Time and time again, we've been saying that the Isuzu D-Max is a mixed-use workhorse, retaining that utilitarian feel in a somewhat more refined package. We say somewhat refined as, to put it bluntly, the D-Max isn't the smoothest-riding, nor most powerful hauler of the current crop, but one thing it does have is rugged charm.
The 4x4 model we tested impressed us with its competitive equipment package, as well as the new turbodiesel engine dubbed BluePower. But what if you don't need the extras and the four-wheel drive system but want that new engine? Isuzu answers that by putting in the new punchy turbodiesel in their two-wheel drive variants.
Isuzu would rarely differentiate their four-wheel drive models from their two wheel drive counterparts, usually sharing the same rims and exterior trimmings. This time around, they made some changes to sort out one from the other. Most noticeable are the rims which have a different design from the top of the line model. If anything, I do have to say that the design of wheels make it look smaller than they really appear. There's a bit less chrome too although this shade of silver doesn't really bring out the pickup's lines.
Inside, one could forgive the generous application of hard plastics as it is a workhorse after all. It may not feel premium in any way but it does mean it's relatively easy to clean. Like the four-wheel drive model, there's a dash of silver trim to liven up the cabin but as a whole, the design is pure utility. That said, it has great ergonomics with buttons, switches and dials exactly where you expect them.
Despite having a narrower body than most of its competition, interior space is still generous with ample amounts of head and legroom. The amount of storage pockets were impressive and even has a secret compartment under the rear bench to hide smaller items. Also impressive is the infotainment system, which comes straight from the top-spec variant. While there is no cruise control, it does at least come with steering wheel audio controls, which is good when you consider the purpose of the D-Max. Needless to say, Isuzu did not scrimp on equipment, even if this is a mid-spec model.
As mentioned, power comes courtesy of the new 3.0-liter BluePower turbodiesel. Figures are the same as those in the mu-X with 177 PS and 380 Nm of torque. I do wish it had the new six-speed automatic from its SUV counterpart as the transmission is still a five-speed unit. The removal of the four-wheel drive system is somewhat countered by the fact that it has stability control and traction control, a nice addition in a pickup.
With two less wheels to motivate, the two-wheel drive D-Max feels more sprightly off the line. There's also that bit more confidence when merging on the expressway but it does run out of steam in the higher parts of the power band. Granted, turbo lag is still present but keep it in the 2,000 to 2,500 rpm range and you'll be passing on two lane roads with ease. Perhaps one can attribute the lag to the lack of an extra gear. With only five gears to work with, it doesn't allow the engine to be as flexible and keep the revs low. Regardless, engine performance, as a whole, is a step up from the old Euro-II units and also slightly quieter.
It also seems like the 4x2 D-Max is noticeably more efficient than the 4x4 version, even when the latter is in two-wheel drive mode. With less weight to lug around (four-wheel drive systems are very heavy), this D-Max managed 8.7 kilometers per liter at an average pace of 15 km/h. Just to compare, the top-spec model did 8.2 kilometers per liter with the same average speed. Highway fuel consumption meanwhile stood at 15.7 kilometers per liter with an average speed of 89 km/h. As you read this, I've done well over 400 kilometers in the pickup and, according to the trip computer, it can still go another 180 kilometers before it runs out of fuel.
On the subject of the way it drives, it's exactly how one would expect a pickup to handle. Steering isn't the most precise ones around and it takes its time to change direction. However, it doesn't feel ponderous thanks to its lighter steering. Remind yourself that this is a pickup and not a sedan. With that in mind, it's actually not bad at all. Fill up the bed, and like the 4x4 model, this 4x2 model's handling characteristics do not change dramatically once there's load at the back.
As for ride, it is worth noting that this 4x2 variant felt softer at the front than the last D-Max we tested. However, that did not translate to a softer ride at the rear; it still felt pretty stiff, much like the 4x4. Fortunately, the seats are comfortable enough not to induce backache but drive over a stretch of uneven pavement and you may want to rest for a little after that. So while it may ride like a pickup from the past, it felt robust, nearly unfazed even, on bad roads. Maybe that's the charm of the D-Max.
With its new engine, prices have gone up but it's not as big of a jump as one might expect. It's Php 50,000 more than the non-BluePower model, bringing the SRP to Php 1,390,000. When you consider the amount standard kit present in the truck, along with the more powerful engine, it presents an appealing value proposition. Comparing it to its contemporaries at the same price bracket, the D-Max 4x2 is downright loaded. Some of these features include a power-adjustable driver's seat, reverse camera with sensors, multiple charging points, a navigation system and the aforementioned safety features such as traction and stability control.
We've come to know the D-Max as one of the best bang for your buck pickups in the market today. Again, not the smoothest-riding nor the most powerful but, thinking about it logically, the D-Max has a lot to show for. After spending a week with it, it's safe to say that it retains that quality and it's got a helpful dose of power to sweeten the deal.