Isuzu D-Max Hi-Lander: A pickup truck for urbanites
Best suited for mild off-road trails, the Hi-Lander is a no-frills-attached performance vehicle
Isuzu has re-introduced its D-Max pick-up after a gap of almost a year. However, this is not the all-new Isuzu D-Max pickup that went on sale abroad last year, but just a BS6 upgrade to the model that was already on sale.
The next-gen model is still some time away from an India launch. Updates are limited to the engine. The old 2.5-litre diesel unit has been dropped altogether, making the new-gen 1.9 diesel the sole engine on offer.
In BS6-spec, the engine makes 163hp and 360Nm, which is a rise of 13hp and 10Nm. There is an increase in pricing, which is up by nearly INR3 lakh . There is also a new entry level Hi-Lander variant (INR 17.05 lakh, ex-showroom) which is what we have here with us.
While it is rare to see D-Max without accessories, the Hi-Lander is rather plain even by factory-spec Isuzu pick-up standards. There is no chrome detailing, save for the tail gate release, the headlights are basic halogen units and even the wheels get simple, plastic covers. Even a footboard is not part of the standard package.
Our test vehicle’s hard lid cover for the cargo bed is part of the accessories offered by Isuzu. That said, some buyers might see their Hi-Lander as a blank canvas ripe for visual updates. About 5.3m long and 1.9m wide, the Hi-Lander occupies a lot of real estate.
Its sheer size lends it authority on the road, and few vehicle types have the cool quotient of a pickup. If you do want one to use as a pick-up, you should know it is officially rated to carry 215kg of cargo, though you would probably be able to cart a whole lot more. The cargo bed is large but also quite high so it is not the easiest to load/unload from; the plastic bed liner does help slide items in/out.
Given that the Hi-Lander sits so high off the ground, it is advisable to opt for a footboard to ease ingress-egress. Once inside the cabin, you will notice that there are few frills. For a INR 17 lakh pick-up there is a rather short comfort and convenience features’ list, which includes power windows on all four doors, central locking, six-way adjustable driver’s seat, adjustable headrests (front and back), a manual air con and little else.
If you want an audio system you will be required to option one on as an accessory. In terms of safety, dual airbags and reverse parking sensors are standard and commendably the rear seats get ISOFIX child seat mounts. While the Hi-Lander might lack frills, the interior is actually quite nice.
The dashboard is neatly styled and practical with dual gloveboxes and pop-out cupholders, the plastics feel built to last and the panel gaps are tight and consistent. Drivers will like their seats as well as the commanding view of the road ahead. Seating at the back is comfortable with good cushioning and ample legroom.
The backrest angle is a touch upright but nothing to make your passengers uncomfortable. A rear USB port and 12V socket ensure devices can be juiced up. When not in use, the 60:40 rear seat base can be flipped up to make sizeable luggage space within the cabin.
The Hi-Lander might be pitched as a pickup truck for urban buyers, but it is not the friendliest vehicle to live with in town. The massive dimensions, heavy steering and large turning circle make it cumbersome to drive and park, and with limited rear visibility (no reverse camera on the Hi-Lander), you will need a second person on hand for three-point turns. With that out of the way, let us talk performance.
The Hi-Lander pairs Isuzu’s 163hp and 360Nm, 1.9-litre diesel engine with a 6-speed manual that channels power solely to the rear wheels. The engine has been tuned to pull loads and that becomes apparent when you drive. The diesel mill is very tractable and offers good pulling power from low in the rev band.
The tractability also means you can often get by in a higher gear for a given speed; just as well because gearshifts require effort and the clutch is heavy. There is not much to gain by revving past 2,500rpm. Keep revs under this mark and you will even appreciate the engine’s refinement.
It does clatter at idle and is audible at all times but it is not loud as you would expect a diesel pickup truck to be. Ride comfort is on expected lines. Low-speed bump absorption is good but even at moderate city speeds the Hi-Lander feels bouncy, more so when there is no load on the leaf-sprung rear suspension.
Potholes taken at high speeds result in a sharp judder. Handling is also lazy. Ability off-road?
Well, the Hi-Lander will be best suited for mild off-road trails — attempted in fair weather of course. The ladder-frame chassis is built to take a beating while the chunky 245/70 R16 tyres and ample ground clearance also help. If your use case requires proper off-road ability, you will need to considerably stretch your budget for the V-Cross 4×4 MT.
The Isuzu Hi-Lander is one of those vehicles that grows on you the more time you spend with it. Yet, objectively speaking, it is hard to make a strong case for it. Sure, it works well as a pickup truck for small business owners to haul cargo in, but then there are more affordable options that do the job.
The Hi-Lander will primarily be bought as a lifestyle vehicle and, in that light, it comes across as just too expensive for what it offers.
A Hi-Lander with 4×4 at the same price point would have been a vastly superior proposition, making for an excellent base to build upon.
But as is, the Isuzu Hi-Lander doesn’t quite deliver the goods.
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