2021 Isuzu Hi-Lander review, test drive

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2021 Isuzu Hi-Lander: what it is?

First, the bad news. This isn’t the all-new Isuzu D-Max pickup that went on sale abroad last year. That next-gen model is still some time away from an India launch. The good news? Isuzu’s pickups are finally back at showrooms after a long absence. While BS6 emission norms came into force on April 1, 2020, Isuzu’s BS6-compliant models for private buyers have only just gone on sale. 

Updates are limited to the engine. The old 2.5-litre diesel unit has been dropped from the range 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.

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What also sees an increase is pricing, which is up by a considerable near-Rs 3 lakh for comparable models. In all, Isuzu’s BS6 pickup line available to private buyers comprises the Hi-Lander (Rs 17.05 lakh, ex-showroom), V-Cross Z 4×2 AT (Rs 20.06 lakh), V-Cross Z 4×4 MT (Rs 21.07 lakh) and V-Cross Z Prestige 4×4 AT (Rs 24.6 lakh). 

In focus here is the new entry-level Isuzu D-Max Hi-Lander version.

2021 Isuzu Hi-Lander: what’s it like on the outside?

It’s rare to see an Isuzu pickup without a high level of customisation but even by factory-spec V-Cross standards, the entry-level Hi-Lander looks positively au naturale. There’s 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 isn’t part of the standard package. That said, some buyers might actually see their Hi-Lander as a blank canvas ripe for visual updates. Our test vehicle featured a hard lid for the cargo bed, and you could also spec a canopy from Isuzu’s own accessories list.

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Hi-Lander gets minimal chrome detailing.

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Measuring about 5.3m long and 1.9m wide, the Isuzu Hi-Lander occupies a lot of real estate. The sheer size lends the Hi-Lander authority on the road, and many will agree that few vehicle types have the cool quotient of a pickup. But if you’re buying a Hi-Lander for its virtues as a pickup, you should know it’s officially rated to carry 215kg of cargo, though you’d probably be able to cart a whole lot more. The cargo bed is large but also quite high so it’s not the easiest to load/unload from; the plastic bed liner does help slide items in/out. You will need to secure your cargo in place, however.

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Cargo bed rated to carry 215kg; hard lid is an accessory.

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2021 Isuzu Hi-Lander: what’s it like on the inside?

Given that the Hi-Lander sits so high off the ground (pun intended), it’s advisable to opt for a footboard to ease ingress-egress. You’ll also need to spend some more money on an audio system that’s not included. And shocking as it may sound, the Rs 17 lakh Hi-Lander also does without internally adjustable wing mirrors. The short comfort and convenience features’ list 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. In terms of safety, dual airbags and reverse parking sensors are standard and commendably the rear seats get ISOFIX child seat mounts.

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Hi-Lander gets few frills inside the cabin; plastics feel built to last.

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The Hi-Lander might lack frills, but the interior is actually quite nice. The dashboard is neatly styled and even practical with its twin gloveboxes and pop-out cupholders. Cabin quality is good too for what is a hardy pickup. The plastics have a built-to-last feel and panel gaps are tight and consistent.

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Rear seat offers good cushioning and ample legroom.

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Drivers will like their seats as well as the commanding view of the road ahead. However, the sight of so much pickup behind you in the rear view mirror can be daunting if you aren’t used to vehicles of this size. 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.

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Seat-base can be folded up to make space for luggage.

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2021 Isuzu Hi-Lander: what’s it like to drive?

The Hi-Lander might be pitched as a pickup truck for urban buyers, but the fact is an Isuzu pickup isn’t 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 (there’s no reverse camera on the Hi-Lander), you’ll need a spotter for three point turns.

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1.9-litre diesel develops 163hp and 360Nm; offers good pulling power from low rpms

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With that out of the way, let’s 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 isn’t quick to rev or exciting but then it doesn’t need to be. There’s good pulling power from low in the rev band, which is just what you want in a vehicle that would be used to carry heavy loads. The engine’s 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’s not much to gain by revving past 2,500rpm. Keep revs under this mark and you’ll even appreciate the engine’s refinement. It does clatter at idle and is audible at all times but it’s not loud as you’d expect a diesel pickup truck to be.

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Hi-Lander only available with a manual; gearshifts require effort.

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Ride comfort, however, 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’s no load on the leaf-sprung rear suspension. Potholes taken at high speeds result in a sharp judder. Handling is also lazy.

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Ride gets bouncy at moderate city speeds more so with no load in the back

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Ability off-road? If you’re an ‘adventurer’ only on your social media bio, the Hi-Lander will serve you well. The ladder frame chassis is built to take a beating while the chunky 245/70 R16 tyres and ample ground clearance will see you through mild off-road trails attempted in fair weather, of course. If your use case requires proper off-road ability, you’ll need to considerably stretch your budget for the V-Cross 4×4 MT.     

2021 Isuzu Hi-Lander: should you buy one?

The Isuzu Hi-Lander is one of those vehicles that grows on you the more time you spend with it. Yet, objectively speaking, it’s 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.

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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 hit the spot. 

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