The industry norm for the product cycle of pick-up trucks and commercial vehicles is around 10 years, about double that of passenger cars. So it’s not surprising that when it was time to develop a new generation of the D-MAX, Isuzu conducted the most comprehensive new product development programme in its history (which goes back about 100 years). After all, the new model would have to last many years in the market so it not only had to be better than its predecessor and good enough for today but also still able to attract customers in 2020.
Tall order for the development team which went around the world speaking to customers and finding out what their needs were. It was clear that in markets like those in ASEAN, which has the largest D-MAX market (Thailand), the spectrum of customers had broadened over the years. Where the pick-up was once a workhorse for those in business and could be spartan, it had also become a ‘lifestyle’ machine for young and active people. An even tougher challenge since comfort, convenience and style would also be expected.
In order to reduce its development costs, Isuzu again collaborated with General Motors. For the previous generation, the two companies had also collaborated in the development which is really the way to go (Ford and Mazda also collaborated on the Ranger/BT-50 and Mazda2/Fiesta). It enables more to be done since costs are shared and when the vehicle is in production, common parts can be purchased jointly with economies of scale lowering prices.
However, for this generation, one area was not shared as before – the powertrain. In the previous generation, GM’s model (the Chevrolet Colorado) used an Isuzu engine but for the new generation, GM decided it would use its own engine which was developed with VM Motori. A new factory was set up to make the engines adjacent to the plant in Thailand.
With decades of experience in designing and engineering pick-ups, Isuzu is a specialist in such vehicles. Nevertheless, it still draws extensively on customer feedback when developing new products and the same applied to the new D-MAX.
For the new D-MAX, the exterior styling has been given a more aggressive form with a powerful front end look. The headlamps have been designed to follow the natural flow lines of a pick-up, creating an assertive appearance. There’s a more fluid appearance with rounded edges and a ‘Katana’ line runs along the sides, adding dynamism.
The rear end has a clean appearance with large LED lamps that are more lasting, brighter and illuminate almost instantaneously. The rear bumper incorporates a wide non-slip upper surface to provide better grip for shoes.
The new exterior dimensions (Double Cab variant) are: length – 5295 mm (+260 mm), width – 1860 mm (+60 mm) and 1795 mm (+60 mm). Ground clearance has also been increased by 10 mm to 235 mm while the wheelbase is now 3095 mm (+45 mm).
Detail improvements for the new model include deeper rain channels along the sides of the windscreen, provision of brighter projector headlamps, redesigned door mirrors with integrated turn signals, and wheelarch flares of steel. The door handles are also large for easier usage, especially with gloves.
As mentioned earlier, pick-ups used to be workhorses, used mostly off-road and not driven at high speeds. Such usage conditions made it unnecessary to consider aerodynamics. However, times have changed and not only are pick-ups being used for personal transport but in many countries, roads have turned to highways and motoring speeds have risen. Whether hauling goods or heading to the hills for rock-climbing, the route would likely involve highway driving at high speeds.
So for this D-MAX, Isuzu gave more attention to aerodynamics. They refined the shape in various wind tunnels, including the one at the Japan Railway Technical Research Institute which is used for evaluating the bullet train designs.
That’s why it has a more wedged profile where the previous one was pretty flat in front. As a result, it is claimed that the new D-MAX has the lowest drag coefficient (Cd) in its class which is 5% better than that of the previous model. With lower drag, not only can fuel economy be improved but wind noise is also lower, making the overall driving experience more pleasant – and any type of driver will certainly appreciate that!
The underside of the new D-MAX has a completely new chassis which is wider and longer, improving stability and ride comfort. It is also stronger, thanks to larger box sections, while rail braces have been added to the cross-members to increase rigidity.
The suspension follows the well-proven layout of independent double wishbones with coil springs at the front with damping by gas-filled shock absorbers. For the rear, new leafsprings have been installed which are longer and flatter than before. Together with gas-filled shock absorbers that provide consistent damping performance even when operating in extreme conditions, the ride and handling are said to be significantly improved.
The new D-MAX range has two diesel engine options, of which one is a new, more efficient unit. The new 4-cylinder engine is the 4JK1-TC engine was developed using the vast experience Isuzu possesses in diesel engine development. This new powerplant, with a capacity of 2.5 litres, is compatible with diesel sold in Malaysia even though the quality is low.
Besides high-pressure commonrail fuel delivery, the engine has a Variable Geometry System (VGS) turbocharger which boosts output to 136 ps at 3600 rpm with 320 Nm of torque between 1800 rpm and 2800 rpm. Compared to the previous 2.5-litre engine, the increases in power and torque are 17% and 14%, respectively.
Besides maximizing engine efficiency, the VGS turbocharger also virtually eliminates ‘turbo lag’ to give quicker response for acceleration and varies the pressurized airflow according to load conditions. The intercooler, which reduces the air temperature before it enters the engine so that it is more dense, has a large size for increased cooling performance.
Of note in the D-MAX engine design is the use of chain-driven overhead camshafts that use an intermediate gear. This feature, together with a long-lasting timing chain and roller rocker arms with large roller bearings, gives the engine a longer service life, one reason why the D-MAX has been so popular, especially among Thai customers.
Fleet operators will want to minimise servicing time so the frequently-accessed areas are positioned where they can be more easily reached. The oil filter is now on top of the engine where it can be reached very conveniently.
A new 5-speed automatic transmission with an overdrive top gear is now used. This obviously extends to fuel economy during cruising. It has a torque converter lock-up which creates a mechanical link from the transmission at certain speeds, eliminating the power losses associated with a hydraulic torque converter. The driver can also manually select gears in a sequential manner, if desired.
For those who buy the D-MAX with a manual transmission, this gearbox has also been improved with a new gearlever that has a shorter throw for more comfortable shifting.
The new powertrain is said to be 10% more economical to run than the previous one, so we can expect Isuzu Malaysia to soon demonstrate this improvement. With the previous generation, their endurance economy drives have shown that it is possible to drive from Bangkok to Melaka on a single tankful of fuel! Maybe we will see a record-breaking Bangkok to Johor Bahru drive?
The lower-priced D-MAX has a 4JA-1L 2.5-litre 4-cylinder turbodiesel engine which produces 79 ps/176 Nm, This doesn’t have the VGS turbocharger so it is intended for those who want a basic workhorse for business purposes. It’s only available with a manual transmission.
The 4×4 system is a proven system with robust components that have been tested over millions of kilometres around the world. There’s also the option of a 4×2 drivetrain which has only the rear wheels powered.
The new D-MAX has a more SUV–like interior with increased space and comfort. The longer wheelbase and overall increase in dimensions provide more space for both front and rear occupants. There’s more space under the dashboard, making for a more spacious feeling that front occupants will appreciate. The door size and shape has been optimized with a wide opening angle and the flat floor makes moving in and out easier. The seat runners have also been positioned further apart, creating more foot room for rear passengers. There are also head restraints for each rear passenger.
In redesigning the cabin area, the interior designers ensured that all controls are positioned in a logical manner, making them easy to find and use. There is also increased functionality in many areas with up to 15 storage compartments and 10 cupholders (so each occupant can have a hot drink and a cold drink!).
Certain versions (there are 5 in all) in the new line-up come with a premium audio system, again an indication of how truck usage has evolved to become more like passenger cars. The 6-speaker system has high-quality sound reproduction enhanced by a ‘Exciter’ surround speakers embedded in the roof lining (a first in a pick-up truck). The head unit also has Bluetooth functionality.
For the driver, the new design of the front seats provides better support to reduce fatigue when driving long distances. The instrument panel retains the bright and clear electro-luminescent meters with a Multi-Information Display (MID) panel between the speedometer and tachometer. The MID provides the driver with information on the vehicle’s operation (fuel consumption, range remaining, average speed, etc) as well as reminders relating to servicing. A sensor monitors the ambient lighting level and adjusts the brightness automatically, or the driver can adjust it manually.
Operation of the 4×4 system has been changed from the previous method which used pushbuttons on the dashboard. A rotary dial is now provided on the centre console to select 4×2 or 4×4 (high and low ranges). Switching from 4×2 to 4×4 High range can be done while the vehicle is moving at speeds up to 100 km/h but to engage the Low range requires the vehicle to be stopped.
Finally, safety … which once was also a low priority for such vehicles. Isuzu Malaysia doesn’t give the number of stars that the new D-MAX has scored in EuroNCAP testing but says it meets the standards of that organization. All the usual passive safety features are incorporated to protect the occupants, including ISOFIX points for compatible childseats.
Active safety is also impressive with the i-GRIP (Isuzu Gravity Response Intelligent) platform which makes handling more predictable and safer. The principles involved include lowering the centre of gravity and giving a very wide front footprint as well as carefully positioning the mass of the engine behind the axle.
Traction Control and Electronic Stability Control systems are also available in certain versions, a plus point when it comes to active safety complementing ABS + EBD. These are important aids because the truck has a lighter rear end when it is not loaded and needs to have more balanced braking, especially on slippery surfaces.
As before, the D-MAX is assembled in Malaysia at Isuzu’s own plant in Pekan, Pahang. Though it is assembled locally, its launch was delayed due to the flooding in Thailand as well as the incredibly high demand in that market – sales have exceeded 250,000 units since launch. To meet growing demand, Isuzu has built a new plant in Thailand so more units can be produced.
“We have no problems of supply from Thailand with the new plant,” said Kimitoshi Kurokawa, CEO of Isuzu Malaysia. “I believe that with the strong Isuzu reputation for durability, reliability and fuel efficiency and the fact that our new model has made great strides in areas of design, comfort and safety, the new D-MAX will satisfy a significantly wider audience than before.” He added that the company aims to sell 8,200 units by the end of 2013.
Prices for the new D-MAX start from RM69,770.60 (with insurance) for the 4×2 version with the lower-powered engine and go up to RM100,689.60 for the best-equipped version with 4×4 and automatic transmission.