A Lot More D-Max for Less

By Lee Pang Seng

DOWNSIZING is the current theme in engine displacement and many car makers are making the move - although some are slower than others - in their respective range of new vehicle models. The success in Formula One where powerful 1.6-litre turbo-hybrids have ruled for the past four years is probably a persuasive one for the automotive industry in general.

The big developmental strides in turbocharging and electronic engine management are also factors that lend its cause to smaller being better in the current scenario. Isuzu has recognised this even for its pick-up platform although it might cater to a different automotive application in general compared to passenger vehicles.

Encouraged by the fact that the pick-up is no longer purchased merely for commercial, industrial or business applications but also for private and personal motoring, the evolvement in the pick-up development clearly had to adapt to this new trend. This transformation was observed over the past decade as the pick-up morphed from a mere mobile workhorse with a bumpy ride to a vehicle that was almost as comfortable as a passenger vehicle.

Lest we expect too much, it’s still a pick-up by all means and the comparison of its level of creature comfort to a passenger vehicle should be approached in that light. Don’t get us wrong, the pick-up today is a lot more comfortable to ride in and drive than what would be expected of this vehicle more than 10 years ago.

Just don’t expect the same level of ride comfort or driving ambience as that of an SUV (sport utility vehicle) as the design of both vehicles is approached in a different way. Moreover, a key difference is in the suspension system with the pick-up having a leaf-spring rear (to accommodate heavy loads) while the SUV has a multi-link design similar to that in passenger vehicles. Nevertheless, the latest Isuzu D-Max 1.9 Blue Power is about as good as it gets in appreciable ride comfort and driving convenience.

Not to forget, very economical on fuel consumption as well. We were loaned the D-Max 1.9 premium model for six days and we took the opportunity to do more than our usual share of driving to gauge how far we could stretch its mileage. At the end of six days and almost 280km later, the fuel needle was at the quarter level! This included a winding road drive to Ulu Yam for lunch over the weekend.

Given this scenario, we were not surprised to hear of many happy D-Max owners on the lower running cost of ownership. And we are sure that many would have given the thumbs up on the new D-Max level of ride comfort and trendy outlook and standard fittings.

Daytime running lights are standard to give it a road presence that complements its tall stature; in that respect, we found many road users acknowledging our presence on the move by not cutting in suddenly and being more yielding in heavy traffic flow, unless of course it’s another pick-up alongside.

Isuzu has given this D-Max quite a forceful front face with its angular headlamps and iconic grille to complement its more aerodynamic profile. Put together, it gives this D-Max generation a contemporary cut without losing its rugged edge to stamp its mark as a modern-day pick-up. And this was further improved in the latest D-Max launched in Thailand late last year that we hope wouldn’t take another four years to grace Malaysian roads.

As it were, the D-Max 1.9 was as contemporary as one would expect; door mirrors that fold when the vehicle is locked and unfold when the engine is started are one of the new things that we appreciate. Keyless entry and push button start are other likeable conveniences. The reverse camera playing its practical role with visuals on the 8-inch touchscreen on the centre dashboard adds to its plaudits, although the noon sun did make viewing a bit glaring.

Appreciable ride comfort was fully enjoyed, especially for a vehicle with a rear leaf-spring suspension. For the businessman, family motoring could be accommodated if the members don’t mind a bit of a climb, using all the available handgrips provided. Long distance travel is a lot less of a fatigue for all on board as the ride of a modern pick-up is a lot less bouncy and jolting.

The D-Max 1.9 even goes over speedbumps, rumble strips and potholes without a jarring effect; in fact, better than quite a few passenger cars. We could feel the softness of the impact, even when we go over some of the bumps at higher speeds than usual, quite unintentionally most times. The only setback was a bit more body movement or yaw that appeared as a compromise of the selected leaf-spring tuning.

We also like the D-Max 1.9’s dynamic control through winding roads as it could carry fairly high speeds through corners of varying degrees. That’s probably expected as this D-Max comes with a host of dynamic and safety features such Electronic Stability Control , Traction Control, Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Assist and all manners of brake assistance.

However, if you try to push the D-Max harder than usual through corners, its pick-up orientation reveals its dynamic limitations. The body leans more and the tyres would protest with squeals and screeches. The tyres fitted on the D-Max 1.9 that we drove were Toyo A33 Open Country 255R60/18 Highway Terrain rubbers, which generally complement the D-Max’s suspension set-up in ride comfort and grip in general.

Noise-wise, its diesel engine clatter was not as obvious though the nature of the engine remains obvious especially when your ears are tuned to a petrol engine. Nevertheless, this audible note is much improved over that of earlier diesel vehicles. And on the highway, we could mosey along at 110-120km/h with the engine turning easily over around 2000rpm without hearing anything other than the light wind noise and road rumble over the varying tarmac surfaces.

On paper, the much improved 1898cc engine details look good; compared to the 2.5-litre, the smaller displacement unit with VGS (variable geometry) turbo intercooler has more power to offer; 110kW (150PS) at 3600rpm against 100kW (136PS) at 3400rpm and 350Nm from 1800-2600rpm (320Nm from 1800-2800rpm). Paired with a six-speed automatic with sequential shift and you could enjoy some reasonably quick motoring.

It moved easily from initial acceleration with the transmission upshifting quickly, typical of a diesel power unit, and a firmer prompt on the accelerator would transform the D-Max’s easy gait at gentle cruising speed to a full gallop in a jiffy. And with the clean burning engine running on the correct diesel fuel, we didn’t see a trail of smoke behind either.

Using the sequential speed option would help in hilly areas (or perhaps off road) but the electronic control of the automatic transmission holds the lower gears longer when going up a slope or during descent. And with the short power band, it would be a lot more convenient and hassle free to let the automatic transmission do its work while you focus on other aspects of driving.

We didn’t take the D-Max 1.9 off road to gauge its prowess as this Isuzu pick-up had already proved its performance quality in a gruelling event in Sarawak late last year. Besides, we feel that most of the D-Max owners would use it mainly on tarmac for their respective urban business need. And in that respect, we believe most, if not all, would be happy with what the new D-Max has to offer as a modern pick-up with contemporary fittings and features.

The cargo tray that came with the D-Max 1.9 that was loaned to us is an optional item that serves a useful purpose if one has to transport heavy items. The cargo tray with rollers spares the bed deck abrasive damage while making it easier to load and unload bulky items. It is quite firmly locked in place and we didn’t hear any rattles while driving over bumpy patches.

A smaller engine displacement means less road tax to pay and the good fuel economy provides greater road mileage in between filling. One has to get used to its bulky dimensions though and not use roads with tight turning areas as well as park in areas that allow more turning space. We used the rear-view camera often when reversing in parking lots and that was definitely a handy item.

What’s more, the new D-Max 1.9 is cheaper than the previous 2.5-litre model, adding another attractive point to the smaller is better scenario. If there’s any reason for anyone wanting to switch to a pick-up, it has to be the commanding view on the road and the towering feel of perceived invulnerability. In this respect, we know of at least one case where our friend’s spouse wouldn’t feel ‘safe’ on the road driving anything other than a pick-up!