It’s not often that I get to test drive a prototype vehicle before it is introduced into the Philippine market. The two times I had the chance to do so was in 2002-2003 when I helped evaluate and promote the Yamaha Nouvo and Mio, and in 2005-2006 when I rode the to-be-introduced Yamaha Sniper 135, which I rode for almost 15,000 kilometers around Southeast Asia on the roads of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines. I had the pleasure of helping promote the Nouvo and Mio as “A/T (or automatic) motorcycles”, referring to their continuously variable transmissions (CVTs), to make them sound more appealing at the time of the motorcycle sale boom in the country, as well as help promote the Sniper around Southeast Asia.
The prototype I’m driving this time is not a new concept vehicle but rather a time-tested one. The vehicle is a pickup truck based on the Isuzu D-Max with some intended similarities because the manufacturer of this pickup is Qingling Motors Co., Ltd. , which is also the official manufacturer of Isuzu vehicles in Chongqing, China. If you guessed that I’m driving the soon-to-be-introduced Qingling Isuzu Taga 4×4 pickup truck, then you’re absolutely right.
Series of Unforeseeable Events
The local distributor of Qingling Isuzu light-, medium-, and heavy-duty commercial vehicles is Kingling Isuzu Philippines, Inc., headed by Mrs. Rosita Sy. In September 2019, she asked my wife, Shawie, to help organize a vehicle display at the SM Mall of Asia grounds in front of the Conrad Hotel, where a Philippine-Chinese Trade Convention, spearheaded by the Chongqing City Government, was being held. When Mrs. Sy learned that I am a mechanical engineer and a former customer service head of Nissan Motor Philippines, she asked me to help evaluate the Taga 4×4 before its introduction. I’ve always extended a helping hand to my friends in the auto industry.
I got the Venecian Blue Taga 4×4 pickup truck on March 11, 2020, just a few days before the government enforced a lockdown of Metro Manila to prevent the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus. Mrs. Sy looked at the impending lockdown as an opportunity for me to evaluate the vehicle for a longer period of time. I looked at it as an opportunity to live with a 5-speed turbo diesel truck in crazy Metro Manila traffic. Talk about a glass being half-full…
If Looks Could Kill
When I fuel up the Taga 4×4 or take it to a carwash, I get a lot of inquiring looks. Often times, somebody would have the courage to approach me and ask, “What brand is that pickup truck you’re driving?” I’d forgive them for asking because our Taga 4×4 test drive unit still has Chinese characters as its emblems. There were a few people who could read the Chinese characters and understand that it is a China-made vehicle but then, some of them would ask me a question in Mandarin or Fookien, which I do not speak. It would be hard to explain in Chinese that it’s actually an Isuzu that was made in the brand’s Chongqing factory. Well, at least, the Taga 4×4 is a good conversation starter among strangers.
Some people mistakenly think that it’s a Ford Ranger prototype because of the shape of the front grill and the blue oval Qingling logo in the middle of the grill. Not a lot of people associate it with an Isuzu D-Max until they look closely at the headlight, which has an Isuzu label embossed in the housing, or when they see the Isuzu engine. One onlooker commented that the cargo bed looks longer than most of the 4-door double cab pickups they see around. I have to agree with that observation because the Taga 4×4’s edges peek out in a parking space even when it’s parked alongside another pickup or SUV. Its 5.6-meter length confirms that it’s a bit longer than most but overall, people are attracted to its masculine looks.
Reliable Supplies Runner
Because of the lockdown, I was not able to drive the Taga 4×4 as often as I would have wanted. Every two weeks, my wife and I would go out to the grocery to get supplies and pass by a pet store to buy food for our cats. Because there’s no traffic, we’d spend less time driving the pickup truck and spend more time lining up for the grocery and the cat food because of the social distancing and safety protocols. Fortunately for us, the Taga 4×4 immediately starts up every time we turn the key despite being parked for nearly two weeks. It goes where I point it, it stops when I need it to, and it does so without a hiccup.
Well, except for one minor hiccup: A month after I got the Taga 4×4, the instrument panel displayed a warning that there was water in the diesel fuel filter/water separator. Luckily, it was an easy Do-It-Yourself fix – just a quick turn of the drain plug, out came the water, and when diesel fuel started dripping out, which means there was no more water in the separator, the warning message on the dashboard stopped. (The ECQ lockdown meant that the Kingling Isuzu Philippines service center was closed so I had to do it myself.) I think the water came from the condensation inside the tank when the vehicle was shipped from China to the Philippines during the cold months. Or it could be that there was some water in the diesel fuel that I loaded into the pickup’s tank when I got it in March. Whatever it was, it wasn’t even the fault of the Taga 4×4 because it ran like a champ after we got the water out of the filter/separator.
Preferable Pandemic Partner
More than two months after I filled the tank up, the fuel gauge was still above the ¼ position. Since I haven’t really evaluated the fuel mileage mathematically and I’m not completely familiar with the fuel gauge, I didn’t want to risk fuel starvation so I added P500 worth of diesel, the price of which went quite low during the ECQ. The fuel gauge needle immediately went above the ½ mark, which told me that there’s still a lot of fuel in the tank. If only I can drive farther and spend more time on the road, I can come up with a definite figure for the Taga 4×4’s fuel mileage. But my family’s health and safety comes first, so we opted to quarantine ourselves at home. A long-term test drive can wait.
Driving a manual transmission without the traffic during the ECQ allowed me to enjoy using a stick shift and clutch again. Thankfully, the clutch of my Taga is smooth and weighted just right while the 5-speed transmission shifts with a positive snick. The gear ratios of the 4×4 are perfectly matched for driving around town, with the engine hovering below 2,000 rpm at 100 km/h in 5th gear. If only we had time to take it up to the boondocks to shift from 2H to 4H (or even 4L) and test its off-road capabilities, we’re sure that the Taga 4×4 will not disappoint.
Almost Perfect Prototype
Overall, I find this Japanese-Chinese 4×4 mixed-breed prototype perfectly suited for the rigors of driving around a locked-down metropolis, not needing anything except a little fuel and a dash across town to warm everything up to operating temperature. I am even surprised with the features that came standard with our Taga 4×4, including a large touchscreen/monitor, reverse camera, blind spot cameras, built-in dash cam, leather seats with red stitching, among other features. Being a test unit that will be used for product and market evaluation, we’re not expecting a lot of changes to the Taga units that will be sold to the public because as it is, it is a fully-loaded, reliable, and attractive pickup truck.
The only thing that Kingling Isuzu Philippines will have to do to the Taga 4×4 is to just change the Chinese emblems for English ones, reprogram the warning messages, displays and the touchscreen for English users, and prepare for the challenges of marketing a Chinese-made Japanese pickup truck in a post-COVID19 “New Normal” world. I would be very interested to see the final products once they’re available.
And perhaps, the biggest challenge of all is to come up with a marketing plan and a very attractive introductory price that post-pandemic buyers will find compelling to consider the Qingling Isuzu Taga 4×4 against the more popular models and more trusted brands. With the right price and marketing position, we’re confident that this Isuzu-based pickup truck will be a hit, especially with the Filipino’s acceptance and high regard of the Isuzu brand.
Suggested Retail Price: To Be Announced
Classification: 4-door double cab pickup truck
Engine model: 4KH1CT5H1
Engine type: Liquid-cooled inline-4 turbocharged common rail diesel (CRDI) Euro 5 compliant
Capacity: 2999 cc
Maximum power: 130 hp
Maximum torque: 280 Nm @ 1800 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Length: 5660 mm
Width: 1885 mm
Height: 1825 mm
Wheelbase: 3406 mm
Curb weight: 2050 kg
Ground clearance: 215 mm
Tire size: 245/70R17
Approach angle: 33°
Departure angle: 26°
Fuel tank capacity: 76 liters
Maximum speed: 140 km/h
Cargo Box / Pickup Bed Dimensions
Length: 1800 mm
Width: 1540 mm
Height: 480 mm
Kingling Isuzu Philippines, Inc.
Kingling Isuzu Showroom
786 A. Bonifacio Avenue, Balintawak, Quezon City
(Globe) 0917 898 3836
(Smart) 0922 898 3555