2012 ISUZU D-MAX REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Dual Cab 4x4 Utility
Price: $38,700 (plus on-road costs)
Fuel consumption (claimed): 7.9 l/100km
Fuel consumption (on test): 8.8 l/100km
The 4WD Ute segment is in the middle of a rapid transformation.
What it means is that the days of the utilitarian ute experience are rapidly disappearing. Volkswagen (Amarok), Ford (Ranger) and Mazda (BT-50) are leading the charge with new model ranges that manage split personalities with increasing finesse.
They’ll carry a load during the week and cart the family around on the weekend, mirroring the comfort and handling of a modern family sedan.
Due for replacement around the middle of this year, Isuzu's D-MAX is one of the last of the older generation utes still on sale.
To be honest, when it comes to family transportation duties, it flat out can’t compete with the new-gen utes (that’s a comparo for the all-new D-MAX when it arrives), but there is more to this nuggety little worker than meets the eye.
We’ll wager it will be sorely missed when the curtain finally closes.
Quality: It’s built to be worked hard, and the D-MAX interior feels tough enough to take some real punishment. It’s screwed together well, with nary a plastic squeak or rattle to be heard.
Comfort: The front seats have relatively soft cushioning but lack lateral support and struggle to completely isolate you from the jiggly and occasionally bone-jarring unladen ride. Front seat head and legroom is generous.
The rear seat looks uninviting, but there is a surprising amount of room and reasonable comfort. This isn’t a long-haul family vehicle, but it will get you and your workmates to the next job without complaint.
Equipment: The SX D-MAX is the base model crew cab. It’s a work ute and basic practicalities abound, with vinyl flooring and manually-operated side mirrors.
There are a few mod-cons though, little luxuries including power windows, remote keyless entry, air-conditioning, cruise control, tilt adjustable steering, in-dash 2WD/4WD mode buttons, and a perfectly reasonable CD/MP3/FM/AM audio system with six speakers.
Storage: The D-MAX is rated to tow 3.0 tonnes braked (750kg without trailer brakes).
The alloy tray fitted to our tester, replaced the standard styleside ute tray which measures 1375mm long, 1530mm wide and 430mm deep.
On The Road
Driveability: The D-MAX hasn’t changed since we last drove it back in 2009.
It’s sprung to carry a load, and the unladen rear reminds you over every pothole and manhole cover. We found out then that a half a tonne in the tray improves the ride immensely and it’s still the case.
The turning circle though leaves a bit to be desired, and the rubbery gearchange is vague.
But there is a neanderthal charm (simple, strong and reliable) to the way the D-MAX goes about its business - it feels strong, really strong.
The chassis is rock-solid and the 120kW/333Nm 3.0 litre turbo-diesel engine feels unburstable. You just know that 10 years from now, it will be working as hard as the day you bought it.
Suspension: Up front the D-MAX uses a torsion bar suspension system, and while not as common as coil springs, it does it’s job well, both on and off-road.
Out the back is the usual (for these utes) leaf-spring and live axle arrangement - there is still no better setup when it comes to carrying a load.
Unlike most in this segment, the D-MAX comes from the factory with a ‘work-ready’ spring pack. The trade-off is a harsher unladen ride.
Refinement: When you’re belting down a farm track, towing a trailer to the next job, or mud-plugging across a building site, the D-MAX’s level of refinement won’t be a question that is teasing the frontal lobes.
But look beyond the slightly uncompromising ride and the gruff diesel, and you’ll find a 4WD ute that is happy to plug along in peak hour traffic, or roll its way along a country road, in a reasonably relaxed manner.
Comfortable enough, without being cosseting, best sums up the D-MAX.
Braking: No problems here. Pedal feel is progressive, with just the right amount of assistance and enough in reserve to deal with a reasonable load.
Off Road: The D-MAX SX Crew Cab’s ramp-over, approach and departure angles are 20.5, 34.6 and 25.8 degrees respectively.
Dash-mounted push buttons allow ‘shift on the fly’ selection of 4H at up to 100 km/h, while a 40:1 first gear low range with stall-saver allows idle-speed crawling and added control on steep descents.
Our previous testing has shown the D-MAX to be more than capable on the trails, although lacking some of the increasingly popular driver aids, such as differential locks and traction control.
ANCAP Rating: 3 stars
Safety features: Standard are anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic brake distribution (EBD), dual front airbags, anti-submarining front seat steel pans, height-adjustable head restraints for window-side occupants, retractable lap-sash seat belts (including for the centre rear seat), three child-seat strap anchorage points plus a collapsible-section steering column and side impact anti-intrusion bars.
Warranty and Servicing
Warranty: Three year/100,000km new car warranty, with 24/7 roadside assistance.
Servicing: Servicing costs are determined by individual dealers. Fixed price servicing is available for applicable fleet customers.
How It Compares I Value For Money:
Nissan Navara D22 ST-X ($33,990) - This is the working man’s Navara, and at current pricing it is amazing value. Very similar in size and features to the D-MAX, its 2.5 litre diesel is proving to be a solid performer. (see Navara reviews)
Toyota Hilux SR ($40,490) - The Hilux has an enviable reputation in this segment. Until recently it was overpriced, but increased competition from the new generation 4WD utes (Ranger and Amarok), has seen pricing slashed. (see Hilux reviews)
Mitsubishi Triton GLX ($42,490) - It’s got the biggest tray, the most spacious interior and on paper the most powerful engine. Feature packed and good value if you can live with the turbo lag and unusual proportions. (see Triton reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price (unless otherwise noted) and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR Verdict I Overall
You can buy a more refined and comfortable ute than the nuggety D-MAX. But if you want a bullet-proof workhorse with solid, no-nonsense construction, we’d have it at the pointy end of the short list.
You’ll need to be quick though, the D-MAX is to be replaced in a few months. And while its replacement will no-doubt be a larger and more modern package, there is no guarantee it will be the same hard-working bulldog.
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