Isuzu D-Max V-Cross review

Isuzu D-Max V-Cross review

If there is one manufacturer that can get a lifestyle pickup truck to sell in the country, it is Isuzu (okay, Toyota too with the Hilux, but they’re too busy meeting the evergreen demand for the Innova). Pickups are at the very core of Isuzu’s products in the Asian region and it’s impossible to miss the D-Max and its multiple variants (including the SUV) anywhere you travel in South East Asia – they’re either loaded to the gills with farm produce; or slammed, decked with neon lights and burbly exhausts; or raised, running off-road racing suspension, mud tyres and big winches. Isuzu pickups are a one-stop solution to everything out there.

In India though, the D-Max that was launched a few years ago could only be registered as a commercial vehicle and that generally meant it was out of the consideration set for the guys who read this magazine. Plus, it was already a generation old when it was launched. Not that it was overshadowed. In fact, the old pickup was easily the pick of its class, and it was just the case of Isuzu being pragmatic, testing out the waters, making sure they built up a solid business case for their dealers before the new products started rolling in from a brand new factory.

It doesn’t lack for road presence. 

The new V-Cross is step two in Isuzu’s India journey, a contemporary pickup that is among their bestsellers. In fact, Isuzu are so confident of it, that they timed its launch with the opening of their new production plant in Sri City, Andhra Pradesh. And now, in a bid to attract the lifestyle customer, you can pick one up at a regular dealership like you would any other SUV, and register it as a private vehicle. The question is, though, would you pick up this pickup (bad joke, sorry) over another SUV?

Pickups in the past have always felt more truck-like than SUV-like. They’ve always had this utilitarian vibe, and never really felt comfortable. Quite frankly, the D-Max V-Cross is just the opposite. Whether it’s the imposing styling on the outside, or the comfortable cabin inside, the V-Cross feels like it has more SUV flowing through its veins than truck. And of course the SUV based on the V-Cross (MU-X) will be coming very soon to replace the ageing MU7.

The deck can carry up to 265kg.

Under the hood, is a four cylinder 2499cc turbocharged diesel motor that makes 134bhp and 320Nm of torque. While the power figures aren’t spectacular, there’s a considerable amount of torque to keep you motoring with surprising ease. The engine delivers power rather linearly, there’s no sudden spike when the turbo kicks in. There is a lot less turbo lag than what you would expect from a large turbo-diesel and the 5-speed gearbox is well-matched to the torque spread. A lot of the torque is available low down, and there’s plenty of shove through the mid-range. However, it tapers off as you rev it hard and you’re better off short shifting than trying to wring the daylights out of the engine.

And of course, it gets four-wheel drive. On the road, leaving it in rear-wheel drive is more than enough but should you want to tackle some off-road trails, you can turn the knob on the centre console while you’re at speeds up to 100kmph, and it will send torque to the front as well. The shift-on-the-fly system also has a low-ratio transfer case should the trails get particularly tricky, but you’ll have to come to a complete halt to shift into four-low.

There’s nothing special about any of this though. Any ol’ pickup worth its salt gets a torquey motor and four-wheel drive. What really makes it stand out are the creature comforts that it is packed with and how liveable it is. You get most of the basic features you’d expect on a modern day car — ABS, airbags, projector headlamps, automatic climate control, a touchscreen media system, cubby holes, cup holders et al. But what really strikes you, and based on experience with other so-called ‘lifestyle pickups’ in India, is how well put together the entire cabin is; how solid it feels. The chunky, large steering wheel feels great to hold, the grab rails on the A-pillar are tough-looking and nothing on the centre console feels tinny and cheap. Even the digits on the speedo and odo readout are squared off and make you feel like you’re in something more robust than your average daily driver. And in the middle of all of this hardiness, are the fabric seats that are extremely comfortable with a cushiony lumbar support that is essential when you go touring. You do get rear seats with adequate legroom and they fold flat as well, just in case that voluminous derrière doesn’t suffice.

The cabin is well put together and a comfortable place to be.

Where the V-Cross scores even more is on ride quality. It has an independent double wishbone setup in the front with leaf springs at the rear. The setup really absorbs everything that comes your way at low speeds and you feel indestructible sitting up there powering through whatever bumps and undulations the road throws at you. Even though all the weight is biased to the front, the rear doesn’t bounce about and feel out of control. However, when the digits start to climb on the speedo you can feel the leaf-sprung rear jiggling over undulations, and it doesn’t have the same rebound damping finesse that you would find on coil-sprung setups. Running long-travel suspension, it feels wallowy in corners and roll is most definitely present – you don’t want to nor will you throw it into bends at high speeds, that is not what it is meant for.

What it is hugely capable at is dirt trails and taking your cycles or off-road motorcycle off the beaten track. The low-down torque coupled with the 4WD system and great suspension means it can tackle some properly tough trails till you pitch camp in the middle of nowhere. The only issue is the 3095mm wheelbase — it’s rather long and this compromises the ramp-over angle. Also, the rear doesn’t have a limited-slip differential and that might prove to be a bother over slushy and slippery surfaces so you might have to tread with caution there. Out on the highway, the 245/70 tyres on 16-inch wheels do make it feel a bit floaty, but they make up for it by improving ride on bumpier patches.

The V-Cross is more than capable off-road.

The V-Cross, as you’d have surmised by now, is brilliant. However, it does have its own set of issues. The biggest and most glaring of them being the lack of any parking assistance — forget a parking camera, it doesn’t even get sensors! Try parallel parking a 17-foot long vehicle with no idea what’s behind you. Not fun. Oh, and it doesn’t fit in the parking slot allowed to me in my society. The media system isn’t faultless either — it tends to hang when it is connected to your phone. Another relatively minor issue I had was finding a good seating position. While the seats are comfy, I found even the lowest height setting too high and the steering does not adjust for reach. And the distance to empty readout stops reading out at 90km left to empty. That’s when you need it the most! But I guess that’s pickups for you.

So is the V-Cross an alternative to an SUV? It certainly looks the part — it commands plenty of attention, doesn’t lack for presence and is not small by any measure. The Ed even parked the Mercedes and took the V-Cross to Mumbai to spend more time in it and had only good things to say. And, in our immediate circle of friends, 10 V-Cross’s have already been booked. You see, the V-Cross is clearly head and shoulders above any other ‘lifestyle pickup’ you can buy in India today. It’s something you can live with on a daily basis provided you have a large enough parking space, is as comfy as a Fortuner and considerably more comfortable than a Thar for everyday duties (and I know many, many guys who use a Thar for everything). And then on the weekend you can load it up with your bikes and hit the back of beyond. At Rs 12.49 lakh (ex-showroom, Chennai), the V-Cross is more metal for your buck; a lot, lot more metal for your buck. If there ever was a pickup to kick-start this segment in India the V-Cross is it.

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