Isuzu D-MAX 2013: Road Test

words - Matt Brogan
Trade relations reach an all-time high for Isuzu's D-MAX ute

Isuzu D-MAX LS-U Space Cab & LS-Terrain Crew Cab
Road Test

Price Guide (recommended price before statutory & delivery charges): $43,700 (LS-U, man.) / $51,700 (LS-Terrain, auto.)
Options fitted to test car (not included in above price): Metallic Paint $300
Crash rating: Four-star (ANCAP)
Fuel: Diesel
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 8.3 (man.) / 8.1 (auto.)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 220 (man.) / 214 (auto.)
Also consider:Ford Ranger (from $19,740 – $59,390); Holden Colorado (from $26,990 – $51,990); Mazda BT-50 (from $25,570 – $53,140); Volkswagen Amarok (from $24,490 – $61,490); 4X4 Dual-Cab Ute Comparison

The light commercial utility scene has undergone something of a revival in recent times. Newcomers from Ford, Holden, Mazda and Volkswagen have dominated proceedings, and given a real shake-up to many stalwart Japanese marques that are yet to present their updated models.

Then there’s Isuzu with its trusty, trade-friendly D-MAX. A quiet achiever in the scheme of things the D-MAX is a no-nonsense one-tonner that offers a capable and cost-effective alternative better suited to trade and agricultural use – owing mainly to its capabilities offroad, its generous load lugging ability and a pragmatic interior comprising a sensible choice of materials.

Power comes from Isuzu’s trusted 4JJ1-TC 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. The unit produces a maximum of 130kW/380Nm, and is mated to the choice of Isuzu’s MUX five-speed manual transmission or an Aisin-sourced AW TB50-LS five-speed automatic.

Between transmissions, the models tested are claimed to offer a combined-cycle fuel consumption figure of 8.3L/100km (and 220g/km of CO2) for the manual variant and 8.1L/100km (and 214g/km) for the automatic. On test, we achieved an average of 7.7L/100km for the manual LS-U Space Cab and 8.8L/100km for the auto-equipped high-grade LS-Terrain Crew Cab.

In four-wheel drive models (as tested) the transfer from two- to four-wheel drive is managed by an electronic selector Isuzu dubs Terrain Control. The selector offers shift-on-the-fly operability through the usual 2H, 4H and 4L functions.

The D-MAX’s body-on-frame is suspended by a rugged wishbone (front) / live axle (rear) arrangement. In the variants tested, the set-up allows for a payload of 1050kg with a braked towing capacity of 3000kg. This sees the D-MAX’s carrying capacity on par with most of its peers, however towing capacity falls just behind class leaders like the Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50 with a braked total of 3350kg apiece.

Four-wheel drive models offer 235mm of ground clearance with approach, break-over and departure angles of 30.0, 22.4 and 22.7 degrees respectively.

Higher grade variants are issued with 17x7.0-inch alloy wheels shod with 255/65 series rubber. The D-MAX is stopped by disc brakes at the front measuring 300mm in diameter with drums measuring 295mm in diameter arresting the rear. Steering is an engine speed-sensitive hydraulically assisted rack and pinion unit that affords the D-MAX a turning circle of 12.6 metres. Disappointingly, the steering column is adjustable for tilt only.

Safety equipment for the D-MAX is generous with six airbags, stability control, traction control and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist offered as standard. The inventory was not, however, sufficient to see D-MAX score top points in ANCAP testing. The model received only a four-star result due to the lesser results achieved during the frontal offset test.

A week at the wheel revealed the D-MAX to be a competent performer. The engine is linear in its delivery and suffers little from the turbo lag experienced in many of D-MAX’s competitors. There’s a hint of turbo whistle noticed with the windows down, but otherwise the unit is quiet, and performs admirably regardless of the load carried (we tried the D-MAX with payloads of up to 350kg).

The late and narrow clutch uptake hinders smooth operation, as does the at times inaccurate gearshift. The five-speed gearbox does, however, offer a good ratio spread for the D-MAX’s intended role.

In the automatic equipped LS-Terrain variant, we find a slightly louder engine note under acceleration, but an equitable ratio spread. The transmission shifts cleanly and is predictable via a well-modulated throttle pedal. Even when towing, we found the manual override to be more or less redundant, except perhaps when used to decelerate the vehicle from highway speeds.

Well assisted steering offers light but tactile operation better suited to offroad use but the longer rack proves vexing for around town use. The turning circle, however, is tight enough to manage stress-free parking in tighter spaces. The top-spec model offers a reversing camera to better aid parking, although we’d have appreciated the inclusion of acoustic sensors as well.

Visibility is equally positive in both D-MAX variants and the high riding position offers the driver a commanding view of the road ahead. The thick A-pillar does, unfortunately, hinder diagonal vision on the approach to roundabouts, although we are thankful for the conveniently-mounted grab handle.

The switchgear feels positive for the most part and brings a nice sense of architecture to the dash, breaking up the otherwise monotone choice of colour. We appreciated the sensible placement of cup holders (both in front of the vents and in the centre console and doors) and the pop-out rear windows on the Space Cab worked well in assisting flow-through ventilation.

Sadly, for those in the back row that’s pretty much where the comfort ends. The blocky squab cushion offers just enough padding for shorter trips and while there are three-point seatbelts for both positions, there are no headrests to speak of.

It’s also a bit of a letdown that high-grade models such as these do not include many of the features found amongst D-MAX’s rivals – namely auto headlamps, auto wipers, the aforementioned acoustic back-up beepers and, on LS-Terrain, the inclusion of steering wheel mounted audio switches or climate control air-conditioning. And let’s not forget that four-star safety rating.

The generous tray dimensions and payload capabilities are let down by too-few tie-down points (four in total) and, like most in the range now, is high enough of the ground to warrant the use of a step ladder. The bigger tray offered in Single Cab and Space Cab variants is also worth noting, especially if you’re only going to use the rear pews on a temporary basis. On test, neither model was offered with a tonneau cover.

Despite a few shortcomings the D-MAX is by far Isuzu Ute’s best offering yet. It goes a long way towards elevating the model among the upper ranks of its Japanese contemporaries and proves itself a worthy contender against the current class-leaders listed atop the page.

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Published : Tuesday, 5 February 2013
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