Isuzu D-MAX LS-E AT 4×4 – a surprising glow-up

The jack of all trades is a master of none. The opposite is also true, the master of one is probably not skilled in much else. For a long time, that rings true for the Isuzu D-MAX. It’s a pickup that’s ready for heavy duty applications straight out of the showroom but don’t expect it to be anything close to being plush. The reliable diesel engine is not complemented by anything comfortable which is a downside to some, and a great characteristic for others.

Isuzu’s crosshairs changed aim with the all-new D-MAX. It was updated with many creature comforts and modern safety features to make it well rounded – a far cry from the one trick pony it was known before. But is it legit or just for show? I sought to answer that when I drove the top of the line LS-E 4×4 for a review.

The exterior is mostly good. It’s more aggressive without being tacky, and I liked how it has whisker-like accents on its front fascia. The taillights were also improved by having a new LED outline. Where it fails is on the wheel design that looks like one from an electric vehicle. It’s contrary to the design of the whole body that you’ll want to replace it immediately with an aftermarket set.

Bulk of the change in theme lies in the cabin. It now has a two-tone interior thanks to brown leather hugging the seats and the dash. Speaking of, the dashboard has a modern design that employs new shapes on the air vents, new lines on the passenger side, a huge 10.1-inch touchscreen with Apple and Android, and dual-zone climate control. There are touch buttons on the head unit for volume and media, but Isuzu retained physical knobs on the air controls which I really love since it’s easier to operate without looking.

The steering wheel also gets more buttons thanks to more safety features. What I love about this is how they’re really flat and resistive to unintended press. Being firm and plush to the spoke of the steering wheel, there’s less chance of them being pressed during a maneuver.

The backseats were also modified to be more comfortable. There’s a bigger center armrest that now houses the cup holders, rear air vents and a USB port above that. The seats are contoured to help keep your body in place, and overall makes for a great riding experience in the back.

Aside from the amenities, Isuzu tried to improve the dynamics of the D-MAX. The throttle is softer now and requires a deeper press to make the engine rev up, whereas before it’s really sensitive and the torque was hard to get used to in stop and go traffic. The brake pedal was also softened to lessen fatigue in traffic but still bites early when you step on it. Steering wheel is still firm, but not as heavy as before. Suspension was improved and not bouncy anymore when going through the usual road bumps. However, it still shows signs of stiffness when going through deep ruts or if you didn’t notice those sunken manhole covers in asphalt. Overall, significant improvement in all areas and to be honest, the overall dynamics are better than that of the segment leader.

All of these are accompanied by a quiet cabin that blocks you from outside noise. Even at highway speeds, there’s nothing much to complain about unless you get tired of the engine noise. The quietness perfectly complements the plush design and feel of the cabin that if they didn’t put the Isuzu logo on the steering wheel, you won’t think this is from them. It’s how different it is from the previous iteration.

Aside from the looks and dynamics, the D-MAX received a plethora of advanced safety features. These include adaptive cruise control, autonomous braking, turn assist, lane departure warning, turn assist, and automatic high beam. All of them work as intended, it’s just that you have to get used to the autonomous braking. It can be too sensitive with the chaos of our city roads. Still, it’s better to have a feature that’s two steps faster than you than to have it unresponsive.

Of course, the D-MAX isn’t itself without a powerful engine. It runs with a new 3-liter diesel engine that now has a higher output of 187 horsepower and 450 Nm of torque, paired to a 6-speed automatic. Combined with the demure throttle, the new engine is more well-mannered in its power delivery and doesn’t bury your head abruptly into the headrest anymore. However, it’s quick to give you that raw output should you want it and makes overtakes a cinch even in uphills. In the city, the new D-MAX was able to get 10.5 km/l while on the highway, it returned 15.5 km/l. Pretty average figures but still commendable that the higher power output is not at the expense of fuel efficiency.

Appearance, features, dynamics, and safety – the Isuzu D-MAX LS-E 4×4 checked all the boxes to be a well-rounded pickup for P1,835,000. It’s amazing how the one trick pony is now a dual-edged sword, achieving balance in robustness and creature comforts. It’s a glow-up no one expected especially to its rivals. Even the brand conscious would be cornered in maintaining their loyalty since the D-MAX outclassed itself and the segment leader in every aspect. 

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