We'll give it to you straight - the all-new 2021 Isuzu D-Max is an utter script-flipper. To the long-standing, comfortably-leading monarchs of the Malaysian pick-up truck arena - you lot have plenty to be afraid of.
And what is the script that the D-Max rips and chucks into the bin? That it's the 'forgotten' one, the one that just couldn't quite share the same 'lifestyle pick-up truck' pedestal with the Toyota Hilux Rogue, Mitsubishi Triton Athlete, and Ford Ranger Wildtrak.
In this page today is the X-Terrain, the range-topper among 7 D-Max variants. Priced from RM 141,938.40, it sits on the lower-end of the aforementioned rivals' sub-RM 150k price tag.
Exterior - Familiar, but evolved
Isuzu has thrown the kitchen sink at the D-Max and it shows. In X-Terrain guise, it's a truck that looks just at home on the shiny floors of Pavilion as it does on the mud trails of Pos Lenjang, Pahang.
The front fascia now has more pronounced fangs, flanked by LED projector headlamps. It certainly makes for an imposing sight as it hurtles down the right lane.
There's a bit of functional showboating to it as well as the X-Terrain gets a set of automatic aerofoil wipers with integrated windshield washers.
Also, did you know that the D-Max was shaped in the same wind tunnel as the one that did the Shinkansen bullet train?
The Premium and X-Terrain variants share these 18-inch, futuristic-looking wheels. It draws mixed feelings here in the office - some of us think it looks cool, some of us think something more traditional could've worked better.
Looks aside, proportions have changed a bit, and the all-new D-Max is now slightly bigger than the last iteration:
|D-Max old vs new comparison|
|Dimension/Model||Outgoing D-Max||All-new D-Max|
|Length (mm)||5,295||5,265 (-30)|
|Width (mm)||1,860||1,870 (+10)|
|Height (mm)||1,795||1,810 (+15)|
|Wheelbase (mm)||3,095||3,125 (+30)|
With the change of dimensions come some practical improvements too. There's increased minimum ground clearance (240 mm, up from the last-gen's 235 mm) and better water wading depth.
At 800 mm, the D-Max equals the Ranger's water wading depth, beating both the Hilux and Triton's 700 mm.
Interior - Feels like a premium SUV
And no, that's not a bad thing - it means this is an interior you willingly want to be in.
Throughout our day with it, we like how the leather seats are supple and well-supportive, with splendid thigh and side supports.
Speaking of seats, the breathable material means your back won't sweat, and the "Anti Vibration Elastic Comfort Foam" padding may sound gimmicky but trust us - it works. More on that in a bit.
Other than that, we appreciate the generous use of soft-touch materials on the dashboard and door trim, and touchpoints feel fittingly solid.
The cabin feels good, is well put-together, and feels closer to a premium SUV than it is to a pick-up truck.
Other nice creature comforts in the X-Terrain variant are the auto-dimming rear view mirror, e-LUMAX analogue instrument cluster with 4.2-inch multi-info display (MID), and the 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
We'll run a more thorough inspection during our instrumented testing, but initial impressions of the headunit are good - sound through the 8 speakers is satisfactory, the UI is snappy, and it also has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support.
Performance - New engine is quiet, powerful
Superseding the previous-gen’s 4JJ1 3.0-litre turbodiesel is the new 4JJ3-TCX mill. Displacement and cylinder count is still the same, but improvements now see it making a peak power figure of 190 PS and 450 Nm of torque, 13 PS and 70 Nm more than its predecessor.
The engine feels light, smooth, and very responsive. Boost kicks in early, which means you get instant throttle response even below 1,600 rpm. Don’t mistake it for being rough though - power is immediate, but it won’t forcefully pin your head to the headrest.
It’s also notable how quiet it is. Throughout our day with it, between trundling along small towns and dropping the hammer on the highways, the engine was quiet enough - but not as quiet as the Triton - a model which still is the gold standard for pick-up truck refinement.
The 6-speed automatic transmission is excellent too, with buttery smooth gear changes that doesn't elicit shift shock. Sadly though, the D-Max makes do without paddle shifters.
Also netting more points for the D-Max (but only in this variant) is the rear differential lock, a rather important addition when offroading.
Ride and handling - Can rival Triton
Never mind the powertrain, Isuzu has also properly reworked the suspension. It’s supremely comfortable, so much so that we daresay it’s the class’ new yardstick.
There's also a greater proportion of high-tensile steel used - over 46% of the body is now made of that, increasing rigidity by 20%, strengthening the roof area, and reducing weight.
Combine this with a refined chassis that includes additional crossmembers, and you have a truck that rides solid yet comfortable.
Remember how earlier on we talked about the comfort foam in the seats? This is where you feel the effects - the foam tunes out harsh vibrations, resulting in a more forgiving, less tiring drive.
Steering response is miles better than last time, even if it doesn't feel as direct as the Hilux or Triton. At the very least, it's not vague, but you do have to exert a little bit more when taking corners.
Brake pedal feel is nothing extraordinary, with a progressive, gentle modulation. To sum it up, lots of the D-Max’s driving elements suit relaxed driving styles - and there's nothing wrong with that, as this will probably trawl busy streets more than dense forests anyway.
Safety features - ADAS is good, but...
Moving on to the ADAS features, the forward collision warning (FCW) function is rather sensitive and beeps loudly. It's either annoyingly beepy, or you turn the sound off completely (which you'll have to do every time you restart the car) - no middle ground.
And then there’s no 360-degree camera - only a reverse camera. Not very nice, cars of this stature need surround-view as much as possible to help with getting in and out of parking.
Those notwithstanding, other ADAS features that we managed to try like autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane departure warning (LDW), automatic high beams (AHB), and adaptive cruise control with stop and go (ACC) worked perfectly.
Conclusion - A real contender now
If older D-Maxes were just trucks owners never thought much of other than just a means to get from A to B, then this is the model that changes that. This is the D-Max you'll baby.
This isn’t the ‘old D-Max’ in more ways than one. Isuzu has taken meticulous steps to improve every aspect of it, resulting in an excellent product that makes contemporaries of the Hilux, Triton, and Ranger - rather than just longingly looking up to them.