It’s been a long road for the Isuzu ute. From its first appearance as the little Isuzu Wasp utility in 1963 to the first D-Max in 2002, and now its latest version was released in 2012.
Its reputation for toughness over absolute refinement, the D-Max sits in some mighty tough sales territory with at least nine rivals competing for buyer’s approval. Competitors consist of the Great Wall V240, Nissan’s Navara, the Mahindra, Mitsubishi Triton, Toyota Hilux, Holden Colorado, Ford Ranger, Mazda BT50 and VW’s Amarok.
Such a large range of similar styles of vehicles offer interesting mixes of refinement and features. Where the Isuzu D-Max stands in this field is somewhat difficult to pinpoint when we stack feature against feature and then add in the dollar factor as well. However, what the Isuzu does have is an acknowledged reputation for rugged reliability and easy capability either on or off road, thanks to a super tough build, it’s genuine low range 4WD capacity and ample ground clearance.
Through and through, the D-Max is a work ute in every sense of the word. It has a rear cargo area of 1800mm long, 1500 wide, 500 high, and a tough leaf spring suspension set up that can cater for 980kg pay loads. Now that is a lot of camping or fishing gear.
The cabin of the LS five speed manual D-Max Crew Cab as reviewed was cheerful. Instruments were easily found, the entire dash had a quality appearance about it and had no squeaks or rattles appearing even when travelling over rough back roads. There were two levels of storage compartments on the left side of the dash, with a standard glove box lower, and another in-dash compartment above.
Important audio functions, including the FM/AM radio, CD player, were linked to a roof-mounted surround-sound system. Bluetooth and Ipod systems were mounted on the left side of the steering wheel, and the easy to use cruise control system was on the right side of the wheel.
Driver’s will be more than happy with the amount of front seat adjustment available in the Crew Cab. Seats are well padded and offer reasonable support. After almost four hours of continuous travel, it did not produce any leg or back discomfort.
The Crew Cab’s paired rear seats, accessed via forward opening doors, were only basic. While head and leg room was reasonable, the sheer upright stance of the rear cushions dictated that these seats might best be used for short distance travel; as a work ute to go from job to job perhaps, or dropping the kids off at school.
Work truck heritage aside, power windows, air conditioning with pollen filter as well as remote keyless entry were also part of the LS Isuzu D-max package.
The five speed manual Isuzu D-Max was a powerful little truck, with an eagerness to travel quickly on the highway that was matched by easy tractability around town. A 3L intercooled common rail turbo diesel engine producing 130kW of power, 380Nm of torque, seems to give the impression that it’s never working hard. Gearing is the secret, plus the fact that turbo lag was minimal with the engine having a surprisingly flat torque curve throughout its rev range.
With a fair load of camping gear in the rear, two adults within the cabin, the ute was an ideal vehicle for a run to Coolmunda Dam west of Warwick to have a close look at the camping and fishing potential of the area.
The camping gear in the rear cargo area certainly dampened the somewhat solid rear spring set up of the ute. Its comfy driving position, easy tracking and road holding courtesy of the double wish bone/coil springs/gas shock absorbers up front, it was a very pleasant 3 3/4 hour drive to Coolmunda. There was absolutely no feeling of discomfort on leaving the vehicle after that trip, which speaks well of overall comfort levels. Fuel consumption on that run was a very good 9.2L per 100km.
With a 3 tonne braked trailer (750kg unbraked) towing capability the D-Max is right up there with the best towing capacity available. In order to test the ute’s capability I gave it a workout towing my 5.5m Galeforce centre console with its 90 E-Tec on the transom. I have towed the same boat with most other 4WD utes and wagons available today and there’s no question that the Isuzu D-Max made an equally capable job of towing the solid glass craft. The clutch had an easy, quite distinct, take up point and the 3L diesel engine easily maintained revs and pulling power as I changed up or down through the five gears.
Being a manual vehicle, engine braking was also a handy factor thanks to the compression of the diesel engine. Engine braking also comes into its own when travelling off road and with 4WD high or low range gearing selected. Changing to 4WD on the fly at speeds up to 100km/h was as easy as engaging a console knob. Once the knob was turned the transformation to all wheel drive came about without any jarring or delay, important factors when travel turns from basic to boggy.
The Isuzu D-Max is perhaps not the most sophisticated of the current crop of work ute based RVs but it has a great deal of redeeming features, and a reputation of solid build quality and great toughness. And let’s not forget it’s high comfort levels.
Owners can look forward to a long work life with the D-Max, as its engines feature an all-of-engine-life steel timing chain for maintenance-free operation.
Safety is not overlooked with EBD, Brake Assist, Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control System, plus side impact anti-intrusion bars are built into the passenger compartment to complement Isuzu’s standard six air bags.
An honest, easy to get along with vehicle, with off road and street credentials. The Isuzu D-Max LS Crew Cab combines the world of work and play in a neat package that looks good and drives well.
It has a 3 years/100,000km warranty. Price of the D-Max as reviewed was $39,990.Reads: 4784