Test Drive: Isuzu D-MAX 3.0L 4×2 LS AT

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As a city kid who did not have a single adventurous bone in his body, anything larger than a Corolla had very little appeal to me growing up. As my mind began to catch up on adult practicality, I started to appreciate the merits of having a larger vehicle. My preference still leans towards compacts though. Will this change with the D-MAX?

DESIGN: 4.0/5.0

The D-MAX is a manly man’s truck. One look at its robust and imposing profile causes one to imagine driving off to Home Depot to purchase several two-by-fours for a new woodworking project with Merle Haggard playing low in the background.

The large and lengthy size, high ground clearance, and squarish shape make it look like it was meant to take punishment, and to a fair extent, it can if it must. The chrome accents on the exterior coupled with the black paint job on my loaner make for a clean but not bland look, that is, until you drive this bad boy through rain, dust, and dirt (which makes it look even radder in my opinion).
The macho aesthetic still continues inside the truck with hardly a frill to be seen, which is not an entirely bad thing in this case. The black leather seats are lined with prominent stitchwork, and the dash is mostly constructed with matte plastic. Do not be put off by it though, everything feels rock solid. In front and at the back, there is no lack of space. It feels comfortable enough to sit in all the seats with your passengers’ knees being a couple of inches away from the front seat or the glove compartment.

The only issue I had with how the pickup was built is how it feels basic: maybe a little too basic. I understand that Isuzu really was going for a workhorse that is built to last, but it would have been great to have door handles that didn’t require that extra bit of elbow grease to open or to have cup-holders that could accommodate drinks bigger than a medium. Still, overall, a very solidly designed truck.

HARDWARE: 4.0/5.0

Isuzu prides itself on its diesel engines, and I am quite glad that I got to ride the newer 3.0 liter variant. The engine is a four-cylinder in-line DOHC diesel engine with a Turbo Intercooler.

The engine has a maximum power output of 163 ps or 120 kW at 3200 revs per minute while its maximum torque is at 380 Nm or 38.7 kg-m at 1800-2200 revs a minute. Being a rear-wheel drive model, all that torque comes from the back and it’s quite a fun experience to give the engine more juice when I got a clear path, in that push-you-back-to-your-headrest kind of deal.

Being a pickup truck, the rear suspension is a more rigid semi-elliptical leaf spring set-up while the front suspension eases that rigidity for the driver and passenger with an independent double wishbone with coil springs and stabilizer.

The cargo bed is nice and large lined with a sturdy bed liner. The projector headlamps on the other hand have LED daytime running lamps.

Inside, all the essentials are present: an entertainment system with navigation, Bluetooth and wired connectivity, air-conditioning with automatic climate control, six-way adjustable front seats, and two glove compartments among several storage options within the vehicle. The D-MAX also supports passive entry and has a push start or stop ignition system.

USER EXPERIENCE: 4.0/5.0

What’s great about the D-MAX is the lack of pretension: it’s a truck that feels like a truck. When I drive I want to have an idea of the size and weight of what I’m driving. I want to feel it when steering and when I step on the gas and the brakes; and the response and feel for both are excellent.

It also came as a welcomed surprise how well it was able to transition from city driving with varying frequencies of stopping and maneuvering depending on the traffic, to countryside drives cruising through rolling hills and winding roads.

The pickup handles turns very well, and the torque makes easy game of inclines while driving through Tanay, Antipolo, and other parts of Rizal. And once you get it going, it can get to a fair amount of speed. Being a 4×2, though, do not expect it to grip onto more slippery terrain that well as it is a heavy vehicle without a front axle to pull it out quickly.

I was a bit apprehensive in terms of the suspension set-up, but it actually was quite a good, smooth experience for the most part. One can do a whole lot worse with some sedans, to be honest.

However, while the speed and handling are all well and good, the highlight of driving the D-MAX was its fuel efficiency. Driving for the whole work week through holiday season rush hour traffic from Quezon City to Antipolo and then driving around for hours over the weekend along the Marilaque highway and the range estimates read a whopping 600-plus kilometers that I could have still driven, with the needle barely pointing to the three-quarter-mark on the fuel gauge. Insane.

VALUE:4.5/5.0

Priced at around PHP 1.2 million for the 4×2, 3.0-liter engine LS model, the Isuzu D-MAX is a competitively priced pickup truck considering that it is already one-upping the competition with a 3.0-liter turbo engine built for longevity. And what makes the D-MAX even more of a standout in the market in terms of value is its fuel efficiency, which brings running costs down in the long run.

What’s Hot:

– Insanely fuel efficient
– Rugged

What’s Not:

– Design is maybe a bit too basic

Bottomline:

In terms of fuel efficiency and overall quality and sturdiness of the truck, the D-MAX is a reliable pick-up that is sure to take you further without doing much damage to your wallet.

Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE February 2017 issue
Words and Photos by Robby Vaflor