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