NO FRILLS

The D-max is one of the old­est de­signs here, so is it up to com­pet­ing with the new boys?

4 x 4 Australia - - Driven -

LOAD TEST

YOU may no­tice that the D-max has a new tail­gate, new alloys and a ‘shark fin’ an­tenna. There are changes in­side as well, with a new in­stru­ment clus­ter and larger touch­screen on the mid-spec vari­ants, but that’s the ex­tent of the D-max’s most re­cent (MY15.5) up­dates. Along with the BT-50, the D-max is the old­est de­sign in our test group, bear­ing in mind that the Hilux, Navara and Triton are all-new while the Ranger and the Colorado have been sig­nif­i­cantly re­vamped – in­clud­ing me­chan­i­cal changes – in the past year.

As in its ear­lier in­car­na­tion, the D-max’s tub has four de­cently sized tie-down hooks, and with the 800kg load se­cured the rear ride height dropped around 60mm, as good as the best of its test ri­vals. Our to­tal pay­load of 970kg (in­clud­ing driver, etc.) is 40kg to 80kg shy of the max fig­ures for the var­i­ous D-max dual-cab 4x4 pick-ups.

With the 800kg pal­let in the tub and head­ing up the hill, Isuzu’s D-max felt a lit­tle nose-up but it didn’t bot­tom out on any of the bumps. While this did make the steer­ing no­tice­ably lighter, the chas­sis was gen­er­ally com­posed, sta­ble and con­fi­dent.

Not so good is the D-max’s 3.0-litre en­gine, which feels the weight in the tub more than any of the rest in the test. While the max­i­mum power of 130kw is com­pet­i­tive with the less pow­er­ful en­gines, its 380Nm of max torque is well short of all the rest. This lower torque out­put trans­lates to less power off idle and at low revs, some­thing you def­i­nitely don’t want when haul­ing a big load up a steep hill.

The D-max still got the job done, it just had to work harder at it than the oth­ers. It is, after all, a much older en­gine than those pow­er­ing its ri­vals. The en­gine re­fine­ment is also noth­ing spe­cial in this com­pany, although I’d still note that it isn’t bad.

The five-speed auto also does the en­gine few

favours. Not only does it have fewer ra­tios than all but the Triton, there’s noth­ing flash about the way it shifts up or down on the hill. Like the en­gine, it’s an older de­sign.

The flip side to all this is that the D-max’s en­gine is a re­li­able, es­tab­lished de­sign that has done more than a few laps. Like­wise, the gear­box is well proven and comes from an Aisin gear­box fam­ily pre­vi­ously and widely used by Toy­ota in its Prado and Landcruiser models.

With the dead­line for Euro 5 emis­sion com­pli­ance loom­ing, Isuzu will have to do some­thing en­gine-wise for the D-max for MY17, even if it’s just the ad­di­tion of a diesel par­tic­u­late fil­ter. Per­haps the changes will run deeper than that and there will be more power and torque as well. Only time will tell.

TOW TEST

THE unas­sum­ing D-max took our load rea­son­ably well. Its bum sagged a lit­tle un­der the weight, but there’s a sto­icism about the Isuzu that gives you the im­pres­sion it will have a crack at just about any­thing.

How­ever, in the cur­rent com­pet­i­tive cli­mate the D-max is se­ri­ously chal­lenged by the per­for­mance and re­fine­ment on­slaught of ve­hi­cles in this seg­ment. The ven­er­a­ble 130kw/ 380Nm pow­er­plant aims to please but in this com­pany is left want­ing. And, like the Navara, it also lacks trailer sway con­trol.

The gen­er­a­tional lag be­tween the Isuzu and the rest of the flock is very ap­par­ent at max weight. On the up­hill drags the D-max roared, clam­bered and snorted while falling short of its ri­vals’ per­for­mances. The tacho hov­ered at 3000rpm in sec­ond gear – and there it stayed as the D-max hauled it­self up the hill. The rear end also had a tough time. There was a bit of bump steer out back, but the steer­ing re­mained rea­son­ably com­posed and the Isuzu was eas­ily con­trolled on the up and the down. Again, the five-speed self-shifter may be tough but it’s not the most in­tu­itive bit of gear.

On the up­side, the en­gine did help to hold back our load on the down­hill runs once there was some man­ual in­ter­ven­tion with the ’box. You do get the im­pres­sion, how­ever, that the D-max would take this sort of beat­ing day in and day out with­out a hic­cup.

The Isuzu feels its age in this com­pany but got the job done, none­the­less.

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