LONG WAY ROUND

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Unspoiled, yet undiscovered beaches of Caticlan perfect spot for new Isuzu D-Max to preen in.

Unspoiled, yet undiscovered beaches of Caticlan perfect spot for new Isuzu D-Max to preen in.

Isuzu pitches new D-Max’s road trip-friendly traits over a circuitous route to Boracay Island

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REALLY, a Manila to Boracay plane trip is cliché, a tad too predictable and touristy tired. It may be the fastest and most logical way of reaching one of the most picturesque shorelines on the planet, but if traveling is the goal—as opposed to merely “getting there”—a road trip beats sitting inside an airborne tube anytime.

This traveling part, as it turned out, was the point of a driving event staged last week by Isuzu Phils. Corp. (IPC) where participants did cram themselves into a flying tube, but instead of one bound for Caticlan or Kalibo (traditional jumping-off points to Boracay) was landing in Iloilo City. That called for a road trip in Panay, and the vehicle over which the gig was designed for was Isuzu’s new D-Max pickup—a model introduced in the country in September, and which immediately was instrumental to IPC having posted a 15.9-percent spike in sales in September compared to its August results. The D-Max’s tally alone spurted 113 percent in the same period.

The chosen route for the road trip cut neatly across the Visayan island of Panay, starting off at Iloilo City before heading northward, passing through off-the-beaten-path towns on the way to a local attraction called Sampaguita Gardens in Kalibo, Aklan, and finally to Caticlan. It was an honest 260-kilometer-plus drive through some of the most bucolic places in the Philippines, where picture-pretty Amorsolo-esque sights, bathed in the soft glow of an afternoon sun, were not uncommon. In the gathering dusk, the winding mountainous road that meanders by Panay’s northwest coastline, near Caticlan, was a driving delight.

Over the entire route, marked by paved tarmac broken only by rough patches undergoing repair, and twisty in a lot of places, the D-Max acquitted itself well. All right, that may sound like PR prose, but it isn’t—at least not entirely. The D-Max’s rear suspension has been tweaked, with the leaf springs now mounted on top of the axle. In front new independent double wishbones with coil springs and gas-filled shock absorbers reside. Yes, there isn’t anything fancy about this but somehow Isuzu engineers had found a setup that lets the truck ride comfortably even with an empty bed while still assuring competitive cargo hauling strength. The D-Max does not pitch as pronouncedly as the previous model, and it does not seem to “bottom out”—where the chassis hits the rear axle’s bump stops—its suspension anymore. Its taller stance, which means a bit longer suspension travel, helps in improving the ride, too.

Even the new truck’s steering seemed it was tightened up, slightly quicker turning and returning “feel” better than in the old D-Max. Brakes, now finally fitted with ABS, EBD and Brake Assist, have lost their previous tendency to lock up at the slightest provocation. This, even if the truck’s cargo bed is empty.

Of course, the new D-Max’s cabin takes the major credit in the vastly better comfort and ride quality. The truck’s longer, wider and taller measurements benefitted interior space, and so whether you sit in front or in the back, there is plenty of legroom—even taller backseat passengers can cross their legs provided the couple in front don’t sit too far back. On long drives, numerous cup holders and cubbies proved useful in storing Gatorades and Coke Zeros and Cheetos bags and all the other items “necessary” during road trips.

Also doling out their share in poshing up the new D-Max—welcome no matter the distance—are the higher-quality leather over the seats (mahogany colored; available on the top variant) and the multimedia system that isn’t festooned anymore with numerous indecipherable buttons and garish lights. The system is integrated in the dashboard, too, no longer sticking out like an afterthought, and so looks incomparably tidier than in the previous D-Max. Oh, and the driver’s seat now also adjusts for height, electronically at that.

Worth mentioning as well is the D-Max’s new five-speed automatic transmission. Thoroughly up-to-date, it compensates for the engine that had been carried over from the previous D-Max. Though not lacking in power—its 3.0-liter displacement puts out 144hp and 294Nm of torque from a low 1,400rpm to 3,400rpm—this engine is showing its age in terms of refinement when stacked against newer rivals. The D-Max’s new five-speed transmission raises the refinement level a bit by shifting really smoothly, and the extra cog means it makes better use of the available grunt, so the engine does not have to work as hard—hence less noisy or vibrate-y. The new gearbox can be shifted manually through “+” and “-” slots, too, and this was handy on the twisty parts of the route where holding a gear to control downhill speed was a good idea.

Speaking of which, the entire road trip was indeed a good idea, yet again a proof that taking the long way round is usually as pleasurable an experience as arriving at the destination is. In this regard, the D-Max delivers, which is no small feat considering the destination is Boracay.

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