Isuzu D-Max LST-T

Isuzu’s D-Max is more stayer than sprinter, but isn’t that what utes are made for?

Farms & Farm Machinery - - Contents -

This gen­er­a­tion D-Max first ar­rived here in 2012. Most no­tably for a man­u­fac­turer with a long his­tory of de­sign­ing and build­ing its own utes, this D-Max wasn’t a 100 per cent Isuzu prod­uct – un­like its pre­de­ces­sors.

The start­ing point for this D-Max was, in fact, a GM de­sign, at least in terms of its ba­sic chas­sis and body shell, even if Isuzu en­gi­neers were in­volved in the de­sign process from early on.

Tak­ing the ba­sic chas­sis and body shared with the Colorado, Isuzu then added its own en­gine, gear­box, trans­fer case, rear axle, sus­pen­sion springs and dampers, in­te­rior fitout and ex­te­rior body pan­els, grille, lights and other de­tails to end up with what is a very dif­fer­ent ute to the Colorado.

Things stayed much the same un­til 2017 when a heav­ily re­vised en­gine came along, as did six-speed man­ual and au­to­matic gear­boxes (re­plac­ing the pre­vi­ous five-speed­ers), more noise, vi­bra­tion and harsh­ness (NVH) con­trol mea­sures, and en­hanced equip­ment lists. For the 2018 model (as tested here), fur­ther re­vi­sions have bought sus­pen­sion and equip­ment changes.

POW­ER­TRAIN AND PER­FOR­MANCE

The D-Max’s three-litre four-cylin­der diesel can trace its roots back to 2006, when it first ap­peared in the Holden Rodeo – ef­fec­tively an Isuzu wear­ing a Holden badge.

The lat­est up­date to this long-serv­ing en­gine for the 2017 model brought higher-pres­sure com­mon-rail in­jec­tion, a new variable-ge­om­e­try low-in­er­tia turbo, new pis­tons and a diesel par­tic­u­late fil­ter (DPF), the key Euro 5 tech­nol­ogy that is found on all the en­gines here. De­spite all these MY17 en­gine changes, the max­i­mum power re­mains a mod­est 130kW/174hp (the low­est here along with HiLux) and, while the max­i­mum torque fig­ure is now 430Nm (up from the pre­vi­ous 380Nm), 430Nm is a class-low fig­ure shared with the Tri­ton.

On the road, things play out bet­ter than this sug­gests. While the D-Max is no pow­er­house, it’s still a re­laxed en­gine and doesn’t need to be revved par­tic­u­larly hard to get the job done. It may, for ex­am­ple, have sim­i­lar power and torque num­bers to the Tri­ton, but it does the same job at lower en­gine speeds.

In its lat­est it­er­a­tion, the D-Max’s en­gine is far qui­eter than be­fore, although the gen­eral en­gine-run­ning re­fine­ment still isn’t any­thing spe­cial. The fact that it’s the largest-ca­pac­ity four­cylin­der here, and also runs a rel­a­tively high com­pres­sion ra­tio, both works against its re­fine­ment and makes it the harsh­est and nosiest en­gine here.

The six-speed au­to­matic (an Aisin unit shared with HiLux) of­fers rea­son­ably smooth and proac­tive shift pro­to­cols with­out ever be­ing a sporty gear­box. The two very tall over­drive ra­tios (again like HiLux) also means the gear­box is more about econ­omy than per­for­mance, and the D-Max does shuf­fle back and forth be­tween fifth and sixth on un­du­lat­ing coun­try roads, as does the HiLux.

As ever, fuel econ­omy is a strong point with the D-Max and it proved the most fru­gal in this par­tic­u­lar test, which is usu­ally the case when it’s up against any of its com­peti­tors.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HAN­DLING

As part of the MY18 up­grade, all SX, LS-U and LS-T dual cabs have re­vised rear sus­pen­sion with three-leaf springs at the rear in­stead of the five-leaf springs used pre­vi­ously. The LS-M mod­els re­tain the five-leaf springs.

The end re­sult is a more com­fort­able ride at the rear than be­fore, which is some­thing you most no­tice when the D-Max is un­laden; not that the D-max rode poorly be­fore, nor was the front-to-rear sus­pen­sion match un­pleas­ant in any way. In fact, be­fore Holden com­pletely re­vised the Colorado’s sus­pen­sion for the 2017 up­grade, the D-Max’s sus­pen­sion tune on the same ba­sic chas­sis was the more ac­cept­able of the two.

Un­like Colorado, the D-Max re­lies on con­ven­tional hy­drauli­cally as­sisted steer­ing, which of­fers more as­sis­tance and a lighter feel than the other hy­drauli­cally as­sisted sys­tems here but could of­fer more feel and feed­back.

LOAD CAR­RY­ING

De­spite the D-Max get­ting more-com­pli­ant rear springs for most mod­els in the MY18 up­grade, the GVM of 4x4 mod­els has been in­creased by 100kg to 3,050kg, which seems coun­ter­in­tu­itive. And with the 900kg pay­load on board, the D-Max didn’t feel as sta­ble or se­cure chas­sis-wise than it did when pre­vi­ously pay­load tested, which was dis­ap­point­ing.

On a more pos­i­tive note, the MY17 en­gine re­vi­sions, where more torque is avail­able at lower en­gine speeds, helps when car­ry­ing heavy loads, even if its mod­est 130kW doesn’t make the D-Max a fron­trun­ner when it comes to heavy-duty load­car­ry­ing per­for­mance.

OFF ROAD

The D-Max’s off-road ar­moury is un­der­done in this com­pany due to a chas­sis that doesn’t of­fer the same sort of wheel travel as the best in class, nor does it have a rear diff lock as any sort of com­pen­sa­tion. Nor is it helped by no­tably ef­fec­tive traction con­trol, which is the saviour of post-2017 Colorado mod­els, which suf­fer the same mod­est wheel travel and lack of a rear locker.

Point the D-Max up a gnarly hill with deep holes and, along with the Tri­ton, it is the first to strug­gle. In fact, only the D-Max and the Tri­ton failed to make it up our set-piece hill climb.

But not all is lost as the D-Max is still a ca­pa­ble-enough 4x4 for typ­i­cal re­cre­ational off-road­ing. And, un­like sev­eral utes here, the en­gine air in­take is via the in­ner-guard in­stead of un­der the bon­net lip or in the en­gine bay, which is a far bet­ter ar­range­ment for deeper wa­ter cross­ings.

CABIN AND SAFETY

The re­cent D-Max up­grades have bought a no­tice­ably bet­terfin­ished cabin than be­fore and more equip­ment (such as sat­nav) on lower-cost mod­els. This LS-T even ex­tends to smart-key en­try and start but still no reach ad­just­ment to the steer­ing wheel.

Still, the D-Max is com­fort­able enough, and, if it’s space you’re af­ter, it matches the Colorado and bet­ters the HiLux, Navara, and Tri­ton. It gets a five-star ANCAP safety rat­ing too but no high-end safety fea­tures.

PRAC­TI­CAL­I­TIES

De­spite Isuzu Ute only set­ting up shop in Aus­tralia in 2008 (even if Isuzu utes wear­ing Holden badges were sold here for decades be­fore that), Isuzu now has 142 deal­ers na­tion­ally. When you con­sider that Toy­ota has 206 deal­ers na­tion­ally, that’s a fair ef­fort.

In the mean­time, the D-Max has earned a good rep­u­ta­tion for re­li­a­bil­ity, sim­plic­ity of ser­vice and low ser­vice costs.

The fact that the D-Max sells in solid num­bers (over 3,500 4x4 mod­els YTD) also means good af­ter-mar­ket sup­port.

Dash fea­tures an elec­tro­lu­mi­nes­cent mul­ti­in­for­ma­tion dis­play (MID)

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