The previous-generation D-MAX did pretty well in a sea of high-torque and fully featured rivals. Now, however, it seems that Isuzu is packing heat with its all-new 2021 Isuzu D-MAX. The difference between new and old is like night and day. With improved looks and an interior that’s good enough to impress Mazda, Isuzu’s workhorse shouldn’t be called a workhorse anymore.
We were able to spend 2 days with the pickup, driving it, and trying it out in the mountains. We were able to drive the new Isuzu D-MAX on small roads with little to no traffic, but our short stint was enough time to give us a great first impression of Isuzu’s newest batch of pickup trucks.
Just walking up to the D-MAX was a treat. Isuzu has done well making its flagship midsize pickup truck a desirable option in the Philippine market—just look at it! We thought that the D-MAX was an okay-looking truck in the past, but now it’s worlds away in terms of exterior attractiveness. The headlights look meaner than ever and the grille looks tough. It has step boards and functional roof rails for additional storage. The taillights are also new and improved. You get LED position lights that surround halogen turn and reverse lights.
However, we’re not too fond of the wheel design. It looks too futuristic. Painted matte grey with red accents, it looks forward-thinking, so much so that it stands out from the rest of the car. We’re used to seeing more traditional 6-spoked or multi-spoke designs for pickups, but the D-MAX's wheels look like they belong on an electric vehicle.
The attractive look also extends to the interior, where Isuzu had the genius idea of cladding the D-MAX in supple brown leather. We’re not saying that sarcastically because the changes between that and the outgoing model are night and day. Everything from the dashboard to the door cards and the steering wheel is all new and luxurious and in a different league compared with its predecessor. It’s no wonder that Mazda partnered with Isuzu for their new BT-50, and if it is good for one of the more premium manufacturers out there, it is great news for any car buyer lusting after the D-MAX.
You can’t miss the massive 10.1-inch screen in the middle of the dashboard. It’s set in nicely and is capable of connecting to your smartphone with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The display is nice and vibrant and the resolution is also pretty great. At a normal viewing distance, text and images look sharp and colors are vibrant. We were also told that the D-MAX's sound system has been specifically tuned to improve the fidelity of Philippine FM radio, which is a nice detail that Isuzu’s product planning team paid attention to.
While we weren’t able to test it, the D-MAX comes equipped with adaptive cruise control. We’ll revisit this feature in a full review, but for now, it seems as if Isuzu has their sights on the more endowed rivals in the midsize pickup segment. The D-MAX will be the first Isuzu to come with this feature—we’re very excited for the rest of the lineup to follow suit. As expected, you get a backup camera with parking sensors, but we wished that the D-MAX also got a 360-degree monitor to make the package even more compelling.
It all starts with the engine. It’s a very normal experience starting up the D-MAX, but it’s superbly refined for a diesel motor. We had the 3.0-liter LS-E variant to test, and it was gasoline-quiet at idle. During the drive, we had a backup car with us, which was a 1.9-liter RZ4E mu-X. While the diesel engine of the older SUV was pretty good on its own, it paled in terms of smoothness compared with the new model.
As for acceleration, it is worth noting that the new D-MAX is up on power compared with the outgoing model. The output of the 3.0-liter used to be 175 hp and 380 Nm of torque. The new engine now features 187 hp and 450 Nm of torque. We didn’t feel the extra 12 horses, but the additional 70 Nm of torque was definitely a welcome improvement. The D-MAX is now at par with the other rigs in the segment. For context, the pickup had the weakest output in the segment prior to the new model. Now, it trumps the Mitsubishi Strada with only 176 hp and 430 Nm of torque. To be totally honest, it feels like Isuzu is playing a bit of catchup with the rest of its rivals, but now the truck feels more capable, eager, and more willing to accelerate. The transmission felt standard, which means that it’s doing its job, so there’s nothing ill to report in the gearbox department.
The steering is also improved over the previous generation. Lock-to-lock turning is much easier, and the weight of the wheel is markedly lighter compared with the old D-MAX. As for handling, it’s still the same story. It still handles bumps like a pickup, but it’s more refined than your run-of-the-mill hauler.
Flat out, this is the best D-MAX ever. The difference between this and the outgoing model is night and day. It looks stunning, and the interior is one of the best in the segment, even when put up against top picks like the Ford Ranger and the Nissan Navara.
After a short drive, we’re excited to spend more time with the D-MAX. The pickup made an excellent first impression, and it’s worth the wait. At least on the top-of-the-line variant, Isuzu was able to equip the D-MAX with tech that’s relevant for 2021, except for a 360-degree camera, but the brand managed to give it an interior that will make you feel like you’re in a more upscale vehicle.
Overall, we’re quite confused with the Isuzu D-MAX. We were expecting rugged and hard, but what we got was refined with more than enough luxury to make you feel special. It shows in the drive and it shows in the price because the P1,825,000 D-MAX is priced relatively high compared with the other models in the market, however, you can get a less-equipped and less-expensive model in the lineup. Check out our price lists for the Isuzu D-MAX to see which model best fits your budget.
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