The Isuzu D-Max shares a market niche with strong contenders like the Toyota HiLux, Mitsubishi Triton, Nissan Navara and Mazda B50, all competing for market share. In view of recent sales of the D-Max – sales have been increasing steadily in the last quarter – I suspected that this ute must have a lot going for it.
It does, and what it comes down to is sheer driveability coupled with a capable yet frugal 3L diesel motor that is both responsive and very smooth.
Heritage shows its worth here. Isuzu is Japan’s oldest manufacturer of engines and cars (although the D-Max comes out of a factory in Thailand, the same as virtually every other major ute on the market these days) and the company has been designing diesel engines for over 70 years; motor vehicles even longer.
Big strong trucks are the forte of Isuzu, and that successful manufacturing heritage is passed along to the D-Max for the consumer’s benefit.
Also, there appears to be a D-Max for every purpose. There are no less than 11 models (all are 3L four-cylinder diesels) starting at the no-frills hose-her-out SX single cab chassis 4x2 workhorse with its steel wheels, right through to the LS-U which comes with all the bells and whistles.
While there is no getting away from the fact that the D-Max is a work vehicle with a 1 tonne payload it still has a nimble, lively, feel that conveys an impression of refinement rather than sheer workhorse capability.
That hard to define feeling of refinement – a combination of overall smoothness, the feel of the controls and general seating position, spaciousness all round and lack of engine noise while under way – carried over into the SX Crew Cab five-speed manual fitted with aluminium tray that we see in this review. You’ll see something from the pics, too: the D-Max is quite a handsome beast.
I found the positive feeling five-speed manual gear box mated extremely well to the flexible intercooled turbo four-cylinder diesel engine with shifts up or down gears very easy thanks to a light but direct clutch. Utes that need to earn their keep sometimes tend to have high revving engines mated to extra low gearing that is a pain when driving in traffic but the D-Max presented me with none of this. A tall enough first gear saw the ute slipping away from the lights in good form with a change to second coming close to the 60kph mark. On the highway, a fifth gear overdrive gear saw 100km on the speedo with a modest 2000rpm on the tacho.
Fuel consumption over a mix of city and country driving was in the order of 8.9L per 100km which is very good indeed, and with a 72L tank the D-Max should offer great cruising potential.
In my mind there is no doubt that the 3L diesel motor of the D-Max is one of the top selling points of the vehicle. Interestingly, this engine is also under the bonnet of the 200 Series Isuzu two-tonne truck, which is a real workhorse in every sense of the word.
Not surprisingly, with some 360Nm of torque and 120kW of power the same engine does a mighty job of powering the much lighter D-Max. The high-tech diesel is enhanced with variable vane turbo technology, a common rail high-pressure fuel system plus a no-replacement stainless steel chain driving the dual overhead camshafts of the 16-valve engine.
The D-Max has a dash-mounted button to engage 4WD – and I might add that the 4x4 system did engage instantly, unlike some of the other in-dash systems out there. The D-Max is a very strong performer off-road thanks to the 360Nm of torque at the ready.
Low range is useful for serious off-road work or for entering onto or leaving a beach with a boat or camper trailer in tow. With plenty of traction on hand from the 16" wheels, the D-Max is limited only by the degree of wheel travel available to counter obstacles. Certainly, approach and departure angles are brilliant at 34.6 and 2.3 degrees respectively, while the 225mm minimum ground clearance is also useful when tracks and trails take the place of formed roads.
The ride of the D-Max is comfortable rather than luxurious (as expected of this class of vehicle) in that an independent double wishbone front suspension with coil springs up front is mated to rear semi-elliptic leaf springs. With its 1 tonne capacity, the ute will carry a mighty payload of camping or fishing gear into hard-to-reach places and tow a 3 tonne braked trailer.
Interior sound proofing of the D-Max SX crew cab was excellent, with little road noise intruding. Comfort for driver and passengers alike was also of a generally high standard, with ample leg and head room. Although the SX was not top-of-range, its features extended to include electric windows and mirrors, air conditioning, dual air bags and the all-important ABS and EBD systems for emergencies.
I found the ride to be firm while unloaded, and with a load aboard it was quite good, about the same as other work utes in its class. Handling presented no vices; the steering was light but direct with a degree of sensitivity that was pleasing.
The Isuzu D-Max SX Crew Cab chassis is very sharply priced at $39,500 which includes the tray as well. Competitors are going to find this price hard to match given the features, the easy smooth performance, and overall dynamics of the vehicle which certainly has that ‘something’ that makes it easy to like. Plus its easy to use and easy to help us enjoy those fun times we anglers all look forward to at the end of the working week.Reads: 5244