Fun fact – googling “Isuzu” brings up the following suggestions; lorry, Gemini, Tipper, Trooper and Fargo. Even those not mechanically inclined whatsoever can probably tell you that the name Isuzu is synonymous with the words heavy duty and workhorse. A great many have been ferried to school and back in Fargos, while most inconspicuous lorries you cross on the daily are in fact Isuzus.
The brand is no stranger to pickups either and the D-Max was Isuzu's departure from pure workhorse pickups into more people friendly, amenity-oriented off roaders. I use the term off roader intentionally here as this is no watered down offering from a hard-core brand, of which we see plenty in today's vehicular age. The subject of our test is only the second generation of the D-Max moniker, the first being introduced back in 2002, and carries the 2018 facelift.
On the outside, the latest Isuzu D-Max carries only minor variances from the platform sharing Chevrolet D-Max, Chevrolet Colorado and Holden Colorado, with the differences in the latter two being more pronounced. Personal taste will dictate which one you prefer and I personally think the Chevrolet Colorado is the best looker of the lot. This D Max’s bulging radiator grille and swept back headlamps give it a forward-moving appearance though perhaps a slightly more squared-off front end would have helped it age better. For now however, it looks plenty modern while the muscular wheel arches and beefy rubber on our test vehicle added to the masculinity.
The rear, like most pickups, is fairly generic as there is not much one can do in styling for a pickup rear. Frankly, the designers have done whatever they could, styling wise, with large tail lamps and all the expected creases and grooves but the rear is where the D Max falls slightly short of the competition, due partly to the fact that the design is not entirely cohesive with that of the front end. We were told a higher specced version of the D Max, complete with an automatic gearbox and larger rims will be arriving on our shores soon. Vehicles like this often sit better on thick tires however and these are the wheels I would keep.
Mech & Tech
Under that tall bonnet sits the very capable, tried and tested three liter inline 4 diesel. Tried and tested because the engine itself, codenamed 4JJ1-TCX, has been around for thirteen years (!) and has naturally received several updates and upgrades along the way. What it is now is a 175bhp, 380Nm load lugger that, like any diesel, prefers low revs. To this end, the engine features a variable geometry turbo and common rail direct injection.
Firing it up sounds unmistakably Isuzu and the engine is mated to a six speed manual! Interesting spec sheet so far then. Suspension layout errs on the side of industrial, with leaf springs at the rear to support the D Max’s one tonne payload capacity. Upfront is a perfectly respectable independent double wishbone setup. While also available in 2WD, our test vehicle featured 4WD complete with a low range transfer case.
With six gears and 380nm of bottom-up diesel torque, first gear is nigh on redundant, other than when setting off from a dead stop. One of the first things you notice when doing so however, is how long the clutch and accelerator travel is. This makes it superbly easy to potter around the city in stop-start traffic – ease off the clutch and let the torque do the work for you. In the city, the D Max is a perfectly tame vehicle and very well insulated in that the thrum and clatter from the engine is present but easily ignorable inside the cabin.
Another thing you notice is how tall this thing is, courtesy its ladder chassis – looking down at other SUVs from your truck makes one feel as manly as a lumberjack and can make up for any feelings of inadequacy. Third and fourth gears are what you will use the most in town while the steering is proper old school hydraulic and is on the heavier side of things. This isn’t a complaint however as it goes well with the character of the vehicle and at no point was it too heavy.
Acceleration is brisk for a vehicle of these proportions and, though we were unable to get our hands on official figures, we estimate 0-100km/h around the 12 second mark. While a six speed ‘box means relatively unstressed highway cruising, the handling does not inspire one to fling it around corners at speed, unless you’re brave enough to slot it into 4wd and keep the throttle planted while left foot braking around corners like Colin McRae. This is no doubt compounded by the high centre of gravity and the aforementioned suspension set up.
The double wishbones up front soak up bumps impressively, helped by the thickness of the tires. The same cannot be said for the rear unfortunately as the bed does suffer from the jarring many have come to expect from pickups. Again, not something a user cannot live with and most certainly not unique to the D Max. Pickups are designed to ride better with some load in the back, and fill it with people and luggage and things should calm a bit.
Given the brand’s tough and rugged image, we had to at least do some mild off-roading and this allowed us to get a feel for the D Max on a longer run as well. Everything about driving it was as expected while overtaking grunt was probably the most impressive if I had to highlight one attribute as it does not require a downshift and you instead ride the wave of torque that is in a very usable part of the rev band. Pushing the engine into its upper rev limits does not reward you with much and is best kept below 4,000rpm. The gearshift itself felt a tad rubbery and had a long throw, highlighting Isuzu’s industrial and tough mantra. All along the way, despite the plastic-y interior, you feel reassured and just know that the engine is going to last forever if maintained properly.
Finally reaching the muddy stuff, we slotted the D Max into 4H, engaged first and eased off the long-travel clutch. This is where the truck makes up for any handling shortcomings on the tarmac. Personally new to off-roading, the D Max could not have made it any easier and made even me, an out and out “car on tarmac” person, look like a pro. Dare I say I enjoyed it too! The towing capacity on the vehicle is also noteworthy, at a class-leading 3.5 tonnes. A proper workhorse then, in true Isuzu fashion. 4wd Low Range was also used briefly, merely for the sake of it, and it was clearly apparent that the vehicle was capable of far more mud work than what we put it through.
Living with the D-Max
While not luxurious, the interiors of Isuzu vehicles are a lot more comfortable than they used to be. The D Max’s dash and panels might not be the most pleasant to the touch but that’s about as far as the negatives go, as they exude a sense of toughness and “wipe-off-the-mud-with-a-rag” ethos. Seats, both front and rear are comfortable and supportive, complete with a rear armrest and a surprisingly generous amount of rear leg room even for a six-footer like me, an area where many other pickup trucks falter.
The 8-speaker sound system sounded a lot better for the class and included speakers in the ceiling, an idea borrowed from much higher end cars and SUVs but a welcome one. The display on the entertainment system, while a tad low-resolution, sat flush in the dash and, together with the illuminated gauge cluster, moved the whole appearance a notch up.
You can spec an optional climate control, but in going with the toughness of the vehicle, the manual system fits better, and the climate control module has a circular design that I find at odds with the rest of the design. It’s your choice. LED low and high beams too are a welcome feature.
The D Max scored four out of five stars in the Euro NCAP and comes with six airbags and a safety bonnet for pedestrians. Other safety features include ESC, daytime running lights and ABS; nothing to write home about like autonomous braking and lane keeping assistance but that again brings us back to the point of how much vehicle you are getting for your money here. Also autonomous electronic systems are prone to break down which would be a chink in the Isuzu armour of toughness and built-to-last.
Fuel Econ & Price
Sitting comfortable around the Rs.9mn mark, the D Max undercuts most, if not all of the competition. What is the competition? The Mitsubishi Triton, the Ford Ranger and the world-beating Toyota Hilux. All of them clearly very good at what they do. But with price differentials ranging from Rs.1-3mn, you cannot ignore the value for money proposition the Isuzu brings to the table.
While admittedly not popular among the more home-oriented users of Sri Lanka, Isuzu has and continues to enjoy strong sales numbers in markets like Australia, with just the D Max and MU-X accounting for 26,000 vehicles in 2017, outselling BMW and Audi that year. Perhaps we Lankans are missing out? Contrary to its purely functional image, the D Max does offer enough basic luxuries to be your daily, even with a shirt and tie as your outfit.
Where this will really prove its worth is on your weekend excursions to Yala and beyond. This will take on all but the absolute worst of terrain, straight out of the box, sans any modifications and upgrades. Hold on for the soon to arrive in Sri Lanka automatic version if you cannot be bothered with gear changes and you’ll get extras like multi-function controls added to an otherwise plain Jane steering wheel, the aforementioned climate control and a few other creature comforts. Fuel economy from the common rail diesel, meanwhile, is an estimated 10km/l combined.
The pickup segment in Sri Lanka is still seen as one for hands on work for the most part. Admittedly, that is why the segment was created in the first place. Like SUVs however, pickups are getting more luxurious and starting to find places in homes that don’t require work of them. Even here in Sri Lanka, you would have started to notice more and more of them in use by families and we think the D Max is most certainly worth a try if you are in the market for one. Who wouldn’t want a few extra millions in the bank!
175bhp @ 3,600rpm
380Nm @ 1,800rpm
Four wheel Drive
Rear Leaf Spring
Front Vent. Disc
Wheels & Tyres
Kerb Weight 1,990kg
Fuel Tank 76L