With the pickup wars that have transpired over the past couple of years, our idea of what a pickup should be has radically evolved from simply a work horse to dynamic daily driver. We’ve seen them carry more potent engines, radically improve their ride and handling qualities, and boast of incredibly high-tech off-road and entertainment systems. Yet has this need to gentrify pickups dissolved their core values?
One of the more recent contenders in the ongoing pickup wars is the new Isuzu D-Max. This new model was launched just a few months after Isuzu offered its highly anticipated 3.0-liter Variable Geometry System (VGS) engine. It features a new façade, bearing a bigger grille that now creeps higher up on the hood with projector headlights stretching out of it like furrowed eyes. The new signal lamps remain on top while new daytime running lamps remain on in the lower corner. Foglamps are now framed by chrome accents. On the sides, new 18-inch six-spoke wheels give its profile some more presence. Behind, the tailgate cleverly integrates a spoiler while its tail lights are now LED. The truckbed already comes with a protective liner and a lockable tailgate.
Inside, the interior sports improvements as well. The most noticeable is in the electroluminescent instrument meter cluster. Its two bold dials sport a more attractive carbon-fiber weave background pattern. In between them is the new multi-info display that shows more trip details, with fuel economy readings moved higher up in the display. Manual transmission models will even receive a gear shift indicator advising drivers when to shift up for lower fuel consumption.
Over in the center is the new entertainment system. It fits more flushly into the dash and eliminates many of the buttons. Not to worry as it still retains touch-screen function. Like before it also has navigation functions and smart phone integration. Lower on the center stack is the climate control system that organizes all air con controls into a circular interface. The aircon system is pretty powerful and can cool the cabin very quickly even on hot days. Below that are more storage spaces and a power port. While it may only seat five, they can each have two drinks each and meals to go thanks to the ten cupholders and 15 storage compartments.
Those that opt for the top of the line model, like this 4x4 LS A/T, will be treated with leather seats. Nonetheless even the fabric seats provide generous support and comfort. The second row can seat three but has a 60/40 split fold function if the voluminous rear is not enough. Raising the seats reveals even more compartments under the seat cushions for storage. They are held in place by simple hooks.
Getting in and out of the D-Max is easier thanks to keyless entry and exit. Simply have the key in your pocket and grasp the driver’s door handle and it will unlock. Getting a good driving position is easy thanks to the towering position and power assisted adjustable driver’s seat, while the wheel adjusts for angle. Once set, getting started simply requires pressing the new engine start button, even with the transponder key fob in your pocket.
This powers up the 3.0-liter 4JJ1-TC (HI) engine, helped along by the new VGS system to produce 163 PS and 380Nm of torque. Drive runs through a 5-speed automatic with a sequential manual shift function. The vehicle can also be opted with a 5-speed manual. For the 4x4’s, shifting to 4H and 4L (must be in neutral) is as simple as twisting a knob, as an indicator lights up on the dial.
Getting out of tight spots, whether on or off-road is easy thanks to the good visibility throughout the cabin and the addition of the reverse camera and proximity sensors — a standard feature on many of the variants.
The only downside is the rather loud and annoying reverse beeps. They don’t indicate proximity. They’re simply there to remind you you’re in reverse. The reverse camera is angled sharply downward, but is extremely helpful when in mall or condo carparks.
In spite of the D-Max's tough truck reputation, it coddles with its complete suite of safety features like Traction Control, Hill Start Assist, Stability Control, ABS, EBD and Brake Assist to reign the vehicle in. The traction control is rather lenient as it's still easy to spin the rear wheels with some ginger throttle application. Its high ground clearance of 235 mm also grants it the ability to conquer most floods, or in our case, a river.
Indeed, specs and features aside, the D-Max will most likely be compared against sophisticated lifestyle trucks like the Ranger, Colorado, Navara, and Hilux. Against its competition, however, it is easily the most fuel efficient. Over a week, the D-Max returned remarkably low fuel consumption, averaging 10.5 km/l in light traffic and even higher 16 km/l in the highway.
Naturally, the D-Max's more rugged build quality may put it at a disadvantage when it comes to sophistication. The ride has been improved but may feel harsh and bumpy with just one passenger. You can feel and hear the engine rev and turbo whine every time you step on the throttle.
Nonetheless, it is easy to drive with light steering and pedals, quick response, and good visibility. Torque from the engine comes in early, allowing the pickup to roll along, even when fully loaded, with little effort. The power band is remarkably flexible, providing enough acceleration to overtake a car without having to shift down. Let off the throttle and the pickup is eager to cruise, dropping revs and upholding the marque’s reputation for fuel efficiency. The torque starts to fade at higher revs and higher speeds, so it may not blaze any highways but will handle city speeds just fine.
The rugged build quality is very evident. The D-Max will gladly blaze through rough roads and maybe even a sidewalk or two without rattle or complaint. Even the most reckless drivers would struggle to break this truck.
Indeed the D-Max may not be many’s first choice for a personal pickup, yet its charm lies in its simplicity and reliability. It is very rugged, and — thanks to its comprehensive safety suite — is easy to drive and park. It’s got just the right amount of tech so as not to intimidate nor feel dated. And in market where trucks are getting increasingly complicated and require higher maintenance, the D-Max is a refreshingly fuss-free choice.