|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
The launch of the 2015 model at the Clark International Speedway last April seemed odd. However, now, the D-Max has finally moved from the smooth tarmac of the racetrack to its home turf: the great outdoors. And you can’t get more outdoors than the lahar beds of the Sacobia River surrounding Mount Pinatubo.
Driving a bone-stock Cobalt Blue 4x4 LS M/T, there were apprehensions at first to its abilities; after all, it was neither the biggest nor the most powerful pickup out there. But those were all laid to rest this day. Of course, before heading to its off-road playground, it first had to make its way from the confines of Manila to Pampanga. From the meeting point in Greenhills, San Juan, the convoy of D-Max pickups made its way to the North Luzon Expressway.
Tucked under its hood is the new 2.5-liter 4JK1-TC common rail direct injection diesel engine with variable geometry turbo. Shared with the mu-X, it makes 136 horsepower at 3,400 rpm and 320 Nm of torque from 1,800 to 2,800 rpm. In plain numbers, it’s certainly down against the competition, but from behind the wheel, it doesn’t feel it; at least when it’s paired with the 5-speed manual. There’s ample punch from the drivetrain and thanks to the slick and easy operation of the shifter and clutch, it’s an easy vehicle to adjust to. The gear ratios clearly emphasize acceleration more than top speed as 100 km/h comes in at a relatively high ~2,500 rpm. Still, it achieves 13.88 km/L.
From the Clark Freeport, it’s a further 20-minute drive to the start of the trail heading up to the Puning Hot Springs. Those in the group riding 4x2 units boarded specially-modified open-top 4x4 jeeps, while the two D-Max 4x4 including this Cobalt Blue unit, proceeded deep into lahar bed country. The question is: can the Isuzu handle it as well? Certainly.
As the GPS navigation started showing blank fields as opposed to roads, it was time to engage the 4WD system via the 4WD Terrain Command Select Dial. The rotary dial located near the shifter allowed it to shift from 4x2 to 4x4 Low or even 4x4 High even at speeds up to 100 km/h. A small caveat is that you had to, at least in the M/T variant, stop completely and shift to neutral and clutch in for the 4x4 to engage.
Once the 4x4 system comes online, nothing seems to stop the D-Max. Aside from its robust 4WD system, it also comes with Limited Slip Differential or LSD allowing it to climb higher obstacles with ease and even if one side of tires is off the ground. Plus, it has a 235-mm ground clearance, one of the highest in its class. The 255/65R17 all-terrain tires also provide a good balance between grip and comfort. Plus, you could actually go through obstacles almost head on with its 30-degree approach and 22.7-degree departure angles. The suspension system, composed of Double Wishbones upfront and over-slung leaf springs at the back, provided generous suspension travel enabling it to absorb large bumps.
Given all of the D-Max 4x4 LS’s off-road prowess, it also proved mighty civilized thanks to features such as black leather seats, power adjustable driver’s seat, and even a 2-DIN infotainment system with GPS and Bluetooth connectivity. Isuzu is also highlighting the 2015 D-Max’s newfound safety since it’s been recognized in the ASEAN NCAP or New Car Assessment Program where it garnered four stars in both adult and child protection. Being made of high-tensile steel, it’s already solidly constructed. Then add to the mix, airbags which come as standard across the line. Higher-end models such as the LS come with anti-lock brakes and even ISO-FIX child seat anchors.
This off-road/on-road drive of the 2015 Isuzu D-Max highlights its capabilities. Although it doesn’t necessarily standout in terms of outright power or size, it still delivers everyday usability that can deliver maximum enjoyment even when it’s pushed once in a while outside its comfort zone.