D ma­jor

Isuzu plays hard­ball with a tough ute des­tined to strike a chord with tough own­ers

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Road Test - NEIL DOWL­ING

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.

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