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Isuzu D-Max : First Drive

  • Jun 16, 2014
  • 6922 Views


Welcome to the Isuzu D-Max, a vehicle that holds quite a lot of significance for the Indian automobile market. The commercial pick-up truck segment in India has seen good growth in the last decade. Indian automobile manufacturers have also introduced a range of more premium pick-up trucks to cater to customers who are interested in life style pick-up trucks that they can use for both work as well as personal use. With three versions of the D-Max on sale, it caters rather well to both commercial and private pick-up truck segments by being a premium life-style pick-up truck that can serve the needs of its customer base, atleast on paper.

I get behind the wheel of this work horse to see if it has what it takes to hold a candle in the Indian pick-up truck segment.

 



 



Exteriors

The exterior design of the Isuzu D-Max has subtle design cues, with straight lines and mild curves. The D-Max Space Cab, arched deck version we have here gets a chunky chrome grille at the centre with contemporary looking angular headlamps on either side and a centrally located air dam below it. The front bumper has nice a V-shaped demarcation housing the grille and the air dam. There are dead spots for fitting fog lamps on either side. Below them are angular curves to lend a visual break to the lower section of the bumper. The bonnet has a large power dome with an air scoop mounted in the centre to feed the turbocharger.

The side profile of the truck has accentuated wheel arches on what is otherwise a plain surface stretching from the front to the rear with a straight groove running from the lower section of the door to the rocker panel. There is a clear demarcation between the passenger cabin and the flat bed as the latter is a separate unit. The truck has chromed ORVM casings and the only thing that looks a bit odd here is the window for the space cab that is shaped with a curve to one side, something that looks modern, but stands out from all the other straight shaped design cues. This being a pick-up truck, there is plenty of space in the wheel arches for suspension travel. The side profile is rounded up by 15 inch steel rims that are shod with high profile 215/70 section tyres.

 





Around the back, the simplistic design continues. The tail lights are tall slim units on either side of the loading lip that itself has a flat contour, apart from a curved top section. There is a chrome handle at the centre section for the door panel. The truck does not have a rear bumper as such, instead there is a groove in the lower centre section of the body for the license plate.

 



 

Interiors

The interiors of the Isuzu D-Max, like the exteriors have an extremely functional and simple layout. The quality of plastics are good for its segment. They are finished in a shade of light grey while the centre console, door pad arm rests and the interior casings of the ORVMs are finished in black with a plain texture. The D-Max Space Cab arched deck comes with a single-din Kenwood stereo that has good sound quality and is hooked to four speakers and two tweeters. The HVAC controls are located at the lower section of the centre console but are easy to operate nonetheless.

The instrument cluster of the D-Max is well laid out and easy to read with large dials. The steering wheel is a large unit, but is nice to hold otherwise and the boss with the horn is easy to reach at all times.



Equipment aboard the Isuzu D-Max Space Cab arched deck includes power windows, power steering, air conditioning and heating, a stereo, front and rear cup holders, an ash tray and a power socket.



 



Seating position is good and so is back support. The driving position is spot on. There is also quite a lot of space behind the seat in the Space Cab version to store objects inside the passenger cabin that owners may want to keep locked. Overall, the cabin of the D-Max Space Cab is a nice place to be in and offers all the basic comforts expected from a vehicle.



 

Engine and Gearbox

Isuzu is known world over for its engines. And its D-Max pick-up truck comes with a rather potent oil burner. The engine in question is a 2.5 litre common-rail direct injection diesel engine, codenamed as 4JK1-TCX. The engine has done duty in a number of models world wide and is a tried and tested product. And I must say that after driving the truck, I come back fairly impressed by the motor that is definitely one of the core characteristics of this vehicle.

The engine in the Isuzu D-Max develops 136PS of power @ 3,600 rpm and 294Nm of torque between 1,800 rpm and 3,200 rpm. The motor is smooth for a unit that does duty in a pick-up truck and power delivery is linear. The engine is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox that is nice to operate and gearshifts are considerably light and accurate for a pick-up truck. The only speck on that is otherwise a commendable powertrain combination is a slightly heavy clutch, but it’s nothing you can’t live with and will get used to quite easily. It can only be an issue if you are constantly driving this truck in heavy traffic conditions.



Twist the key in the ignition and the engine comes to life with a slight bit of vibration, which quickly settles down. And when the windows are up in the D-Max Space Cab Arched Deck version, the cabin is reasonably insulated from the engine noise for a truck. As you slot the pick-up into gear and get going the engine responds well to throttle inputs overall. There is some turbo lag below 2,000 rpm and the first two gears have short ratios in the interest of better driveability under heavy load conditions. Once past the 2,000 rpm mark, the engine pulls cleanly and slotting through the gears is a joy as power keeps coming in strong to the 3,600 rpm mark post which it starts to tail off. Inside the cabin, there is a fair amount of audible diesel engine tone as expected throughout the rev band as is expected in a pick-up truck.



Give the truck a long enough stretch and keeping the throttle pinned in the Isuzu D-Max saw the speedometer needle go past the 170 km/h, for a pick-up truck it is impressive. This is where Isuzu’s legacy as an engine manufacturer shines through. The cruising ability of this truck at triple digit speeds makes this the ideal pick-up truck for modern India that has some very good expressways going around the country, not to mention the improving road conditions in our cities as well.

 



Ride and Handling

Another department where the Isuzu D-Max shines in its segment is in regard to ride and handling. The Isuzu D-Max has a ladder frame chassis with an independent front suspension with coil springs while typical load lugging characteristics see the rear suspension being a rigid unit with leaf springs.

Ride comfort is good over most bumps, although raised surfaces such as speed breakers and such that get the better of the D-Max’s suspension as the ride turns quite bumpy when the truck is unloaded. Otherwise cushioning from the suspension is good and the D-Max is a comfortable vehicle to drive around in.



The D-Max is very confident in a straight line and while the power steering unit does not offer adequate feedback, it is accurate. The light steering makes the Isuzu D-max very easy to drive despite the large dimensions of the truck. There was also a bit of play in the dead centre position in the steering unit. Nevertheless, when I hustled this 1.65 tonne truck around corners, I was quite happy with the confidence the D-Max offered. The Isuzu D-Max sticks to its line with tyres squealing for grip, never once phased by its pace and gives you plenty of leeway while carrying faster speeds around bends.

Overall, the Isuzu D-Max has very good ride and handling characteristics. Ride comfort is good with the rebound rate of the springs being a tad high with an empty flatbed, being the only grouch in the overall dynamics of the vehicle. High speed straight line stability is good and around the bends, the D-Max offers confident road manners.

 



Safety

This first generation Isuzu D-Max was put through the Euro NCAP safety crash test in the year 2008. The truck got a one star and a struck through star safety rating for adult occupants, two-star safety rating for child occupants and a one-star safety rating for pedestrian protection.

The India versions of the D-Max do not come with airbags or anti-lock braking system.

 



Verdict

The Isuzu D-Max is just what the pick-up truck segment in India needs. A truck that owners can drive for work and personal use. It offers good performance, is good looking, well built and durable, has a nice interior, the seats are comfortable and has good road manners.

Only if it came with the option of a double cab, the D-Max would have served better as a work horse that is better suited as a life-style vehicle and personal vehicle.

And now it’s time to come to the best part about the Isuzu D-Max. Priced between Rs. 5.89 lakh to Rs. 6.99 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), the Isuzu D-Max is rather well priced against its competition judging by its quality, reliability, performance and drive dynamics. Isuzu definitely seems to have a winner on its hands.
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