Monday, November 3, 2014

Used Car Review - Isuzu Alterra (2005-2014)

Myk Belmonte reviews this SUV which didn't catch the radar of others back then.

2005-2014 Isuzu Alterra

Passenger pick-up vehicles (or commonly called as PPV) are a popular vehicle segment in Thailand, mainly because pick-up trucks such as the Toyota Hilux Vigo and Isuzu D-Max are their best sellers that makes sense to expand the market. These vehicles have their own sets of advantages and disadvantages, good is they are mostly tough and building them does not require a fortune but they suffer poor riding dynamics since they have pick-up truck genes. Vehicles competing in this segment currently include the Toyota Fortuner (Hilux based), Mitsubishi Pajero Sport (platform derived from the Strada), Chevrolet Trailblazer (shares its platform with the Colorado), Ford Everest (Ranger derived), and the Isuzu MU-X (D-Max based).

Year 2002 saw the launch of the D-Max pick-up in Thailand that replaced the TF line (including our Fuego, locally) but the MU-7 didn't had it launch until November 2004. It was basically a D-Max in body but the rear area was covered and this got a revised suspension system that suited for carrying passengers than cargo. In Thailand, it replaced the Wizard SUV, also based from the predecessor of the 'Max. Although its pick-up cousin was treated to a redesign in 2011, the MU had a new body two years later with a name change to MU-X.

Before, the Trooper was the sole SUV offering of Isuzu Philippines until various problems with the injectors had the Alterra (its local name) replacing it which had the Everest and Fortuner to compete with back then. It bowed out in September 2014 with the MU-X, a more competent vehicle, was released. During its selling time, a sole 4x2 and 4x4 models were available until they were renamed as the Urban Cruiser in 2011 and Urban Cruiser X in 2012 with a less optioned Zen added in 2009.

Value and Costs
With the MU-X having its debut recently, expect Alterra prices to be in the same level of popular competitors. Prices range from P550,000 for the early models to P1,100,000 for 2013 models. As a general rule, January 2012 and later purchased units have a remainder of their warranty so have a lookout for those. 4WD option was added to the range in December 2005 but only paired with an automatic.

Thanks to its brand reputation, maintenance costs are similar or sometimes lower than rivals that's when you take care of the vehicle meticulously. Using the right fuels and regular changing of oil and filters will free the car from black smoke from the tailpipe.

Exterior and Interior
If you tell that the front resembles the D-Max, then you're correct. For some who can't say the resemblance to the pick-up truck, then just think of this: the rear bed is replaced by a roof, rear door, and third row seats are added. With a length of 4,950mm, it is significantly longer than the Fortuner and the 2008 Montero Sport. The sleek lines complement the long body but you may say that it resembles a funeral hearse (oops, November 1 had passed by). Urban Cruiser models get front and rear chin while side step boards are standard for all.

One of the selling points of this vehicle back then is a standard entertainment system in the form of a DVD player (depending on the year which may be either a single din radio or a touch screen one), two headrest monitors, 5.1 surround system, and a detachable subwoofer. Entertainment system aside, passengers can expect decent space inside but the second row's middle seat is too tight plus interior quality is acceptable and not on the cheap side.

A common trait among PPVs is that engine options are the same with their pick-up truck brethren, and the Alterra does not break the tradition with the 4JJ1 3.0 - shared with the D-Max - having 144hp at 3,800rpm and 294Nm with a torque range between 1,400-3,400rpm. On paper, power figures are conservative but drive it and you'll see effortless driving to 100kph but go beyond it and it shows its limitations. On the other hand, the low torque range can give you high fuel economy figures. As always, expect some engine clatter since this reminds you that you're driving a diesel.

Driving Impressions
Since this is an SUV based on a truck, so don't expect sports car handling plus maneuvering this can be hard no thanks to its long size. The suspension settings are tuned for comfort, so driving this one at high speeds or road ruts then it begins to bounce out. If you prefer a wallowy ride similar to some American cars, this is it.

If you need a cheap SUV which has a diesel engine, then put the Alterra on your list. Some traits like a hard to maneuver vehicle and a bouncy ride may put others off, but then you can live with those compromises.

The Good:

  • Fuel friendly
  • Low maintenance costs
  • Standard entertainment system
The Bad:
  • Diesel noise
  • Truck like ride
  • Numb steering
The Pick: 3.0

Engine: 2,999cc 4JJ1-TC I4 diesel
Power: 144hp @ 3,800rpm
Torque: 294Nm @ 1,400-3,400rpm
Fuel Consumption: 8-10km/L (city), 10-13km/L (highway) (*estimated and varies)
Transmission: 5-speed manual (4x2), 4-speed automatic
Suspension: Front double wishbone with torsion bar springs and stabilizer bar, rear Flex RideMOVE suspension with semi-elliptical leaf springs

Price (New): P1,300,000-P1,700,000
Price (Now): P550,000-P1,100,000
Rivals: Chevrolet Trailblazer, Ford Everest, Mitsubishi Montero Sport, Toyota Fortuner
On Sale: May 2005-September 2014

Isuzu Makati - (02) 819-1219
Isuzu Quezon Avenue - (02) 926-7111

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