Review: New Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain Is Smarter But As Tough As Ever!

The year is 1997 and this writer was still two years away from getting a driving license. However, my father would occasionally let me drive and one day he let me get behind the wheel of his then brand-new Isuzu Invader.

We were driving off-road near some old mining pools in Kampar, where I spent some time growing up. I am not sure how and why, but I drove too close to the pool and the sand underneath gave way and the car slid into the pool.

Partially submerged, we paddled out of the car. Back then, the front hubs needed to be locked for the four-wheel-drive system to work. But the hubs were already well under water so there was no way we could drive out of that situation.

With my father getting increasingly nervous at seeing his brand-new car sink further in, and me sweating from imagining the belting I was going to get that night, a hero appeared in the form of a tractor. The driver had chains too.

My father’s new Isuzu was pulled out in just a few minutes. The next challenge was to see if it would start, but the engine cranked at the first try and we were on our way in no time, with a soaking wet interior though. But that was a small price to pay for what could have been a very expensive afternoon, and besides, the interior dried up the following day and everything was great again.

And that is the beauty of Isuzu pick-up trucks, they are built tough and can seemingly survive just about anything.

Fast forward 27 years and Isuzu Malaysia has just introduced the cousin of the old Invader – the new D-Max X-Terrain. Ironically, we drove it on reclaimed land in Melaka where the sand was as soft as those around the mining pool which almost claimed the Invader many moons ago.

The new Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain is the refreshed model for the X-Terrain that was introduced about two years ago to much fanfare. The X-Terrain has been credited for reviving the adulation of Isuzu pick-up trucks after a few years of stagnation.

With the pick-up truck segment becoming increasingly lifestyle oriented with more of them used on the road rather than for their original purpose off-road, pick-up truck manufacturers had to change their approach, and fast.

We first saw this with the Ford Ranger Wildtrak that despite plenty of tech designed for off-road use, was purpose made for life in the urban jungle. It was a sales success for Ford, and other truck makers wanted a piece of the urban truck pie.

It won’t be far-fetched to say that Isuzu was a tad late to the game, arriving much later than the models from Nissan and Toyota.

Isuzu had long ago built a reputation as some of the toughest and reliable work horses, but they were never anything more than that. People bought Isuzus because they were dependable work machines, it was never something people lusted over.

But that changed with the introduction of the X-Terrain. It was Isuzu’s answer to the Ford Ranger Wildtrak, the Nissan Navara Pro4X and the Toyota Hilux Rouge.

Fiercely focused on the new age buyer that spends more time in cities and traffic jam’s than life off the beaten path, the X-Terrain had the recipe right from the get-go. It had the wild and bright colour options typical of trucks of this segment, it had the dramatic body kit that looked like it belonged in a rally race and the interior was something we had never seen in an Isuzu.

Inside, the X-Terrain was an elegant blend of premium features and technology. The tanned leather seats were arguably the most comfortable in the segment and looked good too. It even had a touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as a shockingly good entertainment system with speakers mounted on the roof!

The X-Terrain elevated Isuzu’s brand from one that contractors preferred, to one that got you the girls.

Two years after the introduction of the original X-Terrain, Isuzu Malaysia has taken the wraps off the latest model, one that has been massaged, improved and packed with better features.

From the outside, the new model is distinguished with the new LED headlights that look sleeker with daytime running lights that hug and curve around the top of the frame rather than the bottom as before (as seen above). These are matched by new LED brake lights with a new design.

The grille and front bumper too has been redesigned and has a new air curtain integrated to the sides of the bumper. This has small slits that open outwards towards the front wheel wells and allows air to blow through. This makes it easier for the truck to cut through air, effectively making it more fuel efficient as well as reduces air turbulence that can be noisy.

Other updates include a new welcome light and new tailgate panel with integrated locking mechanism.

You can be forgiven for assuming the interior looks the same, but the devil is in the details. The infotainment screen for one is now larger, growing from nine-inches in the old model to 10-inches in the new one. The driver gets a new seven-inch digital meter panel as well, replacing the old analogue unit.

The bigger screen together with the digital dash, and silver accented air-conditioning controls lends an air of sophistication to the interior. This is also augmented by the new Miura design elements around the door panels and across the dash.

There is also a new scuff plate with LED lighting that greets you when you open the door. But more importantly, the seats are new and continue with the black-leather theme we first saw with later models of the previous generation X-Terrain. This is an important update because the new seats also have anti-vibration elastics that absorb anything before it reaches the occupant, effectively making it more comfortable, especially for longer journeys.

The interior of the X-Terrain has always been a purposeful one with an upmarket feel to it. This has been retained in the new model, in fact, the driving character too feels better than before though nothing has been done to the powertrain.

As before, a 3.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder diesel engine powers the X-Terrain, with drive sent to the wheels through a robust six-speed automatic transmission. Power is rated at 190PS and 450Nm of torque, which is lower than some of its competitors.

But what it loses in numbers, the truck makes up for with feel. On the move, the double wishbone suspension with coil springs handles the front of the car while the rear has the usual leaf springs with gas shock absorbers. Rather than hopping and skipping over road inundations, the suspension does a great job at soaking everything.

The interior too feels more refined than the previous model. It feels quieter at highway speeds, allowing occupants to have a conversation without raising their voices, even at well past the legal speed limit.

Safety and off-roading technologies have also been updated. The new X-Terrain features something called Rough Terrain mode that ensures the truck can get out of a difficult situation by itself.

In the previous model, the traction control system sent power to either the front or rear axles to manage grip and power delivery. The new mode allows power to be sent to individual wheels. So, in the event that three wheels are stuck, power can be sent to an individual wheel to dig itself out.

We tested out the system on the reclaimed land in Melaka where sand was soft and thick. The truck would simply beach itself when in two-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive mode. But individual tyres could easily claw away at the sand and pull the two-tonne truck out when Rough Terrain mode was activated.

On the safety front, the new Isuzu has a feature called Rear Cross Traffic Brake. This is on top of the eight Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) the truck already had. This lets the truck brake automatically when reversing and the driver does not see an oncoming obstacle such as a car, motorcycle, or pedestrian.

It is common for manufacturers to introduce mid-life updates, or as we Malaysians like to call it, facelifts. But rarely is a facelift so extensive as we see with the new Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain. Facelifts are usually involve cosmetics upgrade, but this time we get a major design revamp as well as a technological update.

So, is the Isuzu the better buy now compared to the competition? At just under RM158,00, the new Isuzu is cheaper than the Ford Ranger Wildtrak and is similarly priced to the Hilux Rouge and Nissan Navara. But it offers more safety technologies, interior features and has a fresher design, so yes, it may be the new kid on the block, but it has all the latest tricks that the competition does not.

Engine: 3.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder, diesel
Power: 190PS @ 3600Nm
Torque: 450Nm @ 1600rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic with sequential shift
Suspension: Independent double wishbone, coil springs and stabilisers with gas shock absorbers (front) / Semi-elliptical leaf springs with gas shock absorbers (rear)
Price: RM157,938.40 (As tested)

We like: New design, interior features, tough
We don’t like: Some interior parts feel hollow

A car stirs the soul, a motorbike is the soul. Keshy has been a motoring journalist for over a decade and has written for and founded a number of Malaysian motoring titles including Piston.my, Bikesrepulic.com, Motomalaya.net and other mass media titles.

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