• PLENTY IF BY PICKUP

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    isuzu dmax 01IN the automotive biz pickup trucks are the slowest to evolve—their bodyworks are still screwed onto chassis frames when cars have not been built like this since the ’50s.

    That Isuzu sold its original D-Max in the Philippines for a decade says volumes not only about pickups’ glacial pace at change, but more important, how the buyers of these things accept it. Simply, it’s about not fixing what is not broken.

    Still, 10 years is a stretch for any auto product—just don’t tell that to AUVs—and so a new D-Max was introduced in the Philippines last year. Now the fact that the new pickup, well, picks up from the good stuff that the old one offered only seems to boost the glacial-change argument.

    Except that the latest D-Max is no mere re-skin of its old self.

    Isuzu said the truck rides on a new chassis. The LS variants’ suspension has been tweaked. The body, more modernly cut and proportioned, was even tested at a wind tunnel, according to Isuzu.

    Several years back in Bangkok, at a lavish presentation for GM’s then-upcoming Chevrolet Colorado pickup, company officials said the new model was jointly conceptualized with Isuzu, but that the two had gone their separate ways in building their respective Colorado and D-Max. This was a departure from both brand’s previous models, which shared almost everything except badges and fascias. Why the present-gen Colorado and D-Max are identical, save for engines, badges and fascias, must be bewildering for GM execs.

    But what this could mean is that the present trucks, regardless of the badge they got, had received major development work. And this, really, shows in the improved refinement levels.

    Drive the new D-Max for more than just a few days—as I did the truck’s LS 4×4 MT variant (priced at P1.448 million), having lived with it for weeks—and it becomes quite noticeable how comfortable it is to use. It soaks up ruts and bumps like the previous model, but this time without the suspension bouncing the truck as if it was rolling on a trampoline. Its steering and brakes are composed when those on the old truck were vague and tended to lock up. There is less of the clatter and vibration dished out by the engine and the rest of the drivetrain that find their way into the cabin, although there seems a lot of the surrounding traffic noise getting in. Must be window seals, or the window glass is a bit thin—I’m not sure. But, generally, the new D-Max is daily-driver comfortable. Not just comfier than the previous model, but comfy, period.

    The new truck’s cabin appointments share in ensuring this. For starters, the seats accommodate passengers like never before; firm in the right places but cushy enough so that daylong rides (such as the Iloilo City-to-Caticlan trip that Isuzu mounted a couple of months after the new truck’s launch in September last year) don’t make for bum buttocks. The driver’s perch adjusts in several ways, electronically at that, so you get the position you want—welcome because the steering wheel moves for rake but not reach. The mahogany-colored leather covering all the seats are convincing enough.

    Another spot in which the new D-Max trumps the old one is the audio system. Where Isuzu—to help keep selling the model year after year after year—constantly upgraded the old D-Max’s audio unit with ever more fiddly buttons and downright confusing interfaces for the most basic of functions, the new audio is integrated into the truck’s design, meaning there’s significantly less buttons, a more straightforward means of rifling through the functions, and just basically a lot more tasteful, thanks to lighting that does not dance or is gaily colored.

    But the most noticeable upgrade of all is in space. The new D-Max simply has a bigger cabin so five can fit comfortably, with enough legroom for all, and the rear seat isn’t as upright. The materials used all throughout the cabin spell quality, too.

    Better cabin space isn’t all. The new D-Max also has a bigger cargo bed, and one that has some useful hooks on which to tie down stuff. Which, incidentally, plenty of such can be hauled if done by a pickup truck.

    Speaking of plenty useful stuff, the truck’s four-wheel drive system is another. Still electronically engaged like in the previous D-Max (the new one uses a dial instead of buttons), it’s handy when you find yourself stuck in a manicured country-house lawn where you are merely a guest and don’t like to dig up the grass and soft soil on top of which you had stupidly parked the truck. All right, the specifics will vary for other people, but a four-wheel drive system, and one that has a limited slip differential, is definitely something that’s good to have in a truck.

    Of course, power is welcome, too. And in the new D-Max this comes courtesy of an engine that was used in the old D-Max. Yes, that will be a turbocharged, intercooled 3.0-liter diesel mill that’s fed by common rail direct injection and which puts out 144hp and 294Nm of torque from a low 1,400rpm to 3,400rpm. Though showing its age in terms of refinement when stacked against newer rivals, it’s still capable.

    Now why does Isuzu choose to go with the old engine when D-Maxs in other countries—Thailand, for instance—are packing a new one? Official word has it that fuel incompatibility is to blame, although there could be other factors like cost. But, then again, it may also just boil down to why go fixing what isn’t broken.

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