Mano-o-Mano: Toyota Hilux 3.0G vs. Isuzu D-Max 4x4 LS
WHEN TOYOTA UNVEILED THE ALL-NEW HILUX LAST DECEMBER, it left everyone (including their competitors) with gapping mouths. Finally, here was the pick-up that had everything: avant-garde looks, a powerful engine, a roomy cabin, a competitive price tag—it surely looked like it was destined to overthrow the then king, Isuzu’s D-Max. A short drive at the Expo grounds in Clark did confirm the Hilux’s improvements, but can it beat the global compact pick-up from Isuzu?
After much wrestling, the test team managed to get both pick-ups for a week’s worth of driving. It was an equal playing field with both appearing here with their highest trim levels (4x4 LS on the Isuzu D-Max and 3.0G on the Toyota Hilux), manual transmissions and even the black exterior paint! The odometer read similarly on both too: around 15,000 kilometers. In the end, it’s a straight fight: D-Max versus Hilux—Isuzu versus Toyota. Guess who wins?
Everyone thought the Hilux would take top honors. And who could blame them? It simply looked stylish. Whereas the D-Max looked blocky and unsophisticated, the Hilux had the large pentagonal headlights, gapping hood scoop and hunky proportions, just as anyone would have wanted it. Sitting inside revealed the same story: the D-Max square and straight-forward, the Hilux sweeping and sophisticated. The Toyota too had a more comfortable rear bench as well. However, the Isuzu D-Max used slightly better materials. Score one point for the Hilux then.
However, when the drivers got settled down, the D-Max’s advantages started to emerge. First, it had better seat support. Whereas the Hilux had the wider seats, it’s actually lacking in lower back and thigh support. As a result, the Toyota was not a comfortable place to be in after a two hour drive. The massive dash of the Hilux also presented a problem when reaching for ventilation, radio and even the four-wheel drive control. In contrast, the straight-forward approach (except the convoluted Clarion sound system) of the D-Max may not be appealing to the eyes, but it surely made sense come the real drive. Everything was in perfect reach and highly comfortable, though the D-Max did lack a dead pedal/foot rest.
On the open road, Toyota’s three-vehicle approach with the IMV project resulted in a rather compromised driving experience with the Hilux. Although its passenger car application on the Innova and Fortuner were undoubtedly best-in-class; with Leaf Springs at the back, the Hilux was bouncy and comfortable. In fact, it shuddered through the bumps and lifted easily on the humps creating some minor hi-jinks in the process. A member of the test team, which had a sensitive back, recalled that the Hilux sent jolts of pain up his spine even if the roads weren’t too rough.
Meanwhile, the D-Max’s made-for-hauling platform proved to be way better. It felt more planted and secure, especially on the rougher terrain where the driver simply had more confidence to push harder. The Isuzu was more compliant too when it came to sudden steering inputs and was easier one to drive in stop-and-go traffic thanks to better all-around visibility.
Both have equally solid body structures, but the D-Max faired slightly better as the Hilux already suffered from a squeaking rear seat.
The compromised ride and handling is indeed a bitter blow to the Hilux since, let’s face it, these pick-ups will spend most of their time traversing everywhere from villas to farms to mall parking lots rather than standing still in the showroom. That said, the Toyota still has the best power-train of the duo and of its class, and is really the Hilux’s crown jewel.
Underneath the muscular flanks of the Toyota sits the D-4D diesel engine. Since it’s common rail, direct injected and intercooler turbo-charged, it has a total output of 160 horsepower, 30 more than the D-Max. Isuzu’s direct injection inline-4 simply got blown away here in terms of overall smoothness, but they hope to correct that problem with their own generation of common rail engines expected very soon.
In a straight line, the Hilux is brisk, enabling it to keep up with the usual compact sedans on the highway. It dispenses 140 km/h in no time and with little difficulty. However, you’ll have to work hard on the Toyota’s long stick shifter to get the most of the Hilux’s compromised gearing ratio. Meanwhile, the Isuzu has the upper hand when it comes to acceleration thanks to a closer-ratio gearbox enabling a low rpm shift point. This helps improve the D-Max’s towing/payload capabilities and fuel mileage too. Of course, ultimately the trade-off is a slower sprint to the century mark, which is not helped by its balky shift action.
In terms of noise, both have the usual diesel clatter. A slight advantage goes to the Hilux with a more subdued mid-range rpm tone. However, it’s easy to carry a conversation on either vehicle whose highway munching ability is marred by large amounts of road and tire noise.
Braking from high speeds was a no contest victory for the Isuzu. Although the Hilux had a slightly better pedal feel, the D-Max had the edge with larger tires and standard ABS with EBD. When both pick-ups figure in an accident, it’s better to be in the D-Max too, with dual SRS airbags versus the Hilux’s driver’s side only SRS airbag. The rear seat belts of the Isuzu are adjustable too, whereas the Hilux’s are fixed.
Though the test team wasn’t able to bring either one on the rough stuff, both should be highly capable given their extensive ground clearance and high approach/departure angles. However, the D-Max’s dash-mounted 4WD selector feels more sophisticated than Toyota’s manual lever and in the process, earns more kudos.
The passenger/payload turns out to be a mixed result for both, neither one coming out the clear victor. With a longer pick-up bed, the D-Max is the better hauler. However, the Hilux is the better troop carrier with its roomier and more comfortable rear bench. Both pick-ups have folding rear benches, but again, the Hilux is much better with the seat bottom folding up instead of the seat backs folding down. This prevents the soiling of the visible interior fabric. In addition, it has under seat storage bins too, perfect for storing tools and other knick-knacks.
After the long drive, the burning question remains: who wins this duel? Does the Hilux have what it takes to topple the D-Max on the road? If you have been keeping score, it’s actually Hilux: 4 (styling, engine, luggage/loading and interior space), D-Max: 5 (ride, ergonomics, solidity, transmission and safety). So while everyone started dismissing the other pick-ups as “has beens” against the Hilux, it seems that the Toyota’s armor isn’t all that impenetrable. After the test, it was easy to lean towards the D-Max, and the tally simply backed up that choice. In the end, the Toyota Hilux may have won some battles, but for the everyday drive, the Isuzu D-Max wins the war.
By Ulysses Ang | Photos By Ulysses Ang and Jason Ang