Isuzu’s workhorse is popular with tradies but a new model aims to broaden its appeal
THE Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger continue to duke it out for top-selling ute status, but competition in the affordable segment of the pick-up market just got tougher.
The Isuzu D-Max four-door 4WD range — priced from $39,990 to $50,990 drive-away — has been given a fresh look, and an overhauled diesel engine that has more grunt yet uses less fuel.
The update catapults the DMax from being the oldest mainstream pick-up on sale — this generation arrived in 2011 — to the newest.
The visual changes may be subtle but the bonnet, grille, headlights and front bumper are all new.
The big news is what’s under the new nose.
Isuzu has all but rebuilt the 3.0-litre turbo diesel to meet the latest emissions standards, in the process bringing the D-Max closer in power and torque to its competitors.
Power is the same as before (130kW) but torque has been given a boost from 380Nm to
430Nm on manual and automatic variants.
While these outputs are still less than most rivals, they shadow the top selling Toyota HiLux, which has 130kW of power and 420Nm (manual) and 450Nm (auto) from its 2.8litre turbo diesel.
To handle the extra grunt there are new transmissions.
The five-speed manual has been upgraded to a six-speed, and the six-speed auto has been strengthened to handle the extra torque.
The diff ratio is the same as before but the internals have been matched to the new engine torque. However there is still no mechanical limited-slip diff available ex-factory.
All Isuzu models (4x2 and 4x4) now come with electronic hill descent control; the low ratio “crawling” gearset for 4WD models is unchanged.
Inside, Isuzu has fitted a new 7-inch touchscreen to the bottom two grades and an 8inch touchscreen to the highest two grades but Apple Car Play and Android Auto are not available. All models come with three USB ports (two up front and one in the rear) plus two 12V power sockets.
A rear view camera is now standard on the three most expensive models (previously it was standard only on the top two grades) but still an optional extra ($430) on the base variant.
Despite being the newest ute on sale, this anomaly puts the D-Max out of step with the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, Mitsubishi Triton and Holden Colorado, which now have a rear camera as standard on all models except the cab-chassis variants.
No changes have been made to the six-airbag safety system in the D-Max since it received a five-star crash test score in 2013.
If the new D-Max were tested to today’s tougher ANCAP standards it would likely score a lower rating, as would its ute competitors.
The five-year/130,000km warranty Isuzu introduced in 2013 continues with the new DMax but the capped price service deal has changed.
The new service intervals are 12 months or 10,000km, whichever comes first.
However, the national average distance travelled for all road users is 15,000km (making visits every 9 months more likely). Isuzu says the average distance travelled for D-Max owners is at least 23,000km per annum.
This means Isuzu owners will exhaust their cheaper capped price service visits in a little over two years, three years short of the warranty expiring.
The company says it will review the program in the coming months based on customer feedback.
ON THE ROAD
The steering and suspension are unchanged from the most recent model, but Isuzu says engineers have been making improvements since the vehicle was launched in 2011. That said, it feels familiar. The D-Max is still the most truck-like of the utes on sale, jiggling over seemingly small bumps in the road. Isuzu says that’s the trade-off for heavy duty load-carrying, towing and off-road ability.
The steering is on the heavy side at a time when other brands have switched to lighter electric power steering.
Most tradies won’t mind the bounciness of the suspension — especially if they’ve not experienced anything else — but it’s worth noting other brands have managed to deliver a more comfortable ride from heavy duty suspension.
Isuzu still has room to improve the D-Max if it wants to broaden its appeal.
The company says extra sound deadening has been added to all models but it’s still a noisy beast compared to the Triton and HiLux.
It has a noticeable swirling noise below 2500rpm before the typical diesel rattle starts to come into play.
The extra grunt is most noticeable on the freeway, where the engine is ticking over closer to the peak torque range.
Points for improvement? A digital speed display would be welcome (standard in the Amarok, Ranger and Colorado) while height and reach movement in the steering column, plus more seat adjustment, would make the driving position more comfy.
Isuzu fans will love the new DMax, but it’s still more suited to tradies rather than families.