SAND is probably the most underrated terrain off-road enthusiasts encounter. It looks simple to drive on. It looks unintimidating. And yet most seasoned four-wheel guys—no matter how experienced they are—will plunge into this terrain with a nagging thought at the back of their heads.
That’s because sand is actually one of the easiest surfaces to get stuck in and also the hardest to literally dig yourself out of. As you dig in, sand keeps coming back into the hole you fell in. It’s frustrating. And most likely you will be under the sun for extended periods of time as you try to get unstuck.
Recently, Isuzu Phils. Corp. let loose journalists aboard the new Isuzu D-Max LS 4×4 pickup on the sand dunes of Paoay, Ilocos Norte, for a no-holds-barred, drive-it-like-you-stole-it activity. All done in the spirit of the latest D-Max’s “Challenge the Terrain” tagline, the event emphasizes the go-anywhere, do-anything capability of the truck.
Compared to the D-Max’s competitors, the 146hp and 294Nm of torque produced by the pickup’s proven 3.0-liter 4JJ1-TC iTEQ diesel engine may not sound impressive but it’s the secret to the D-Max’s reliability. The engine’s large displacement ensures that it is not stressed even if it is constantly working hard to deliver what is expected from a 4×4 pickup, allowing for a long service lifespan. It just keeps going and going like the TV bunny we all know, requiring little maintenance. And taking the D-Max to speeds up to 170kph is not an impossible task for it.
But all is not about the engine when challenging the terrain; the correct gear ratio of the drive train is essential, too. In its class, only the D-Max is equipped with a final drive differential ratio above 4.1 turns of the propeller shaft to one turn of the tire, which means better acceleration and pulling ability. What this means is that the D-Max uses less fuel in hard conditions and delivers the same doses of performance on difficult terrain. It lets the D-Max to carry heavier loads compared with other trucks because it relies on the mechanical advantage of its gears instead that of the engine. Another advantage is there is less wear on the clutch, resulting in a longer service life.
When driving off-road, the D-Max’s ideal gear ratio also allows for better gear selection, leading to improved traction on loose and slippery surfaces. In Paoay, the group drove over the sand dunes at speeds of 80kph to 90kph in low-range fourth gear and fifth gear, and still power was abundant. So, yes, between its gutsy engine and ideal gear ratio, driving the D-Max in rough terrain requires practically no effort and becomes just plain fun.
Mostly, this is because of the connection between driver and machine. In the D-Max, there are no electronic-this and electronic-that driver aids that can actually hamper progress if a driver has no idea how all these work. For safety reasons when driving on the road, ABS is the only driving aid the D-Max needs.
Traction is the most important factor in rough terrain. While Electronic Traction Control (ETC) is beginning to be the norm in 4×4 vehicles (which, by the way, eats up brake pads more than what is usual), the D-Max sticks to its mechanical limited slip differential to keep both left and right rear tires scrabbling for traction, unlike in the case of ETC, which has a tendency to kill off momentum. Don’t get me wrong; ETC is good for average drivers. Just be ready to recover your stuck vehicle (and change its brake pads) more often.
The latest D-Max 4×4 is a true dyed-in-the-wool, no-fuss truck that is simple to maintain and will keep going for many years even with basic maintenance—especially so in the case of the LT 4×4 base variant. It’s tough, and with its new and larger body, has much improved space and comfort for passengers in the rear. The truck is also upgrade-friendly, thanks to its lack of electronic driver aids, and allows it to accommodate larger tires for better ground clearance. But install anything larger than 33 inches in diameter and you will only damage the truck’s rack-and-pinion steering and its front CV joints.
As a lifestyle truck, the D-Max’s aerodynamics is best in its class, and is roomy and comfortable enough on long drives across scenic routes. Add to this its reputed reliability and off-road driving prowess, and the D-Max can really challenge any terrain.