Isuzu X-Max, X-country

After 2 days of the Cebuano good life and not wishing to be a tightwad as Cebuanos are alleged to be, I finally succumbed to the temptation to pay 100 Pesos for Pale Pilsen, 28,000 ft. above sea level on Cebu Pacific's A320 return flight from Mactan to NAIA 3.

"Isa nga lang"

How one solitary can of SMB, consumed carefully over 35minutes of flying time, can mean so much. For one, the recent Isuzu X-Max [Cross-Max] drive adventure on the island of Cebu brings us back to Planet Philippines. After all, car reviews are not exclusively about fastest lap, cornering g's and electronic remote back scratching of million Euro € special editions, whether from the Fatherland or the Land of the Rising Sun. Honest Isuzu takes us back to the grassroots side, how the majority live and drive.

Local and indigenous

Motoring in our 7,000 islands is about nonchalance, about the unplanned and the unexpected. To think nothing of fording flash floods. Or, impromptu, carrying family or material overload. Or ad hoc stops at a mega forecourt for retail therapy, regional specialties and clean rest rooms, but reluctantly, for a full tank. Or catch up practice for those high notes guided by the on board videoke or to let the kids catch up with their game console scores or missed DVD movies.

X-plore from Crimson

Although we are told that the Crimson Resort in Mactan is the latest high brow resort in Cebu, our hosts are genuinely into grassroots no-worries Filipino style family motoring. With staples like the evergreen Crosswind and D-MAX? Point taken. Isuzu's well planned X-Max adventure trail prodded us to explore Cebu island.

Vino e cafe

From the check in at NAIA 3, it was delight after delight. Since it was sunrise and the thought of paying 100 Pesos for the privilege of drinking Pale Pilsen at 28,000 ft was indulgent, opting for the pre-flight ground-side ILLY cafe doppio espresso and a glass of red wine is the better choice for those who need to shake off the scales of an early rise.

Better than Bangkok

Whether its paid or unpaid, FRAPort did a good job adopting NAIA 3 to our weather, which can't be said for Aeroport de Paris' design for Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi. Sure its not as grand and as big as China's Norman Foster designed airports, but its more passenger friendly than London's Heathrow and Frankfurt Am Main's FRAPORT. Cebu Pacific's young staff is infectiously cheerful at such a damned early hour. Even on a humid October morning, there were quite a number of passengers in suits. No wonder, the planes, like NAIA 3 had honest to goodness air conditioning. Once NAIA 3 is fully operational, expect to see more natural light when the boarded up sections are opened. Although expect the place to have a Mall crowd like acoustic drone on account of a lot of hard, flat and shiny floor surfaces.


Cebu Pacific's seats, like PAL's Airbus A320 are tight, but not too tight for me. The surprise is all the seats of Cebu Pacific are leather! And they allow boarding through the rear plane door. Cebu Pacific's fun in-flight "bring me" game always get a lot of participating passengers. Our flight path takes us over Bicol which nudged me to realize that Cebu is the geographical heart of our country. Departing on time, we arrive in Mactan airport 15 minutes ahead of schedule.


Mactan airport, though old, is quite well designed and well maintained. It's warm lighting and wood has the touristy feel of Malaga airport on a Costa del Sol winter. It avoids the mayhem we find in the pick up zone of the old NAIA 1. Driving along mostly asphalt roads all over Cebu, the place oozes with an independent can-do spirit.


Our domicile is indeed luxurious. Owned by Filinvest it is located in Mactan, near Vista Mar village. Its a sprawling all villa complex that does without a high rise and offers cuisine that is international top class, served with Cebuano charm. The accommodations I had has its own enclosed outdoor plunge pool, a sala, a four poster bed, a kitchenette, tub with scenic bath and 3 wall mount flat TVs.

Global palate

Our brunch had an international flavor adapted to local ingredients. The noodles were authentic Pad Thai. The chicken curry and corned beef, Cebu style, were quite good. The breads were quality. So were the pandan ginger juices. The Binakol soup, Cebu Lechon, otap biscuits and the guinataan halo halo were original Cebu recipes.

Five letter word

From here we will have 2 days to explore the south of Cebu by Crosswind "X-Max" version and the north by D-MAX X-max too. To put things in local perspective, brand new AUVs and pick ups tend to be purchased for their lifestyle function, to be cared for and enjoyed. Rarely for commercial purposes. More often than not, the 85hp or 189Nm of torque out of the Crosswind's 2.5 liter engine won't count for much as all a buyer needs to see is the 5-letter brand on the chrome grille.

From freight to touring

Ever since the Crosswind replaced the Hi-lander in 2001 and the D-Max replaced the Fuego in 2003, Isuzu has been embarking on several cross island road tours across the country. These sand and sea driving tours have hammered the nation's psyche with the image of Isuzu, hitherto synonymous with Diesel engines and ten wheeler trucks, as the touring tool with all the imaginable domestic conveniences.

The pulse of the nation

The carscape of both urban and rural Cebu is dominated by heavy trucks, minibuses, Ceres buses, big roof tricycles and the ubiquitous Suzuki Multi-Cab stretched jeep. The rest are mostly brand new cars and AUVs like the Crosswind. Isuzu knows that even a humble Crosswind can tickle the aspirations of the majority of motoring Filipinos. Thus, every update of any Isuzu model is in synch with the quick change in trends. The X-max edition comes with a very accurate and updated AVT navigation system, twin video displays in the headrests, standard luggage roof rack, reversing camera, automatic transmission, step board and shiny alloy wheels. The big Michelin LTX tires allow us to speed over cracked concrete that had bigger trucks slowing down for. The new Magma Red color was particularly good looking, while the silver edging of the spare tire cover broke the mono-color look of the Crosswind's rear. All our vehicles were fresh out of the Santa Rosa factory, shipped to Cebu via Negros Navigation and fueled all the way by Caltex Techron D.

Drive like the rest

Fully laden at close to 2 tons, I chose to drive the Crosswind in the way the Filipino majority does: with grace and fortitude. Gentle cruising, smooth prods at the wheel, gear shifting at low rpm to minimize engine noise, jerk-less movements and generous allowance for overtaking on congested single carriageway highways.


Most of Cebu's highways trace its east and west coast. It has 4 cross-island roads that wind through picturesque forested mountains where one encounters a number of cattle stake trucks. Charming towns like Carcar with its old houses contrast with visionary reclamation projects like the SRP Coastal highway and tunnel. One is never far form posh residential areas with mountain side country clubs. Peculiar to the east coast is the plethora of Greek letter graffito on walls which seems to be a preoccupation among rival fraternities marking territory.


Over at Barili one can see the mountains of the island of Negros just across the Tanon strait. Our Crosswind took us to Serena resort, a popular dive spot in Moalboal. We scoured the sand at Serena, had lunch with a good panga ng bangus and a nice Spanish chocolate brownie desert called Boracho. Down the road was Kawasan Falls in Baidan. The waterfalls drive the villager's hydroelectric power plant that provide power for street lamps and the videoke bar. We treaded back to Mactan via darkened towns where the ingenious locals install make shift gas street lamps for the benefit of nighttime traffic.

250kms in 6 hours

For our first day, the distance we covered was more than 250km but it was almost always slow going - mostly 40km/h. We'd be lucky to even touch 80km/h, although we managed 110km/h on a very wet home bound run on the SRP Coastal Highway. The rest of Cebu national highway traffic moves at the pace of the tricycle or the overloaded multi cab, just like Bali. It was quite amusing watching the multi-cabs race up the incline of the Marcelo Fernan bridge only to lose momentum near the peak of the cable stay column.


Metro Cebu had some late afternoon flash floods, but patient Cebuanos just steel it out at long traffic light cycles without any horn blaring. Cebu's well lit port area is akin to the old Embarcadero district of San Francisco. Commuting Cebuanos probably take for granted the spectacular views of sea and mountain when crossing the soaring Marcelo Fernan bridge. Our late and wet arrival at Crimson resort required a JW Black with excellent tempura. Only now did I realize that Cebu tourism was hurt by the Quirino grandstand hostage fiasco. Normally, Cebu resorts are 58% full this time of year but now its only 22%, mostly young Koreans.

North bound

The next day, we take the D-MAX to the north. As in Thailand and Malaysia, the highly accessorized D-MAX is not alien to a lifestyle role, while the Crosswind is more prevalent in Indonesia and Ecuador. This section of the east coast highway beach side view is blocked by villager's housing and the odd beer resort. At least Danao City preserved its antique town square and Church plaza with due respect to the sea shore. At Alegre resort in Sogod, we were treated to the gentle breeze coming from the Camotes Sea, with Samar in the distance.


Alegre beach resort laid out a 90s nostalgia lunch buffet. Think frothy iced tea, seared tuna with soba noodles, lobster bisque - with plenty of lobster bits - beef curry, beef with bitter-gourd and black beans, lobster thermidore casserole, chicken cacciatore with lots of olives and bell peppers. For desert, plain vanilla ice cream with blueberries poured on top of a chocolate pudding sitting on top of a plate with zig zag chocolate. The weather was nice and the sea breeze was not sticky at all.

Fruits of reforestation

After lunch, I let my co driver and passengers sleep as I drove the mountain road that goes from east to west. This takes us to the towns of Tabuelan, Tuburan, Asturias and Balamban. Over by the west coast where roads were being concreted, we hit patches of blinding rain, but in between those wet bouts, we could see lots of young thick forests on the mountain tops, in between the winding roads.

Cebu Transcentral

Heading for the east coast again, we aimed to drive through the Cebu Transcentral highway. Known among local sports car aficionados as a great driving road, the Cebu Transcentral highway has vistas and curves like Benguet's Marcos highway. In some areas, you get fog just like Baguio and temperatures of 26 degrees at 1500hrs just like Tagaytay. With a 146PS 254Nm 3-liter i-Teq engine and grade logic automatic, the D-MAX can be easily coaxed to take corners like a compact sedan. As a pick up truck, the rear seat is not as flexible as the Crosswind's though. Along the way, the AVT navigation identified the beautiful Ayala Heights, which has spectacular views of Mactan at 840m above sea level and far better weather than coastal Cebu City.

More new CBDs

Going downhill back into Cebu City proper, reminds me of the descent into Hong Kong's Central downhill from Robinson's Road, Magazine Gap Road and the Mid Levels. Cebu is now heavily trafficked as its got lots of clusters of new Ayala like CBDs - similar to to Eastwood and Mckinley Hill.

A toast to

Trundling back to Mactan airport, we are greeted by live guitar music at the Departure lobby. The kiosks in the departure zone is a good place for curio and souvenir shopping. I was extremely fortunate to get bumped up to seat 5E with no one beside. Even when flying out, the relaxed ways of Cebu are reinforced by the cheerful staff of Cebu Pacific. Part of our Cebu experience was courtesy of the executives of Isuzu Cebu and Isuzu Mandaue, confirming the open minded, progressive and relaxed ways of the Cebuano. Without the need to prove anything other than meeting the expectations of the majority of Filipino motorists, Isuzu's image have come a long way from heavy trucks and diesel power for Jeepneys to the intra-island favorite family touring car of the Visayas. All these leisure with style impressions of Cebu and Isuzu were worth celebrating with an own expense in-flight SMB.