Gone are the days when a work ute sat idle over the weekend, the engine cold until Monday morning. These days the humble ute is a rising star in the recreation scene, with some of the more upmarket utes now giving the large 4x4 wagons a run for their money when it comes to market share. Thanks to high levels of creature comforts and enhanced tow capacity to 3.5 tonnes, modern utilities are now a common sight in front of caravans, camper trailers and boats.
Other big reasons for this resurgence are easy to find. They are called dollars. While the big 4x4 wagons such as Patrols, Land Cruisers, Pajeros, Everests and Prados make a meal of this kind of work, they also make a meal of your bank balance. By contrast, virtually all of the ute manufacturers offer their products in four door configuration, offer auto drive trains (with either 4x4 or 4x2 transmissions) and deliver savings of tens of thousands of dollars.
In the hotly-contested utility market segment, the Isuzu D-Max shines thanks to a combination of a laid back 3L turbo diesel engine and excellent comfort levels. Whether towing or doing some easy cruising, the D-Max four cylinder diesel takes hills in its stride just as easily as long straights. Additionally, for a vehicle that doubles as either a workhorse or recreational pony, the D-Max suspension set-up is pretty refined. True, there are springs at the rear (most competitors have these) but the ride around town won’t be too hard – and if there’s a bit of gear in the rear pay load area (rated for up to 600kg) the ride just gets better all round.
With ample models to choose from there seems to be a D-Max for everyone. While Isuzu does offer high-end models with all the bells and whistles, I have tested the somewhat down spec SX, in 5-speed auto guise. The SX is a long way from a poverty pack sort of vehicle, thanks to a decent standard of finish throughout – although cabin tonings are practical rather than fancy – and it has a couple of handy dash features such as Bluetooth, aux and a USB port. There’s also a 12V outlet in the higher of the two gloveboxes on the left side of the dash area.
Also standard were well-made cloth seats, basic air conditioning (no climate air), electric windows, cruise control and a decent radio with a couple of speakers. Rear seat passengers won’t be short of room in the 4-door SX, as Isuzu have achieved an excellent balance of space for both front and rear seat travellers.
So, without sat nav, rear view camera and the like, you might be thinking that the SX D-Max is a bit Spartan – and perhaps it is. However, it’s a well performing, easy pulling and easy riding 4WD with both low and high range options available at the touch of a centre console switch, and that’s more important than the little bells and whistles. With its free running, 4-cylinder 130kW/ 380Nm turbo-charged engine complete with all-of-life steel timing chain, the diesel engine never seems stressed, taking everything easily in its stride.
On the highway, with our 4.3m TABS Bullshark and trailer on the tow ball, the Isuzu ran sweetly at 1800rpm for 100km/h and returned a fuel consumption on a trip to Moogerah Dam of 8.3L per 100km. With a braked towing rating of 3000kg and unbraked being a generous 750kg, we hardly noticed the boat at all.
Our fishing trip to Moogerah gave me the perfect opportunity to try out the 4WD system of the D-Max. A nasty 20 knot westerly wind blew in at lunch time, and I reckon when it’s necessary to tie the boat to a tree just to keep fly fishing, it’s time to give it away! Returning to the ramp near the camping area was easy enough, but from there things were looking tough. A nasty set of breakers had become established right across the ramp, so we had no choice but to avoid the ramp and move around the corner to the north to load the boat, to avoid me getting drenched with cold water. We backed the D-Max well down, winched the boat up, and with the ute’s console switch engaging 4WD the boat and trailer came out of the mud and weed with ease. That is what’s great about all ‘proper’ 4x4s – when you need it, you’ve got it!
So that’s my take on the Isuzu SX D-Max. This ute may not have all the upmarket bling and fancy creature comforts of the other D-Max models and competing brands, but at around $39,000 drive away it certainly has a lot going for it. A 5-year, 130000km warranty is standard. Bear in mind that Isuzu has sold over 9000 D-Max utes for the first half of this year so they certainly have some serious runs on the board. If your plan is to work all week and play on the weekends, it will definitely fit the bill.Reads: 325