THE ISUZU D-MAX has been a runaway sales success for the 100-year-old Japanese company since its 2008 launch in Australia, and has steadily climbed up the local 4X4 ute sales ladder to an impressive sixth position in 2016, finishing comfortably ahead of Mazda’s BT-50 and Volkswagen’s Amarok.
With this type of result, combined with the impressive sales performance of the MU-X 4X4 wagon since its late 2013 debut, you’d think Isuzu UTE Australia (IUA) would be happy to rest on its laurels. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, and the company’s determination to grow sales further was more than evident at the recent launch of the 2017 Isuzu UTE and MU-X (officially called the “MY16.5” variant as it doesn’t cop a lot of the exterior styling/design tweaks that the MY17 D-MAX does but does receive the new engine), with the big news being its all-new, worldfirst Euro5-compliant 3.0-litre, common-rail, turbo-diesel powerplant, developed exclusively for Isuzu’s Australian market. The engine carries over the 130kW power output from the previous-gen while upping the torque; the newbie’s 430Nm (at 2000-2200rpm) is not only 50Nm higher than previous, but is now available across a far wider rev-range, with 380Nm of torque on tap from 17003500rpm – a big improvement on the previous-gen’s 1800-2800rpm. Backing this increased grunt is a new six-speed manual (Isuzu’s own; the MVL-6N) and smooth Aisin six-speed automatic gearbox, along with a toughened rear diff to cope with the extra punch.
UNDER THE BONNET
The new 3.0TD engine, on paper, is impressive: it features a new variable geometry turbocharger and intercooler, new pistons (graphite coated), injectors, fuel pump, robust steel timing chain, larger EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) cooler, tough cast roller rocker arms and more – all aimed at confirming the Isuzu reputation for bombproof powerplants. One of the most impressive pieces of tech in this new engine, though, is the Diesel Particulate Diffuser (DPD), which was the final piece of the Euro5 compliance puzzle. This technology, put simply, results in collected particulate matter (held in a filter) being burnt off once the filter is full, or at a given distance. The process is dubbed “Automatic regeneration” by Isuzu and you can even watch its progress via the on-dash display, which shows both the level of particulate matter as it builds up, and then the regeneration process.
A NEW FACE
For 2017 the D-MAX styling has been refined (the MU-X keeps its current styling at this point) with a sleeker appearance. The bonnet and the grille have been redesigned, with the stylists managing to improve the coefficient of drag (by a claimed 0.4%) while still retaining the ‘tough’ appearance that is part of the D-MAX DNA. Other tweaks include revised headlights, with the LS spec D-MAX copping LED daylight running lights (DRL) and lower spec EX and SX receiving new halogen headlights. The 18-inch alloy wheels on the LS-T have also been redesigned.
To celebrate Isuzu’s 100th anniversary, IUA has released a limited-edition X-Runner model, available in either Silky White Pearl or Cosmic Black. This auto-only model is aimed squarely at the active adventurer market. Black and red dominates the colour scheme of both variants – with black sports bar and dark grey alloys exterior highlights – and inside, the seats are a sporty mix of black and red.
ON- AND OFF-ROAD
The test route for the Isuzu D-MAX and MU-X launch was designed to showcase the vehicles’ allrounder capability, with a return loop starting from Queensland’s Gold Coast and heading south along major freeways and B-roads to the beach at Evans Head, NSW, and then into a deserted quarry for more off-road driving, before returning north to the GC.
IUA makes no qualms about the D-MAX, in particular, being primarily a workhorse but one that is also more than comfortable doing family weekday duties while serving as an adventure vehicle for weekends. To this end, the vehicle’s suspension is slightly biased toward its load-lugging capability,
but surprisingly, the expected overly hard ride did not eventuate. Our first test rig was an unladen X-Runner and it impressed both with its surprisingly compliant ride (for a 4X4 ute), and also with its on-road dynamics; there was little in the way of pronounced body-roll, even on tight corners approached at a decent clip, the D-MAX remained composed and didn’t lean over dramatically. The ability to switch the Aisin six-speed auto into “manual mode” for windy downhill sections was also appreciated. The auto kept the revs well within the optimum working range ensuring minimal hesitation if you stomped your right foot. The NVH levels have definitely improved, with engine noise well muted and only really noticeable if you dropped down a couple of cogs.
The driver’s position (always a personal thing) in the X-Runner is relatively comfortable – the only negative from this 183cm-tall person’s perspective is the bottom cushion on the seats is a bit short, and the seat base is set quite high (not an issue if you’re a shorty of course). The only other minor bugbear is the steering wheel has no reach adjustment. Jumping in a high-spec MU-X midway through the on-road section, however, it was great to have the six-way powered leather seats (standard on the LS-T D-MAX as well). The base of these seemed longer, and the additional adjustability was most welcome, allowing for a very comfortable driving position.
Off-road performance of the D-MAX and MU-X reflects the brand itself: the vehicles just get the job done, with no frills. The updated models still rely solely on electronic traction control (there’s no LSD or rear locking diff option), but IUA has added Hill Descent Control (HDC) as well and during testing this worked a treat; one steep descent was reduced to a doddle thanks to the effective HDC which is easily controlled via brakes and throttle. Wheel articulation on the D-MAX is also quite good for this market; there were only a few instances that a
Off-road performance of the D-MAX and MU-X reflects the brand itself: the vehicles just get the job done, with no frills.
rear wheel lost contact with the ground, on noticeably deep ruts, but the ETC kicked in quickly and, after a bit of excessive wheelspin, got the vehicle through. Isuzu has a lot of confidence in its ETC for these vehicles but it would still be nice to be able to add a rear locker, especially when most of the D-MAX competitors have them as either standard fitment or a factory option. The underbody has also been beefed up; steel sump and transfer case guards, a steel front skid plate and protection for the fuel tank are all standard.
The Isuzu D-MAX and MU-X have been the quiet achievers in the Oz 4X4 market – but very successful ones for the Japanese company, thanks to their combo of a tough, reliable vehicle range that offers great bang for your bucks, 12-month service intervals, five years capped price servicing and excellent dealer service (Isuzu looks likely to be ranked second in the 2016 Roy Morgan Customer Satisfaction Awards). These latest upgrades and refinements will see IUA confident of continued success.