Review: Isuzu D-Max 3.0-litre X-Terrain

The best specced pick-up amongst its rivals, the Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain is car in truck clothing

Trucks today are nothing like they were twenty years ago: uncomfortable, rough bone-shakers with poor NVH, plastic upholstery and hose-down interiors. There was something grimy about them too – even those not used in construction and agriculture – because they had really, really sooty exhausts. No one in their right mind would have had one if they didn’t need it for work. It certainly wouldn’t have been a “fun” ride.

Now pick-ups are bought as everyday transport but they are still not first in mind when considering a new ride. Though they have also become increasingly popular as weekend recreation-lifestyle vehicles, according to sales figures over the last three years show. This is especially for top-of-the-line pick-up models. These trucks will probably never be driven off-road but for the owner, they can – when needed. They’re also handy for those weekend trips to Ikea. Many truck drivers have found themselves the new best friends of their house-moving mates.

The new-found popularity is due to the more car-like for ergonomics, features and comforts. Only the most basic variants are manual. Dirty, sluggish diesel engines are now responsive turbocharged units – some with bi-turbos – and run on sulphur-free Euro 5. Leather interiors and soft-touch plastics are now the norm in mid-spec models with electric front seats and advanced infotainment systems the basics in flagship models. The hefty savings on tax means a roomier cabin and a lot more power compared to a car in the same price range.

If that makes a truck a more attractive idea, the third generation Isuzu D-Max sets a new standard for equipment levels. Other trucks look bare in comparison. The outside is functional and typically truck-like. The new design large black front grille and integrated body-coloured bumpers look powerful and intimidating. It’s inside that marks out the top-of-the range X-Terrain as more than your average truck. It’s like a flagship family saloon with bolstered (combination) leather seats, leather interior, and sleek aluminium tabs for cabin comfort controls. The plastics – door handles and gearbox frame – have a satinised finish which gives a premium air to the cabin. It looks, smells and feels sophisticated – a word not usually associated with truck interiors.

Add to that, the X-Terrain has active and passive advanced driver aids like lane keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert, blind spot detection, collision warning, autonomous breaking and adaptive cruise control, that no other truck manufacturer currently provides. There’s nothing pared down, uncomfortable or work-horsy about the Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain.

It also comes with remote start, keyless entry, walk-away auto lock, eight speakers (two embedded in the roof lining), a nine-inch touchscreen infotainment display, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, individual aircon controls and vents in the rear, automatic headlights and auto wipers… a week with the X-Terrain wasn’t enough to discover all its features. The X-Terrain is the best specced truck in its segment. It puts more expensive premium saloons in the shade, not just for kit count but for driving dynamics and capability. Few RM150k cars offer electronic four-wheel drive, a 1.5 metre long flatbed, high ground clearance and a brawny engine that can haul over 500kgs kilos of cargo over all terrains. Even fewer offer a seven-years unlimited mileage warranty.

Warranties are not something we usually comment on in reviews but as other manufacturers usually only offer five years with a cap on mileage, seven years and unlimited mileage is exceptional and deserves a mention for the two additional years’ peace of mind.

There is no boot – the disadvantage of trucks – but the back seats can be folded up, in a 60:40 split, against the back rests to free up space if you need to transport bulky items in the cabin.

Under the Valencia Orange exterior, the D-Max has been reworked so the car-like qualities are also in the overall handling. The lighter, stiffer chassis, combined with the engine now repositioned back slightly, behind the front axle, has improved the balance and the way the truck drives, especially when changing lanes at highway speeds. There is a taut stability to the motion, instead of that disconcerting stilt-like sensation characteristic of pick-up trucks. This makes the D-Max enjoyable to drive every day while retaining the advantages of a body-on-frame construction for weekend cargo and off-road adventures.

The engine now also got a tweak. It produces more horses and torque and has a new six-speed automatic transmission which is geared towards cruising and fuel economy. The 450Nm has firepower to overtake but it’s not the most powerful its class so don’t take up drag racing.

The Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain is exceptional in many ways but three deserve special mention. First was the sliding tray on the flatbed which is fitted as standard. It’s not something I’ve seen on other trucks and may be available as an option. The flatbed tray is super handy for things beyond reach on the far end of the flatbed. Pull the tray to bring it closer. There’s no need to clamber up and pull a muscle.

Second the low noise levels and vibration in the cabin even when baring down on the accelerator to overtake. The D-Max is as quiet and as comfortable as any car. You can actually make full use of the eight speakers to enjoy music or listen to the news while driving. There aren’t any micro shakes or rattles that leave you feeling exhausted after a couple of hours at the wheel.

Third, the Advanced Driver Assist System which no one thinks about until it intervenes. Then it’s either an annoyance or a relief. This is particularly so with autonomous braking. The default setting is Normal and it had activated prematurely a couple of times like an overzealous nanny. I didn’t alter the setting as this was not my own car. If not for the autonomous braking there would have been a nasty collision when a car came from the right suddenly, cutting across three lanes at a very acute angle to exit on the left. It’s not always the cars in front you have to worry about.

All said, the X-Terrain is not perfect and we have three suggestions for the facelift. First, a front camera instead of the front sensor since there’s already a screen for the rear camera. Second, a gear select indicator around the gear console because the only indication is on the instrument cluster which is very small. Third, some sort of cowl for the infotainment monitor which is hard to read at certain times of the day.

The Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain is more than a truck. It has all the pleasant things about a car with the can-do, go-anywhere attitude of a truck. Would we consider this instead of a car? Very definitely, yes.

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain
Stars: 4.5/5
Price: RM141,938.40 on-the-road, without insurance
Engine: 4-cyl, 2999cc, turbocharged diesel
Transmission: six-speed automatic
Layout: front engine, 4WD
Power: 187bhp at 3600rpm
Torque: 450Nm at 1600rpm
0-100km/h: N/A
Top speed: N/A
Kerb weight: 2025kg
Rivals: Toyota Hilux, Mitsubishi Triton