Isuzu predicts that by the year 2023, the pickup truck segment in India would have grown from the current 200,000 units/annum to 800,000 units/annum. The Japanese manufacturer also believes that it is the best pickup truck maker out there, and that there are Indian customers willing to shell out a bit more to own a premium and upmarket product like the Isuzu D-Max.
To give us an idea on how good the D-Max range is, Isuzu gave us a couple of their pickups to test out at a test track in Chennai this week. Here are our impressions -
The D-Max range comes in three variants - Single Cab Flat Deck, Space Cab Flat Deck and Space Cab Arched Deck.
At the front, all variants look the same sporting a large horizontal grille and vertically-profiled headlights. The Arched Deck variant comes with body-colored bumpers, a chrome radiator grille and wing mirrors.
Towards the side, the Space Cabs get a small window for the additional cab length. The side profile also brings to light the differentiation between the Flat Deck and Arched Deck variants: Where the Flat Deck looks utilitarian, the Arched Deck looks more like a lifestyle pickup truck.
Towards the rear, the Flat Decks get a basic design for their taillights and opening bay. The Arched Deck on the other hand is much better finished and gets a door handle for accessing its cargo bay.
Overall, the design of the D-Max is fresh when compared to something like the Bolero Maxi Truck, Tata Xenon Pikup or the Genio.
Our spec sheet above gives you an idea of the dimensional and weight differences between the variants.
Step inside the Flat Deck D-Max and the cabin may seem spartan. The 4-spoke steering wheel, the slim gear lever with lack of a moulded center tunnel and the center console which lacks controls for the AC remind you that you’re driving a pickup truck. However, even on the base variants, build quality is fantastic and the fit-and-finish do justice to Isuzu’s claim of building aspirational vehicles for the commercial segment.
On the Arched Deck variant, there is some amount of luxury to be had. The 4-spoke steering wheel is of a different design (same as the MU-7) and looks and feels upmarket, as is the gear lever which gets a premium fabric as well. The Arched Deck also adds a covered center tunnel, AC, tachometer and power windows with central locking.
On both variants, the driver’s seat is a very nice place to sit, and the ergonomics are almost car-like. The controls are easy and light to operate, which only makes us reiterate the fact that the D-Max is the most car-like pickup you can buy.
To summarize, the base variants of the D-Max score well on build quality, while the top-end variant adds that bit of luxury a lifestyle pickup truck buyer is looking for. In both variants, the cabin is designed and built to minimize fatigue to the driver.
All variants of the D-Max come with power steering, tilt steering, 215/70 tires, 2-speakers, day-night inside rear-view mirror and a mobile charger. The top-end Arched Deck adds features like AC, power windows, central locking, tachometer, remote fuel lid opener and body-colored bumpers.
Engine and Gearbox:
The D-Max is powered by a four-cylinder 2,499 cc diesel engine producing 134 hp at 3,600 rpm and 294 Nm of torque between 1,800-3,200 rpm. A 5-speed manual gearbox is standard.
Isuzu engineers have optimized the powertrain package to reduce fatigue to the person driving the D-Max. The clutch is extremely light and can almost be compared to that of a petrol car, while the engine scores very well on drivability through all gears.
However, the engine of the D-Max does have a bit of a wild side to it. Flat out performance is extremely quick for a 1,600 kg commercial vehicle. Believe it or not, but with a bit of throttle, the D-Max wheel-spins in first and second gear! We reckon the pickup can accelerate from 0-100 km/h in about 13-15 seconds, while Isuzu claims a top-speed of 175 km/h. A short straight on the track saw the D-Max do 140 km/h effortlessly. Even at this speed, the D-Max remained stable and composed.
As far as the noise levels are concerned, the engine is slightly audible at idle, but smoothens out as the revs increase. When driven with the windows closed, the engine noise is well contained inside the cabin. Vibrations were noticeable only on the gear knob of the base Flat Deck variant. On the top-end variant which gets a better knob, there were hardly any vibrations to speak about.
Ride and Handling:
The ride quality of the D-Max, on the smooth test track, was pliant and comfortable with an empty cargo bay. On rough roads, we think the D-Max would be neutral in its ride quality, the exact nature of which only a road test will tell.
But more than the ride, its the handling that impresses you. Steering feel and feedback is almost car-like (do count the number of times we used those words) as is the body control. The turns at the track were comfortably taken at 130 km/h, and even at this speed, body roll inside the cabin was not as severe as say a XUV500 or Aria. The grip from the 215 section Bridgestone tires was equally commendable. On the sidelines, the tires, battery and glass are locally sourced (Bridgestone, Tata Green and Asahi respectively) even though the D-Max is assembled as a CKD.
Brakes and Safety:
Braking power for the pickup comes from ventilated discs at the front and drums at the rear. None of the variants get ABS, EBD or airbags for that matter. However, the brakes on the D-Max perform exceedingly well and bring the 1.6-tonne vehicle to a halt effortlessly. The brake pedal has very good feel even by passenger car standards, and the brakes themselves did not show signs of fading even after repeated high speed braking tests.
While the brakes on the D-Max work very well, Isuzu could offer airbags and ABS on the top-end Arched Deck variant given how it is supposed to appeal to lifestyle buyers and entrepreneurs who drive themselves.
The D-Max range begins at INR 5.99 lakhs and goes up to INR 7.09 lakhs, ex-Showroom, Mumbai.
The D-Max is, without a doubt, the Mercedes S-Class among pickups in India. The vehicle can certainly last a beating, but so can other pickups from Tata and Mahindra. Where the D-Max supersedes its competition are in areas like interiors, build quality, engine performance and driving dynamics.
The news gets even better when you learn about the pricing. At INR 5.99 lakhs, the base D-Max is a mere INR 6,000 costlier than a base Mahindra Genio, which outputs a measly 75 hp compared to the D-Max’s 134 hp. The D-Max comes across as a great purchase for the commercial goods transporter, as well as the lifestyle product seeker. And now, thanks to local assembly, it's even cheaper to own.