Carguide Middle East puts the refreshed 2019 Isuzu D-Max through its paces at Isuzu’s equally impressive 4WD test track in Pathum Thani, Thailand
People familiar with the world of pick-up trucks would know that in 2014, General Motors and Japan-based Isuzu struck up a collaborative deal that would see them both working to create the next generation of Holden Colorado and Isuzu D-Max pick-ups. But two years down the line, both companies called it quits and parted ways amicably. Automakers working together to develop similar vehicles to be sold under their respective badges isn’t unheard of or even uncommon anymore as the USP is that it saves development costs.
What happens at corporate levels is inconsequential if you are in Thailand, South East Asia’s hottest market for pick-ups, LCVs and with one of the best-selling brands like Isuzu.
Although, the current Gen II Isuzu D-Max pick-up has been around since 2011, its popularity hasn’t waned a bit since it has exceptionally strong fundamentals to back on which again is testified in the market place through its strong sales figures.
As of now, there are several variants of this global model ranging from utilitarian to modest life-style. Irrespective of variant, the key to the D-Max’s popularity is its immense torque, 4×4 capabilities besides fuel efficiency and cost of ownership.
Isuzu also keeps its customers and guests entertained with a dedicated 4×4 experience programme in Thailand.
Part marketing exercise and part training tool, there are two Isuzu 4×4 land sites in Thailand. We were invited to the one located at Pathum Thani, roughly 40km from Bangkok by road. The bigger facility that was located east of Pattaya has been shut down due to logistics reasons.
The new facility is open to anybody who is interested in enhancing driving skills, especially off-road.
The experience at Pathum Thani is divided into seven distinct exercises or sections in the set-up that we visited. Trainers told us that every section has been carefully designed to highlight the capabilities of the D-MAX like its ability to cross badly rutted tracks, river water wading and travel along the side of a steep embankment.
The most thrilling or scary challenge for many would be 10-metre high hill climb where you have to drive up the 45-degree slope without tapping on the throttle pedal. Other exercises included at this site were driving through a man-made waterfall, cliff incline/decline, V-curve, 40-degree ramp, side slide, water trough handling, chassis articulation over rutted path.
Of course, a trained instructor is on hand to guide participants and enhance their off-road driving skills with classroom tutorials and hands-on training.
2019 Isuzu D-Max at a glance
Despite its age, in terms of appearance, there’s a timeless appeal in its design that makes the D-Max and other models like the 4×4 Crew Cab (our test vehicle) interesting. The front fascia is actually quite striking for its job description as a utility vehicle, with its upswept pair of projector headlamps and a prominent chrome grille. Thanks to the slightly flared mudguards, it suits the stance and the height. Currently, D-Max is 5,295mm long, 1,860mm wide and 1,795mm tall, along with a longer wheelbase at 3,095mm.
The D-Max models are available as single cab, extended and double cab and in both 2WD and 4WD versions.
The latest trim that has been added to the D-Max range is the V-Cross which will be sold in Thailand and in some export markets like India.
Isuzu says it has paid more attention to aerodynamics in the current models. Engineers refined the shape in various wind tunnels, and even used the one at the Japan Railway Technical Research Institute that is used for evaluating the bullet train designs.
That explains why the pick-up has a more wedged profile where the previous one was pretty flat in front. As a result, it is claimed that the new D-MAX has the lowest drag coefficient (Cd) in its class that is 5 per cent better than that of the older model.
After experiencing the day with the Thailand-specifications D-Max 4×4 Crew, the scientifically designed course is a great way to understand the basics of dealing with various types of off-road situations.
We were offered both automatic and manual variants of the pick-up to try out the course and we passed the exercises with flying colours.
We also took the opportunity to repeat the feats of the 4×4 Crew Cab with the Thailand-spec D-Max V-Cross and also found it quite a capable vehicle, one that can tackle most off-road situations thrown at it including wading. But what impressed us most was its ability of the D-Max diesels to climb a 40-degree hill while the engine was idling comfortably at 1,100rpm or so!
Of course, as 4×4 drivers expect, there’s modern conveniences like automatic engine braking and hill descent control that means you just guide the steering and the vehicle will do the rest. Traction control and stability control functions can be decided by the driver and the 4×4 set-up includes high and low ranges in both 2WD and 4WD configurations which can be selected on the fly using the rotary controller at the base of the centre console.
Choice of diesel powertrains
Under the bonnet, the D-Max offers a choice of three diesel powertrains. Improvements have been done including Euro-V compatibility, improved common-rail direct injection system, and variable geometry turbochargers.
Depending on markets, three engine options are available. The entry-level engine is the updated RZ4E 1.9-litre unit for UAE offers 147hp and 360Nm of torque.
Other engines for the D-Max range in GCC include a turbocharged 2.5-litre offering 109hp/280Nm and 136hp/320Nm in the VGT-equipped models. Some markets are offered the top-of-the-line 3.0-litre with output of 163hp/380Nm. Engines are mated to either a 5-speed manual transmission or a newly developed 6-speed Aisin automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual shifting.
Improved suspension layout
To the uninitiated, there are no major changes for the 2019 D-Max. However, Isuzu chassis and suspension engineers have revisited the suspension setups for the SX, LS-U, and LS-T dual-cab variants which use the ‘iGrip’ architecture to further refine the pick-up’s handling and ride comfort.
As a result, there’s a 3-leaf rear spring in place of the old 5-spring set-up now resulting in better dampening and road holding. Meanwhile, the electronic stability control system for the D-Max has also been revised on all but the SX trim to include a trailer-sway control system.
Cabin Comfort enhanced
Even as a utilitarian-cum-lifestyle model, the cabin of the V-Cross isn’t just plain Jane. New design front seats look good and feel good with wrap-around bolsters for extra support. The interior is quite spacious with generous head, hip, elbow and legroom.
While some features are common across the models like storage locations that are as expected generous and most trims get a six-speaker audio system with the usual connectivity aids. The feature packaging varies wherein the higher trim like the LS-T gets two more speakers besides rear-seat roof-mounted 10-inch DVD screen, reverse camera and satellite navigation (this feature is not available in GCC).
In Thailand, the D-Max LS-T can also be ordered with 18-inch alloys, roof-rails, keyless entry and go, satellite navigation, and upholstery on the seats that uses genuine perforated leather on the seat and polyurethane faux-leather for everything else. The cabin also gets 2.1A USB points.
Inside, the D-Max gets a modern interior with a predominantly black cabin, silver trim and white/red illumination for the gauges and electronic functions.
Initial driving impressions
Driving the diesel D-Max V-Cross on normal roads is a pleasant experience. The engine and short-throw manual transmission is fun, while the automatic in Tiptronic mode successfully mimics the manual. Engine sound in the cabin is subdued and vibrations are hardly noted even when pushed hard. For a diesel, acceleration is good, thanks the vast amounts of torque available. As we drove both variants (automatic and manual), we think the automatic’s gearing could have been a little taller for better speed management.
Ride comfort is decent and most road imperfections are filtered before reaching the driver. Handling appears controlled and like most pick-ups, the ride improves with the load.
On dirt trails or off-road, the D-Max shines and the best part of the D-Max is the fuel economy. In the city driving conditions it is possible to get decent 12.4km/litre to14.6km/litre. On modest highway driving, it is possible to extract 19.2km/litre.