Isuzu plays hardball with a tough ute destined to strike a chord with tough owners
MADE in Thailand, Isuzu’s D-Max uses many similar parts to Holden Colorado. Drivetrains are different but there are enough common concepts to make buyers aggressively shop these against each other.
Call me harsh but a ladder frame, a simple diesel engine and bulging body panels aren’t worth nearly $50,000, especially when annual production runs to tens of thousands. These are a licence to print money for some ute makers. The Isuzu presents as a long-awaited, all-new ute in three body styles, with a more powerful engine. But it’s not really all-new. The Space Cab LS-U seats up to two adults and has (very) occasional seating for two in the back via small, rear-hinged doors. It has reasonable equipment— Bluetooth, fold-in mirrors, cruise, trip computer— but its strength is durability. The list of rivals is long and competitive, though the Isuzu is generally the cheapest.
It’s a more muscular version of the old model. For 2012, the Space Cab version has an extended cabin with a couple of floor cushions for the reluctant passengers. The two rear
‘‘ seats’’ have storage bins beneath and the cushions fold up against the rear wall. The reverse-opening rear doors make it a snap to load humans and other valuables.
There are not as many changes over the 2011 model as you may think. Mostly tweaking and honing, an excellent strategy to attract buyers to a ute with a brilliant history for reliability.
Changes of note include a 45mm longer wheelbase, lower and wider tray, bigger cabin and redesigned dash.
Rival Holden has a new(ish) 132kW/440Nm 2.8-litre VMMotori turbo diesel. Isuzu has upgraded last year’s 120kW/ 360Nm 3.0-litre turbo diesel to 130kW/380Nm.
It’s a strong engine with a broad power range, yet a bit more agricultural than rivals. But it’s smart. Changes are made to improve longevity and things such as the camshaft’s chain drive, as opposed to the belt in some rivals, will be appreciated by owners. Oil changes are out to 20,000km. The five-speed manual gearbox is made by Eaton. The front suspension is double wishbone and coil and the rear a conventional, leaf-spring set-up mounted on top of the rigid axle.
Most of this is carried over from the old model. A 3000kg tow rating and 1050kg payload are good. No prize for the rear drum brakes, though.
This is a four-star rated vehicle. You shouldn’t put your family in a four-star car if you have a choice. HiLux is a four-star. But the D-Max has electronic stability and traction control, six airbags, ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist plus occupant safety measures including a welded passenger cell. Only the top-line LS-Terrain has a reversing camera.
On the road the let-down is the rubbery action of its five-speed manual gearbox. Spend the extra $2200 on the five-speed auto option. The ride is firm— more jittery than the Colorado so it prefers a load in the back — though well controlled. Steering has a light action and good control.
Strong below 3500rpm, the engine is especially torque-y about 2500rpm, with such a broad range of grunt it will pull from fifth from 1000rpm. Slowly, but it’ll do it.
The turning circle is typically wide, which means it’s hard work in city and suburbs. Brakes are adequate.
On tests in the dirt, through long, lonely gravel roads and brutal rocky outcrops near Perth, it’s a different machine. Engage 4WD Low via the twist dial on the dash and it’ll idle up steep hills and hold pace to a crawl while descending. The suspension remains firm but reveals its necessary compliance in hard conditions. The seats are reasonable (heaven help those in the back) and visibility very good. Isuzu claims 8.3L/100km but my day in the dirt and a freeway ride home returned 9.9L/100km.
If you think the latest crop of utes is good enough to replace a passenger car or an SUV on your family drives, think again.
But if you’re a tradie, farmer or enthusiastic four-wheeler, or you need a rugged, goanywhere machine with decent load-carrying ability, these are your toys.