First drive: 2014 Isuzu D-Max GT in the UAE
Privately-owned midsize pickups are a legitimate market segment in several Asian and even Western countries. Here, they are almost exclusively used as commercial vehicles, driven by sweaty hard-working men who quietly laugh at moisturiser-toting management types trundling to office in oversized American pickup trucks. However, Isuzu feels there is a gap in the market for a good-sized “lifestyle” pickup, and hence, we have the Isuzu D-Max GT.
The GT is basically a dressed-up version of the commercial-grade D-Max Crew Cab, in order to make it more appealing to youths. It’s got racing strips, front and rear skirts, bed-liner, dark-grey grille with red Isuzu badging, 16-inch or optional smoked 17-inch alloys as well as side-steps. Inside, there’s a nicer gauge cluster, some extra interior bits and red-black fabric seats. Most of the cars we checked out at the launch event had a nice aftermarket stereo deck, but one version we saw even had a touchscreen. But the changes don’t go far enough to uplift the reasonably-spacious cabin, as all the panels are comprised of hard plastics, including all the armrests.
You can choose any exterior colour you want as long as it’s either black or white. For a limited time, they’re even handing out matching GT-branded Casio G-Shock watches with every purchase.
Those racing stripes write a cheque that the motor can’t cash though. It comes standard with a 134 hp 3.0-litre turbodiesel, offering up 294 Nm of torque, with a choice of 5-speed manual or automatic gearboxes, and rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive.
Like the engine, the rest of the mechanicals are unchanged from the work truck, so the slow steering, long-throw manual shifter and load-bearing suspension are all still there, as we found out in a lap of the Dubai Autodrome race-track. It’s not a car you can even remotely hustle, since its grip limits are low, even if the suspension tuning keeps body roll at bay rather decently.
On a positive note, it’s an easy car to drive, even with the manual, since the clutch and controls are generally soft, and all sightlines around the high-riding car are clear. The automatic even has a manual-shifting mode. Choose the 4×4 model and you can even do a fair bit of off-roading, as much as the engine will allow. We went off-road at the 2012 launch event.
With prices expected to be just under Dhs 90,000, prices are fair relative to, say, higher-trim versions of the Toyota Hilux and the Ford Ranger, all three incidentally built in Thailand.
In a hilarious bit, a convoy of these drove into the valet area of the 5-star The Address Marina hotel, where they still looked completely out of place. With their commercial vehicles, Isuzu does respectable numbers elsewhere, such as in Saudi Arabia, but here in the UAE, where diesel costs more than petrol and the only vehicles lining up at that pump are work-trucks, it’ll be a hard sell. As per their presentation, the extent of their online branding is a Facebook page, and with a traditional marketing campaign that involves local football and motorsports that both struggle for audiences, the word isn’t even going to be spread properly. It’s a nice tough truck and all, but a better engine and modern marketing plan will only help their cause.