I’ll be the first to admit that there’s just something about driving a big ‘ol pick-up truck that highly intoxicating and very desirable. My life as a truck fan began in the late-90’s and abruptly ended a couple of years later in rather amusing circumstances, which I’ll divulge in a bit. My truck was actually the FIRST ‘lifestyle’ pick-up truck that Malaysians were introduced to, the Ford Courier 4×4. It wasn’t the most exciting truck in the world I’ll admit; it looked and was rather basic, and that’s putting it mildly. Okay it was the dog’s breakfast, but I still liked it a lot.
It had a blistering top speed of 120km/h, foot-to-the-floor, during which its non-turbocharged 2.5L diesel engine sounded like it was going to exit the bonnet in spectacular fashion at any second. Its 0-100km/h time could be calculated with a table calendar and its only luxury ‘convenience’ was an aircon. But it did allow me to fulfil a motoring dream of mine, which was to drive from KL to China, and yes, in the year 2000 as part of the Silverstone Rally of Asia, I did indeed drive from Dataran Merdeka to Jinghong, China, and back.
The thing is though, the truck got killed somewhere in Myanmar – 147.5km of pure hardcore off-road that took 12 hours to traverse – but being ‘Built Ford Tough’ it refused to die and just kept going. Shortly after getting back, I sold the Courier to a used car dealer who promptly advertised it as ‘never been off-road’. That was the amusing circumstance I mentioned earlier, because during its time with me, I reckon that truck saw more off-road than asphalt.
Things have changed dramatically over the last decade or so insofar as trucks for private use are concerned, since many owners primarily use their trucks in town rather than the jungle, trucks have gotten a lot more civilised. I think the turning point came when Toyota launched the new Hilux. Previously known for its blood-and-guts, go-anywhere, do-anything reputation for hardiness and indestructability thanks to its double rigid-axles, the new Hilux was more a luxe-SUV with a cargo bed; and others have followed suit, case in point, the new Isuzu D-Max V-Cross.
Does anyone remember the Invader and Rodeo? Those were Isuzu pick-up trucks too, but to compare them with the new D-Max V-Cross would be akin to comparing Beyoncé with Barney. First-off, there are three variants of the new D-Max available, and these include the V-Cross 3.0L 5-speed Manual, V-Cross 3.0L 5-speed Auto and V-Cross 3.0L 5-speed Auto ‘Safari’ Edition.
All three are powered by the same Common-rail Direct-injection 3.0-litre VGS turbo intercooled diesel engine that’s good for 177Ps and 380Nm of torque from 1,800-2,800rpm. Power is fed to the rear wheels via either the aforementioned 5-speed manual or automatic transmissions, and all three variants are off-road capable, being equipped with a 4WD High & Low transfer case, in addition to regular 2WD, its default mode.
Even more impressive though, is the new iGRIP platform on which the truck is based. It stands for Isuzu Gravity Response Intelligent Platform, and features a longer wheelbase over its predecessor, as well as a wider track, and this not only allows the D-Max to have a healthy 235mm ground clearance, but also an incredible 49-degree side-slip angle, in stock-standard form. Yes, 49-degrees. A 45-degree angle of lean is scary enough, so try to imagine 49, if you will.
In terms of active and passive safety, the new D-Max scores pretty well too, as it’s equipped with ABS, EBD, Brake Assist, Traction Control and Electronic Stability Control. In addition to Dual Airbags up front and anti-whiplash front seats, the D-Max also scored a full 5-star rating in ANCAP crash testing.
The most impressive aspect of the new D-Max V-Cross though is its interior and NVH. This is not the kind of D-Max truck that some may be accustomed to, in fact, its safe to say the D-Max has done a ‘Hilux’. It’s a very good interior, one worthy of praise, for not only looking good, but being very comfortable as well. The suspension has been tuned brilliantly to provide a comfortable ride, despite the use of leaf-springs in the rear. Of course there’s no getting away from the fact that the front coils are a lot more compliant over bumps, but the rear isn’t as jarring as most leaf-sprung trucks are.
We were warned that the V-Cross is deceptively quick and I have to say it really is, because 140km/h feels like absolutely nothing. In fact, the V-Cross cruises comfortably at 160km/h. Pushed even harder, it’ll see 200km/h at full pelt. That may not seem like much, but believe me when I say, in a truck, that’s maniacal. I remember thinking to myself, as the speedometer needle swept past 180km/h, that in my old truck, I’d be leaving little bits of engine and body-parts all over the NKVE long before hitting 180. I actually had to look back a couple of times to make sure I was actually driving a truck.
Cruising at 140km/h, there’s nary a hint of noise, vibration and harshness permeating the cabin; it really feels like you’re only doing 80. So yes, this truck is a speeding ticket just waiting to happen. Acceleration is very linear and rapid, the gears flick through their ratios smoothly, and while there is a manual override option, it’s best to just leave the shifter in ‘D’ and let the D-Max do all the work for you. Driven at a more sedate (sane) pace, a full tank of diesel (76L) will get you almost 1,000km before a fill-up is required. In the real world, I did notice that despite driving like a lunatic, the digital fuel-gauge had not budged at all before the lunch break.
In the great scheme of things I guess I could take the moral high-ground and say the same thing that I said about the ‘new’ Hilux and how it had lost its edge by going soft, but I won’t, because I reckon it’s just the natural evolution of a new species so to speak. It would have been worse if the new D-Max V-Cross was only available with 2WD and ‘auto’ only, but it’s not. There’s a manual option and all have dial-selectable 4WD high & low gearing, as well as that excellent ground clearance and impressive angle of lean, right out of the crate. So buyers who are actually going to use the D-Max off-road are well taken care of.
90% of the time though, in the urban jungle, the other creature comforts found in the new D-Max V-Cross are going to please its owner tremendously. Speaking of ownership, three variants of the new D-Max V-Cross cost RM101,343.90 (3.0 Manual); RM107,459.90 (3.0 Auto) and RM118,485.90 (3.0 Auto ‘Safari’), individual private registration, on the road with insurance, and all come with a 100,000km / 3-year warranty.
I have to admit, did reminisce of my days as a trucker during the course of this media drive, and I have to say, if I ever decided to get back into the scene, the D-Max V-Cross, especially in ‘Safari’ trim, would be on my radar. It’s just a damn good truck.
Specifications: Isuzu D-Max V-Cross 3.0
Engine: 4JJ1-TCX in-line 4-cyl, VGS Turbo Intercooler Diesel, DOHC, 16-valve, 2,999cc
Transmission: 5-speed auto or 5-speed manual, 2WD, 4WD High & Low
Max power: 177Ps @ 3,600rpm
Max torque: 380Nm @ 1,800-2,800rpm
Compression ratio: 17.3:1
Turning radius: 6.3m
Suspension F/R: Independent double wishbones, coil spring with stabiliser / Semi-elliptical leaf-springs
Brakes F/R: Ventilated discs / Leading & trailing drums