ISUZU D-MAX

Australian Geographic Outdoor - - Adventure - Words JUSTIN WALKER

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.

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