When it comes to true truck toughness, the Isuzu D-Max has always been a top choice in the market. The current model has been in showrooms for 3 years, but for most of that time, they've only had the 2.5-liter version.
Now we get our hands on the new D-Max with the larger and more powerful 3.0L turbodiesel, and we'll see if this new top-of-the-line model can deliver the goods. No pun intended.
The D-Max has a no-frills approach to design, and that's perfectly fine. The look is chiseled and boxy as a proper truck should be, though that didn't stop Isuzu from putting a few nice details such as the wide wheelarches, creases on the tailgate, and the upswept fascia with the 6-hole grille and the projector headlamps. I'm not a fan of the design of the 5-spoke silver wheels, but they do look beefed up and ready to handle terrain thrown at them, not to mention the way they complement the Venetian Red paint finish on this 4x4 LS variant. Isuzu also has the accessorized variants available, which bump up the style of their truck.
Inside, not much has really changed from the 4x2 LS I drove two years ago. The materials on the dash and door panels may be plastic, but they're all solidly built and assembled with an eye for gap consistency. Yes, it's a testament to the manufacturing capabilities of Isuzu at their Laguna plant.
The leather on this variant's seats are black instead of the brown leather on the previous one I drove. Like before, the D-Max has a variety of storage compartments all around; there are upper and lower glove compartments, a decent-sized center box, another little compartment above the audio unit, rather large door pockets, cupholders on the outward edges of the dashboard, and cupholders for the rear passengers as well. Like most pick-ups, the rear seats can fold up to reveal two more smaller compartments.
Being a top-spec variant, this one gets all the features available, such as the 2DIN DVD entertainment system with navigation, Bluetooth, and more. There are audio controls on the steering wheel and all the pertinent convenience features come standard such as power windows, mirrors, and more. Unusually, however, Isuzu chose to equip the 4x4 LS with a manual airconditioning system; at this variant level, I would have expected a fully automatic climate control system.
The real highlight of this new D-Max we're driving has to be its engine. Initially, Isuzu Philippines offered the D-Max with the 2.5L 4JK1-TC, an engine that produced 136 PS and 320 Newton-meters of torque. This one now gets the 3.0L 4JJ1-TC. The engine code may be familiar to owners of the previous generation D-Max, but this one gets quite a few updates, including a variable geometry turbocharger. The result? 163 PS and 380 Newton-meters of torque; figures that are much more competitive in the class.
In urban situations, the D-Max drives surprisingly well. Yes this is a truck with leaf-spring rear suspension, but the stiffness of the rear (for load carrying) is nicely balanced with the front suspension's characteristics. The ride isn't what I would consider to be tooth-rattling at all, and the 5-speed automatic proved smooth and efficient; 9.2 km/l in the city with moderate traffic. On the highway, the powertrain did better at 14.5 km/l (85 km/h average).
The engine emits quite a bit of noise if you're standing outside of it at idle, but most of it is suppressed if you're in the cabin. One thing of note is the wind noise from the side mirrors; it's quite noticeable on the highway.
The bed is quite large too, measuring 1485mm long, 1530mm wide and 465mm tall, without accounting for the protrusion of the rear wheel wells of course. It's a long truck with a big 1.5-square meter bed at the back, so parking in urban areas might get tricky. In that light I really appreciated the presence of a reverse camera and back up sensor system, incredibly loud and high-pitched as the latter may be.
On a winding road, the D-Max certainly has plenty of go. 163 PS may not sound like much to a sportscar enthusiast, but 380 Newton meters of torque is definitely interesting. Prod the throttle and the D-Max gets going, easily able to handle uphill roads even with a heavy load in the back. Even the 2.5L version I drove before was already good, easily able to haul a bed full of furniture, appliances, and other items if you have to move house like I did. Don't expect it to handle well in corners though, as this truck feels quite heavy to toss around.
The 4x4 system on the previous generation D-Max was a collection of buttons on the dashboard, but this new model gets a knob just behind the shifter; a knob that Isuzu calls “Terrain Command”. It's not like the fancy Terrain Management System that you would find in the Ford Ranger, as this one is really just a dial to select between 2WD, 4WD high range (for light off-roading, flat trails), and 4WD low range (tricky terrain, crawling). Not that the D-Max really needs such complex technology, as there is no question about the D-Max's abilities off-road after our numerous drives with it.
The unique thing about the D-Max is the way the automatic gearbox behaves. The way the gearbox was programmed to run seems to allow it to quickly disengage a gear and drop the RPM to idle if you lift off the throttle ever so slightly in D. It's an unusual feeling, one that mimics the sensation of coasting in neutral (on an economy run), but prod the throttle again and the gear re-engages quickly. This characteristic may be key to why the D-Max can be very efficient if driven right.
Overall, the D-Max seems to be the product of prioritization. Isuzu was more keen on getting the priorities straightened out with their pick-up, focusing on delivering a simple look, a big bed, plenty of torque for hauling, fuel economy, and ticks most of the boxes for convenience features. At PhP 1,430,000, it's quite a good deal in the segment.
The Isuzu D-Max had the distinction of being an underrated pick-up truck, especially since its competitors have been angling for the more lifestyle and techie demographic more than the stereotypical pick-up users; contractors, engineers, and the like. That's all well and good, but if there's one thing we know about Isuzu, they never lose sight of what they're in the market to do: provide great, reliable diesel vehicles, regardless of where you take it or what you want to use it for.