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2015 Isuzu D-Max Review: LS-U 4X4 Crew Cab Ute ? Go On, Try And Bust It? Photo:
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Tim O'Brien | Jul, 15 2015 | 13 Comments

What’s Hot: Strong understressed diesel, wide torque band, proven robustness, value buying
What’s Not: Interior now outclassed, lacks trailer sway control and a few mod-cons
X-FACTOR: Isuzu’s D-Max is as tough as nails and as reliable as sunrise, and the market knows it.

Vehicle style: 4X4 Dual-cab Utility
Price: $48,300 (plus on-roads)

Engine/transmission: 3.0 litre turbo-diesel DOHC/ five-speed auto with sequential shift
Power: [email protected] | Torque: [email protected] (auto)
Fuel consumption (claimed): 8.1 l/100km; (tested): 9.3 l/100km

 

OVERVIEW

This “pick-up” nonsense drives me nuts. If there is a buckety-looking tub-thing on the back, it’s a ute - that’s what it has always been, and what it should stay.

And just because our septic mates think it’s a pick-up, doesn’t mean we should adopt it.

So poncy marketers, advertising tools, faddists, fashionistas, rappers and other wannabe-dudes take note: a car that looks like this one – Isuzu’s tough as nails D-Max Ute – is a friggin’ ute.

(And a “pick-up”, as far as I’m concerned, is what happens on a good night out.)

You can ask Lew Bandt, if you can get him to answer the phone. After all, he invented it down there in Geelong 80-odd years ago.

Which brings us to Isuzu’s D-Max Ute.

For starters, Isuzu knows what it is; ‘UTE’ is in its company name here, Isuzu UTE.

And they don’t build ‘em much tougher, reliable, or ‘utey’ than Isuzu. Its D-Max Ute does the heavy lifting for this quiet-achieving small company with the hard-grafting commercial vehicle heart.

Its YTD sales results – the best ever for Isuzu here – are amazing for a company with such a narrow product focus and small marketing budget. Especially when compared to the deep pockets of the big shakers in this space: Toyota, Ford, Nissan, Holden and Mitsubishi.

Last month, June, the D-Max’s 1904 sales whipped Nissan’s Navara, the Mazda BT-50 and Volkswagen’s Amarok. In fact, the Isuzu UTE company is on track to double its annual sales in Australia in just the past twenty-four months.

What is the more remarkable is that the D-Max has continued to not only hold its own against an avalanche of newer products, but is in fact, for 2015, the fastest growing nameplate in the one-tonne ute segment.

So, with the new Triton here, new Navara, and with a new Ranger and HiLux coming, we thought it time for a fresh look at the D-Max LS-U 4X4 Crew Cab.

Right now you can buy this car, in manual, for $42,990 drive away. It might have a few wrinkles, but there is a lot of capable ute tucked in behind that price.

 

INTERIOR

  • LS-U standard features: Air-conditioning, power windows, central locking and power door mirrors, trip computer, cruise control, cloth trim, leather multi-function steering wheel (with audio controls), carpeted floor (LS-U model)
  • Infotainment: Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system.
  • Load area dimensions: 1552mm long, 1530mm wide, 165mm depth. Distance between wheel wells: 1105mm
  • Payload: 1015kg
  • Towing capacity: 3500kg braked, 750kg unbraked

It now looks a bit utilitarian in here.

Though the expected creature comforts are there, the interior styling and plastics won’t win any awards for automotive fashion and chic style.

But it is practical and spacious. Even for backseaters who get reasonable leg and headroom and ok seating with a decent squab (and a backrest that’s not too upright).

The front seats have a bit of shape to them; with good back and shoulder support they're comfortable enough for some long hours at the wheel.

The LS-U model gets cloth trim (leather can be optioned). It’s dark, tightly woven and looks like it could take a bit of punishment. This model also picks up some metal highlighting to add a bit of sparkle to what is otherwise a pretty dark and sombre cabin.

It’s all tight and well put-together; our tester was still entirely rattle free (though it had quite a few kilometres under the belt).

Access front and rear is also pretty good. The front doors open square, and the opening for the rear doors is wide enough for easy access for a full-sized adult and no problem for juniors (also no problem if you have to reach in to belt them in).

The steering wheel is nicely ‘square on’, but, unlike the new Triton (and HiLux heading this way), only adjusts for rake, not reach.

As the feature list above shows, it’s not bursting at the seams with the latest ‘communication platform’ technologies (like Pandora and Stitcher etc.), but the six-speaker sound system is nice and clear, Bluetooth compatible and can be hooked up to your iPod.

But spend a few more bucks - $50,800 for the manual, $53,000 for the auto – and you get the LS-Terrain Special Edition with reverse-camera, leather seats, push-button start, navigation and roof rails.

There are good storage options inside: lidded console, sunglasses holder, map pockets, front and rear cupholders and bottle pockets in the doors.

There is also a really handy tool storage under the flip-up rear seats.

The tub, with the optional lid, is huge of course.

You will need to drop the tailgate for the trail-bikes but there is ample loading space there for trade duties, and a cavern if it’s just for lugging the family about. (And will also easily accommodate the surfboards or skis.)

Towing capacity is a hefty 3.5 tonne (braked) and towball down weight of 350kg. Tare mass is 1940kg, gross vehicle mass (GVM) 2950kg and gross combination mass (GCM) 5950kg.

You have to keep that latter number in mind if you are planning to tow and carry a load at the same time. (Every brick, bag of sand, or body you load into the cabin or tub, reduces what you can hitch up behind.)

So, what’s the D-Max like on-road.

 

ON THE ROAD

  • 3.0 litre DOHC turbo-diesel 4cyl, [email protected]/[email protected]
  • 5-speed Aisin TB50-LS auto with sequential shift
  • ‘Terrain Command’ 4x4 System (2H, 4H and 4Low)
  • Front coil suspension with gas shock absorbers and stabiliser bar; overslung leaf rear
  • Ventilated front discs with twin-piston calipers, drum brakes rear
  • 17-inch alloy wheels

The gutsy 3.0 litre 4JJ1 diesel hasn’t lost its gloss – it comes to the D-Max via Isuzu’s truck range and we still like the understressed way it drives.

The engine outputs may be adrift of the later contenders, the stump-pulling Ranger and potent Colorado in particular, but the 100Nm+ gap narrows in ‘real world’ driving.

The wide flat torque curve of the Isuzu, which sits astride the sweet spot when travelling on-road (380Nm at 1800rpm-2800rpm) gives it a settled feel on the highway, and free of ‘hunting’ from the five-speed auto even with a load up.

And, as we commented in an earlier review, this is a well-proven commercial unit. Its stainless-steel timing chain (driving the camshafts via a scissor gear) is rated for “the life of the vehicle”.

(Also, as we have commented earlier, it's holding a lot in reserve; Bruce Garland pulls 180kW and 590Nm from the same 4JJ1-TC engine in his Dakar D-Max.)

Its key competitors now claim six-speed autos, but the five-speed in the D-Max works fine on road, and in the rough.

Fourth is direct-drive, fifth, a loping overdrive. You can leave it to its own devices, or, if you want to shuffle things along around a winding road, you can take things in hand with the plus-minus sequential gear-shift.

Overtaking is no problem; it makes a bit of noise as it gathers its skirts, but the D-Max has enough in reserve when a quick burst is needed. (We’ve had it up to the old ton on a private track; it’s not the most stable up there, but it will do it.)

There is a bit of jiggle to the ride when unladen, but we think it tracks better than the Colorado (despite that car’s Holden suspension tuning). The steering is also reasonably settled and, on a longer run, it won’t wear you out.

It sits on 17-inch alloys and Dueller Bridgestones and, though not in the class of the Ranger, new Navara or Amarok for on-road compliance, it handles corrugations, gravel and broken tarmac pretty well.

And off road, the D-Max can take you – literally – where angels fear to tread. Select low-range via the rotary dial on the transmission tunnel and let the lugging low-down torque do its work.

It will wind itself up and over almost anything you’ll find on a rutted fire-trail or off-road track.

Approach and ramp-over angles – 30 degrees and 22.4 degrees – are good, and the rigid chassis and good wheel articulation can carry you into some serious off-road territory (and get you back). There is also good strong underbody protection down below.

On really rough going, the traction control operates like a diff-lock feeding drive to the wheels with traction. And, on really steep descents, the hill-descent function (with the automatic box) 'holds' the descent speed, allowing the D-Max to creep down on engine braking.

 

SAFETY

ANCAP score: 5-Stars; Isuzu D-Max 4X4 Crew Cab.

Safety features include: ABS, EBD and brake assist, as well as traction control, six air-bags (dual front, curtain and side), seat-belt pre-tensioners and lap-sash belts for all passengers.

 

HOW IT COMPARES

Nearly everything is newer than the D-Max, and it shows. But being newer doesn’t mean better when it comes to a ‘work truck’.

In this segment, ‘reputation’ will sell a car easier than ‘a full feature list’. Among the better contenders (loosely lining equivalent models against the $48k D-Max LS-U automatic) are:

  • Ford Ranger XLS 4X4 Dual-Cab auto ($50,290): Still our pick, a damn good ute but getting pricey, and there’s a new one coming.
  • Mazda BT-50 XTR 4X4 Dual-Cab auto ($50,890): Ditto the Ranger, and a new one also in the wings.
  • Toyota HiLux SR 4X4 Double-Cab auto ($45,240): A new one also coming, and, like the D-Max, HiLux is as reliable and trusted as the blue heeler you’ll often find in the back.
  • Mitsubishi Triton GLS 4X4 Double-Cab auto ($43,490): Seriously improved, for work or play, this is a very good ute.
  • Nissan Navara ST 4X4 Dual-Cab auto ($48,490): Another that is seriously improved, more SUV-like inside than any of them, and a coil-sprung tub.
 

VERDICT | OVERALL

You have to hand it to Isuzu; it has done an amazing job of cutting through in this segment. Having a worthy product helps, one that is renowned for reliability and hard-work, and comes with a 5-Star ANCAP rating.

You have to suspect that there is quite a bit of word-of-mouth user recommendation at work here.

Certainly, while it misses a few ‘communication platform’ mod cons, for value and all-round capability, the D-Max remains one of the best buys out there.

The Ranger, BT-50, Triton and Navara are quite a bit smarter – each is wearing a fresher ‘suit’ – and also more powerful, but the D-Max is the honest, straightforward toiler.

And, aside from the new Triton (which is pretty sharply priced, as is the heavily discounted superseded model), the D-Max holds a price advantage over the segment leaders.

It’s getting on in years, but you won’t be disappointed in the D-Max, whether as a family buy or a trusted work-companion.

It also comes with a 5-year/130,000km warranty, 5-year roadside assistance and 3-year capped price servicing. And that’s something that will be welcome to the family budget.

MORE: Isuzu | D-Max | Commercial Vehicles

 
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