THE fresh-for-2017 Isuzu D-Max range features a heavily revised Euro 5-compliant 3.0-litre common-rail turbo-diesel, exclusive to the Australian market.
WHAT IS IT?
A Japanese 4WD ute that has been something of a sales success in the ultra-competitive dual-cab 4WD ute market. It’s a one-tonne workhorse that can do double-duty as family transport and outback tourer.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
Isuzu UTE Australia fought hard to keep a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel in a buyer market that still views ‘big,’ in terms of engine capacity, as better, rather than opt for already available small-capacity (2.5-litre or 1.9-litre) options. With 430Nm (up 50Nm from the previous-gen model) of torque, the new donk and six-speed gearboxes add more performance, economy and driving refinement.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The D-MAX’s new diesel engine offers more useable grunt, a refined ride (for its market segment), slick six-speed auto gearbox, tough engineering, and five year/130,000km warranty, all at a competitive price point.
PLUS: Euro5-compliant 3.0 turbo-diesel; six-speed auto and manual; off-road performance; versatility; fatter torque band; bang for your bucks
MINUS: Firm ride when unladen; no LSD or rear diff-lock option; short seat-base cushions in lower-spec models; no reach adjustment for steering wheel
THE WHEELS REVIEW
THE Isuzu D-Max has been the quiet achiever in Australia’s burgeoning dual-cab 4WD ute market, steadily – and with little fanfare – making its way up its segment’s sales charts, with its tough, no-nonsense design and performance viewed as a serious option for both adventurous families and tradies.
Isuzu has ridden a wave of sales success with the D-Max (and even more so now with its MU-X wagon sibling) and it is confident this major update of the load-lugger will see it grab even more of the 4WD ute segment; the D-Max finished sixth on the sales charts – beating Mazda’s BT-50 and VW’s Amarok comfortably – and came very, very close to toppling former market big-gun, Nissan’s Navara (only 400 sales separated the two vehicles).
By pushing the (comparatively) big capacity, more torque line, as well as the styling tweaks that result in a sleeker look, Isuzu is also aiming at a wider buyer’s market; dual-cab utes are hugely popular with not only cockies and tradies, but more and more are viewed as a viable family transport, especially now safety levels (and to a lesser extend ride quality) have been brought closer to 4WD wagon levels.
The D-Max is still, first and foremost, a utility vehicle capable of carrying up to one tonne or more in its tray. Balancing the workhorse with the family wanderer has seen substantial work on the suspension, as well as that all-new drivetrain.
The engine is quite well muted (unless you boot it, then the rattle of a pressed diesel engine is evident), thanks to the addition of more soundproofing in the bulkhead and under the guards, and also feels incredibly under-stressed. The smooth-shifting six-speed auto works very well with the engine; the wider torque band, with a juicy 380Nm (the old engine’s max torque figure) now available from 1700-3500rpm, is matched perfectly with the auto’s ratios.
Isuzu also tweaked the six-speed manual to offer closer ratios as well, aimed at improving driveability by keeping the oiler in its torque band.
The interior is a mix of hard plastics, big audio touch screens (seven- or eight-inch, model-dependent), well-bolstered (but short in the base) seats, and good fore and aft vision.
A nice surprise is the D-Max’s on-road handling. It ain’t no sports car (hello, not its design brief) but when shoved at some speed into tight corners, body roll is well controlled, and backed up by effective and non-intrusive electronic driver aids. Bump-steer is minimal over potholed bitumen, with only the harsher unladen ride from the rear end reminding you it’s a work vehicle you are punting along in.
For off-road tourers, the D-Max is a mix of (mostly) good and bad news. The good: all models (even 4X2) now come standard with hill descent control and the switch-on-the-fly 2WD to Hi-4WD is brilliant. The bad(ish): the D-Max relies solely on electronic traction control for off-road driving – there’s no LSD or rear diff-lock available, both of which are now standard or a factory option on its competitors. Still, decent wheel articulation and the traction control do enable the D-Max to clamber over most obstacles, and the hill descent control is intuitive in operation.
Reverse camera is standard only on top-end LS-U – it’s optional on all other models. We reckon it should be standard across the range.
Running out the door
Isuzu is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2017 and to honour this achievement has released a limited edition D-Max, dubbed the X-Runner. Available in two colour schemes – Cosmic Black and Silky White Pearl, both with red accents – the X-Runner is $46,990 drive away.
The X-Runner’s styling is unique; as well as the model-specific colour scheme, the limited edition rig features different-styled alloy wheels, numerous but subtle X-Runner decals along the lower sills, a black sports bar and tub liner, , colour-coded black and red seats, and schmick 100th Year Anniversary badge.
The X-Runner is available only with the six-speed auto and should appeal to the younger adventurous buyer Isuzu is targeting. Only bummer is the seats; it would have been nice to see the six-way powered leather jobbies (with their longer base) in this otherwise stylish limited-run D-Max.
Model: Isuzu D-MAX Crew Cab LS-M
Engine: 2999cc 4cyl, DOHC, turbo-diesel
Max power: 130kW @ 3600rpm
Max torque: 430Nm @ 2000-2200rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 7.7L/100km