets. The Pioneer head unit plays MP3 CD's with an auxiliary USB slot hidden in the dash and sound is channeled through six speakers. Optitron illumination brightens the three massive dials while the rightmost now has a new digital read out for instant fuel economy, average fuel economy, range and trip distance digits. The center dash is now crowned by a set of Roll Pitch and Voltage meters. Don't rely on it though as just flooring the throttle will affect the pitch readout. Power everything is standard fare. Additional convenience features include the much needed rear parking sensors to compensate for the rear blind spots. Safety hasn't been forgotten either with dual airbags and ABS as standard.
Underneath the hood lies the i-TEQ 3.0 liter common-rail direct injection diesel engine of the Alterra, granting the D-Max 146 hp now and a more massive 217 lb-ft of torque. Unfortunately, the Boondock is only available as a 5-speed manual.
Despite that, it's still a breeze to drive with more than enough torque to start the car rolling on second gear or even third. The stick itself is a pleasure to hold, lovingly covered in stitched leather, feeling like a baseball and standing at just the right height.
The Boondock handles similarly to the mid and base models on city roads - suitable enough for city roads but with better body roll control than the softer sprung pick-up competitors. There's lots of torque early on that can be a challenge to reign in for a smooth ride. The larger tires soften the ride up but by only a notch. It's still harsh for those that aren't used to pickups. Yet load up the truck bed and the ride begins to smoothen out.
Off road, of course, is where it truly shines as the knobbier tires and higher clearance will take on any trail with ease. Buttons just above the stereo make the shift from 2H to 4L that much easier. You can quickly shift from 2H to 4H and back while rolling whereas 4H will require you to stop the car and leave it in neutral like conventional systems.
In all honesty, I tried my best to get better fuel economy results than an average of 8.6 km/L in the city, according to the computer, but the D-Max's power was much too tempting to refuse. And while I may be a city-slicker, concrete loving and true, there's no better confidence inspiring feeling than riding a pick-up that can take on the very worst of the provinces and the very worst of the city with much less difficulty. For all you pick-ups fans, that same feeling can be had for a very tempting PhP1,295,000 which is a price far lower than majority of its rivals.
Indeed, the D-Max may seem a bit dated compared to its rivals as it's only recently adapted common rail turbo diesel power and the body and interior haven't changed much since the Global D-Max was first released. At least the cool new toys will keep it competitive as some high tech kit is something its rivals lack. There's no question about its tough truck reputation, but the superficial changes might not be enough. It will be best enjoyed by fans of the brand, but certainly won't attract newer ones especially when it comes to the style, capacity and power of newer rivals.
As for the name, perhaps Boondock alludes to the hospitality of its people you encounter after the surmounting the unforgiving terrain. It's a valiant effort from Isuzu, but like its name, the vehicle needs to catch up with the times in the areas that truly matter.