SOLID TO THE MAX

Weekend Courier - - Driveway - Iain Curry

FOR ad­vice on how to suc­cess­fully sell cars to Aus­tralians, may we please in­vite Isuzu to the stage.

With just two mod­els in its line-up – the D-Max ute and ute-based MU-X SUV – the brand sold nearly 26,000 ve­hi­cles last year, main­tain­ing its year-on-year dou­ble digit growth. Fun fact: it’s a dif­fer­ent buyer pro­file, of course, but Isuzu sold more cars here in 2017 than BMW or Audi.

Isuzu is on a good thing and is stick­ing to it. For its 2018 D-Max one-ton­ner, it adds improvements here and there and steers well clear of any­thing rev­o­lu­tion­ary.

The still-util­i­tar­ian cabin has been soft­ened slightly, it can carry an ex­tra 100kg, new sus­pen­sion im­proves the ride and a rear cam­era is stan­dard, putting it on par with most ute ri­vals on the safety front.

The D-Max’s key sell­ing points re­main, namely the proven re­li­a­bil­ity of the un­der­stressed 3.0-litre turbo diesel, de­cent tow­ing per­for­mance, ap­peal­ing drive-away prices and a long war­ranty.

The D-Max LS-T Crew Cab joins the range on a per­ma­nent ba­sis. The $54,700 flagship 4WD sports 18-inch al­loys with high­way tyres, per­fo­rated leather seats, sat­nav and key­less en­try.

Such pre­mium fea­tures (for a ute) are typ­i­cal on most range-top­ping one-ton­ner ri­vals, even though Isuzu has been reluc­tant to travel this path overtly and risk its core ‘tough and rugged’ im­age.

As not all Isuzu buy­ers take their utes off road, there is the pres­tige LS-T rear-driver with high­way tyres for $46,900.

Isuzu’s mes­sage is clear: the D-Max is a scaled down truck, not a scaled up car.

Small improvements are key and a simple fix Isuzu has brought to the Crew Cabs is soft touch leatherette for the arm rests.

I’ve had plenty of off-road wheel time in the out­go­ing D-Max and needed a towel on the cen­tre con­sole to avoid my el­bow rub­bing it­self raw on the hard plas­tic.

The lack of Ap­ple CarPlay or An­droid Auto puts the au­dio a gen­er­a­tion be­hind ri­vals.

Two USB charge points, leatherette for the glove­box and new cabin chrome and gloss black fin­ishes are also wel­come.

We’re sure to see most one-tonne utes sport­ing coil sprung rears in the near fu­ture. Mean­while, Isuzu has a new three­leaf spring sus­pen­sion set-up for its Crew Cabs. Us­ing denser steel for the springs, Isuzu aims for greater on-road com­fort with­out com­pro­mis­ing the off-road, haul­ing and tow­ing abil­ity.

Ver­dict: Small but ef­fec­tive changes im­prove the strong-sell­ing D-Max. Isuzu sticks to the core prin­ci­ples; same tough-as­nails en­gine and trans­mis­sion, the good war­ranty and sharp prices are quite rightly left alone. It does most things very well, now with a bit more com­fort too.

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