This is the Isuzu D-Max pick-up truck, the company's second offering for India. It's far from the first pick-up in the market, but it is the first one from an international carmaker – all the others in this segment so far have either been Tatas or Mahindras. Isuzu believes pick-ups are well suited to our market, and not only in rural parts, but for a small number of city-based buyers as well.
The first thing you need to know is that there are two kinds of D-Max on sale at the moment. The silver one in the pictures is the 'flat deck' – the more basic model with few creature comforts, even fewer styling flourishes, and as the name suggests, a completely flat deck or bed at the back for better storage. This is a pure utility vehicle, so we're going to focus on the blue truck – the D-Max 'arched deck' – which is aimed at the lifestyle buyer as well.
It's got external garnishes like a chrome grille (styled to look like a lion's teeth, incidentally) and wing mirrors, body-coloured bumpers and door handles, and a cargo area that's fully integrated with the rest of the body. It looks handsome, if not quite as butch as a Tata Xenon XT, and the classic pick-up proportions are there. We wish Isuzu would have given it the option of alloy wheels or at least full wheel covers; hub caps on steel wheels are standard. There will be an accessories catalogue later on, we're told.
The arched deck version is available only as a 'space cab', which means that while there are only two seats in the passenger compartment, there is a generous area behind them to store stuff you might need access to on the go; or stuff you don't want to leave in the exposed cargo area behind. It's too small to fit any seats in this space, but the thin cushioning on the back wall of the cab suggests that Isuzu knows people will sit here anyway, much like the middle front 'seat' in the Datsun Go.
Though not as basic as the one in the flat deck version, the cabin still doesn't have a lot of frills. The basic dash design is shared with the MU-7 SUV, but it's all black and grey plastic, rather than faux wood and silver trim, and in place of the touchscreen, there is a single-DIN Kenwood audio system. It has to be said, however, that the quality in this cabin is fantastic for the segment, with fit and finish that surpasses its local competition. The plastics feel hard wearing, but at the same time aren't rough around the edges. There are bottle holders in the doors and two cup-holders in the centre console, but neither is large enough to properly fulfil its purpose. There are proper-sized cupholders in a console against the back wall of the cab, but reaching them is a stretch.
This version gets power windows, central locking, steering rake adjust, air-conditioning, and a day-night rear-view mirror. You have to adjust the wing mirrors by hand though, there's no ABS or airbags, and no seat height adjustment either. However, the driving position is really good; not ridiculously high up, but enough to see where the bonnet ends, even if you're not too tall. The fabric seats are a touch firm, but supportive and comfy on a long drive.
Isuzu knows that its name is synonymous with diesel engines in India, and so the D-Max's 2.5-litre, four-cylinder common-rail diesel engine features prominently in the promotional material. Its 134bhp and 29.97kgm feel more than sufficient to haul a potential gross weight of 2,850kg, should you find yourself loading it up to its limit. More in tune with Indian sensibilities, however, the D-Max is claimed to be capable of over 1,000km on a single, 76-litre tank of diesel.
The engine roars to life and is still fairly audible at idle. It sounds a bit listless initially, but then smoothens out in the mid-range. The turbo lag lasts until about 2,100rpm and then the boost comes in quite cleanly. However, this being a pick-up, first and second gears are frustratingly short, but it's all in the interest of getting all your heavy cargo moving more easily from a standstill. Gears three to five are quite flexible, and with nothing weighing the deck down, overtaking in the D-Max was pretty effortless. The gearbox is a touch notchy, but nothing out of the ordinary for this segment. However, you do need to slip the clutch a bit when setting off, or else it is quite easy to stall.
Now, like any load-lugger worth its payload, the D-Max has leaf-spring rear suspension. And like just about every pick-up truck around, when the rear deck is empty, the ride is very bouncy as the unladen rear end skips over every little bump. And unlike the Xenon XT and even the Mahindra Scorpio Getaway, the Isuzu has a smaller, two-seat cab, which means an even stronger frontward weight bias. If the road is smooth, however, it does just fine, and high-speed stability in such conditions is good too. Because the centre of gravity is lower than in an equivalent SUV, it doesn't roll as much in the corners, but of course, it's a UV, not a sportscar.
With these two flavours of D-Max, Isuzu aims to tackle both the entry-level end of the pick-up spectrum against the likes of the Bolero, and the more lifestyle-oriented space occupied by the Xenon XT. When it comes to the latter, it hasn't quite got all its bases covered though. The ride may be the norm for commercial duties, but it won't go down so well with the businessman who wants a third car to use at his farmhouse. The same goes for the cabin and equipment; it's no luxury SUV, but a little bit of colour and some more creature comforts would not go amiss. The biggest problem, by far, is that the D-Max must be registered as a commercial vehicle, and therefore you need a CV license to drive it. It's a smart looking truck with a solid engine and great build quality, and given its strong reputation overseas, it's bound to handle utility duties well too. At Rs 7.09 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai) this arched cab version also undercuts its main rivals, the Mahindra Scorpio Getaway and Tata Xenon XT by a significant margin. But while it might be a hit with goods carriers, having to get an all-new license just to drive one is a big deterrent for private buyers.