Although the Isuzu D-Max and Holden Colorado may have originally shared a common genesis, now that both have had their respective mid-life updates they’re further apart than before. Holden has gone for a top-end expansion, chasing the popular and well dressed Ford Ranger while Isuzu has kept itself work ready and rugged.
That’s not to say the Japanese company has sat on its hands. On the contrary, the updated D-Max is an Australian special highlighting the importance of the local market. Where the rest of the world downsized to a smaller 2.5-litre engine to meet more stringent Euro 5 emissions regulations, Australia gets its own 3.0-litre version.
As a result the D-Max doesn’t drop in power but more importantly gains an increase in torque. From the outside there’s a revised front end too, with a reprofiled grille and redesigned headlights incorporating LED running lights on up-spec versions.
Vehicle Style: 4x2 and 4x4 ute
Price: $28,500 - $54,800 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 130kW/430Nm 3.0-litre 4cyl turbo diesel | 6sp manual, 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.2 - 8.1 l/100km | Tested: 9.9 l/100km
As before the D-Max offers a five variant range comprising EX, SX, LS-M, LS-U and range-topping LS-T. From launch a limited edition X-Runner model also joins the range to celebrate Isuzu’s centenary, limited to just 600 units.
Single, extra and dual cab body styles (Isuzu calls them single, Spacecab, and Crew Cab) can be mixed and matched with a ute-style tub or cab-chassis body with 4x2 or 4x4 depending on the specification.
With a focus on hard graft rather than dressy showmanship, the D-Max might not look as svelte or sophisticated as something like a Volkswagen Amarok or Ford Ranger Wildtrack, but over a course of highway, back roads, beach and bush driving in the Queensland hinterland the D-Max showed that it isn’t afraid to tackle the rough stuff.
- EX: front bucket seats, cloth trim, vinyl floor, air conditioning, tilt adjustable steering, leather-clad steering wheel, halogen headlights, black bumper and grille, 16-inch steel wheels
- SX: (in addition to EX) power windows and mirrors, remote central locking, colour-coded bumper and mirrors, driver and front passenger cup holder, cruise control, pollen filter, 15-inch steel wheels (low-ride) or 16-inch steel wheels
- LS-M: (in addition to SX) reversing camera, Projector headlights with LED running lights, front fog lights, LED tail lights, rear step bumper, lockable tailgate, chrome grille, 16-inch alloy wheels,
- LS-U: (in addition to LS-U) climate control, carpet flooring, aluminium side steps, chrome step bar, shark-fin antenna, 17-inch alloy wheels
- LS-T: (in addition to LS-U) leather seat trim, powered driver’s seat, keyless entry and start, roof rails, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: USB and Bluetooth connectivity, AM/FM/CD, 7.0 inch touchscreen with DVD playback (SX) 8.0 touchscreen incl. satellite navigation (LS-U and above)
- Four-speaker audio (single cab) six speaker audio (space cab) eight-speaker (dual cab)
- Load Area Dimensions: 1485mm long (minimum), 1530mm wide, 465mm deep, 1105mm between wheel arches
Not much has changed inside the updated D-Max so owners of the outgoing version may not feel a crushing need to update.
Like its current crop of competitors the D-Max offers generous proportions with a pair of big, broad front seats. There’s enough bolstering to hold wide-backed Aussie blokes in place without making getting in and out difficult.
Time behind the wheel was in the mid-grade LS-M which pairs cloth seats with vinyl flooring for a less bare, but still robust look and feel.
While the steering wheel adjusts for tilt only, it's easy to set up a comfortable position behind the wheel and even after solid hours on the road there were no aches and pains to speak of.
Cupholders aplenty ensure no beverage goes unsecured, and unlike the Colorado which ditched its squared-off ice coffee-carton holding outboard cupholders, Isuzu has kept them which ought to keep tradies happy, or at least those that haven't switched to bottled coffee or energy drinks.
Dual gloveboxes offer enough space to stash tape measures, quote books, and stray hand tools, with another smaller stash-space on the driver's side for change and the like with everything kept away from prying eyes.
A 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system on SX and LS-M and 8.0 inch unit on LS-U and LS-T variants is quick and easy to pair to a mobile phone with, and in dual cab variants sounds pretty decent thanks to an eight-speaker sound system. The larger-screen units also come with standard satellite navigation.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 3.0 litre four-cylinder turbo diesel (130kW @3600rpm, 420Nm @2000 - 2200rpm)
- Transmission: Six speed manual or six-speed automatic, dual range 4x4 (4x4 models)
- Suspension: Front wishbone w/coil springs, rear rigid axle w/ leaf springs - heavy duty suspension for cab chassis variants
- Brakes: 280mm front discs (low-ride), 300mm front discs (all other models) 295mm rear drums
- Steering: Hydraulic power steering
- Towing Capacity: 2500kg (4x2) 3500kg (4x4) braked, 750kg unbraked
As with the previous 3.0 litre engine, the new Euro 5 compliant power plant owes its existence to Isuzu’s N-Series truck range, and as before is boosted by a variable geometry turbocharger and runs a life-of-vehicle timing chain in place of a belt.
By using an engine designed for a 4.5 tonne truck, Isuzu claims the D-Max's diesel in “understressed” which should, in theory, deliver a long and reliable service life.
The new engine also includes detail changes compared with its predecessor including an enlarged EGR (exhaust gas recirculation - for emissions control) cooler, new pistons, fuel supply pump and injectors.
Another requirement to comply with Euro 5 emissions regulations is a new diesel particulate filter, which Isuzu calls a diffuser, with an on-board display showing how ‘full’ the filter is before undertaking a regeneration (or burn-off) cycle approximately every 500 kilometres.
Isuzu has avoided the use of an ad-blue exhaust treatment additive however, meaning no additional top ups or refill schedules are required, something that’s sure to set the minds of long-distance rural travellers at ease.
Joining the updated engine is a new six-speed manual transmission designed by Isuzu, and a new six-speed automatic (up from a five-speed unit previously) supplied by Aisin, and claimed to further reduce fuel consumption and emissions.
The six-speed auto-equipped 4x4 LS-M we drove at launch felt right at home both on the road and off the beaten track. Although light-duty driving may not present much call from the extra torque - now 430Nm, up from 380Nm - once we hit the gravel and engaged low-range 4x4 the extra hauling power came to the fore.
Isuzu hasn’t made any changes to steering or suspension, with a rigid rear axle and leaf springs carrying over from before. Some variants fall just under one-tonne carrying capacity, while others can haul more - depending on the configuration.
With a completely unladen tray it’s fair to say that, as expected, ride quality isn’t the D-Max’s finest point, but with a couple of hundred kilograms of equipment or supplies in the tub there’s no doubt it would settle down nicely.
Despite that, with nothing in the rear there was no untoward bucking or bouncing about - even over choppy surfaces at speed. Of course the D-Max is no tarmac demon so expect a fair share of body roll in corners and dive under brakes - but nothing alarming.
Isuzu also claims to have worked on reducing noise, vibrations and harshness with extra insulation in the firewall and floor pan. Without a back-to-back test of the previous generation it's hard to say how much better it is, but vibration appears to have been settled marginally, although the D-Max’s truck origins show through with plenty of diesel clatter.
ANCAP Rating: The Isuzu D-Max scored 33.58 out of 37 possible points in 2017 based on ANCAP and Euro NCAP data obtained in 2012 and 2013 for testing conducted on high-ride and 4x4 variants.
Safety Features: All variants include six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain), electronic stability and traction control, ABS brakes with emergency brake assist, hill start assist and hill descent control, and front seatbelt pretensioners.
A reversing camera is standard only on LS ute variants and optional on all other variants. The D-Max range does not include advanced safety aids like lane departure warning, forward collision warning, autonomous braking, or rear cross traffic assist, either standard or as an option.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Five years/130,000km
Servicing: Isuzu has introduced what it call Service Plus 555 with five years warranty, five years roadside assistance and five years capped price servicing. Service intervals are every 12 months or 10,000km (whichever occurs first) with oil changes every 20,000km. Pricing for the first five services is capped at $200, $400, $260, $590 and just $50 respectively.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
A more modern and divisive look sets the Mitsubishi Triton apart from its peers, and while the engine size and outputs are a little off the pace the Triton's impressive refinement and on-road manners makes up for it.
Based off the same underpinnings as the Ford Ranger, the Mazda BT-50 isn’t as high tech but tries to push its value. Crucially, it's off road ability isn’t compromised, nor is carrying capacity.
After a thorough overhaul in 2016, the Holden Colorado comes out swinging with a new interior, new infotainment, increased refinement, improved handling, and a tough new look to create a more appealing package.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
If you were looking to add a spanner to your toolbox the criteria would be pretty simple: it needs to do the job day-in and day-out without fuss, and it needs to be cost effective enough to be invaluable.
Isuzu has tried to achieve the same goals with the updated D-Max, as running costs are down thanks to improved fuel efficiency and reduced servicing costs, but its hard-working ability is untouched as it’ll still carry a tray full of tools or escape to a faraway bush campsite without breaking a sweat.
No, it isn’t the fanciest ute on the market as Ford packs the Ranger with technology and Volkswagen has made the Amarok almost car-like to drive, but with a pricetag over $65k their respective top spec versions are almost too good to get dirty.
As Isuzu frames it they build tools, not toys. That won’t suit all buyers - it might even upset some family buyers - but for those looking for something rugged and ready to tackle anything the D-Max meets the brief perfectly.
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