Isuzu’s dual-cab ute and SUV line-up continue to be as popular as ever in Australia and the Japanese brand has chalked up its tenth straight year of sales growth. With an aim to move over 30,000 units by 2020 the relatively small brand has lofty targets and believes only some simple but important updates to its familiar looking D-Max will achieve that.
While it won’t be enough to knock off the Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux that sit atop the ute tree, it could set the brand up for a promising future once an all-new platform arrives.
Though the seven-seat MU-X family bus gets only a few new colours and higher amp USB ports for faster charging, the D-Max takes a different tact.
Introducing a more affordable 4x2 driveline to the top-of-the-range LS-T model, the blinged-out ute will battle equivalent competitors with a sub-$50,000 price tag. New interior trim materials and nicer touch points also trickle down into lower grades, and new suspension and greater payloads will appeal to a broader market.
Available with only a six-speed automatic transmission the LS-T looks identical except for new red, blue and grey paint options it shares with the MU-X. It’s hard to ask for much else when an all-new model isn’t far around the corner but the changes inside and under will help Isuzu move towards its target.
Standard features on the LS-T include partial perforated leather trim, six-way electric seats, 8.0-inch infotainment system with sat nav, LED lights, fog lamps, roof rails, 18-inch alloys, hill descent control and keyless entry and start.
It also gets trailer sway control for the first time that's adopted across the greater D-Max range, along with a reversing camera on all models but the cab-chassis.
- LS-T: Partial perforated leather seat trim, powered driver’s seat, keyless entry and start, roof rails, 8.0-inch infotainment, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: USB and Bluetooth connectivity, AM/FM/CD, eight-speaker (dual cab)
- Load Area Dimensions: 1485mm long (minimum), 1530mm wide, 465mm deep, 1105mm between wheel arches
The infotainment system remains unchanged from the last update and compared to most rival gear it feels dated, though Isuzu says its customers aren’t as concerned by Apple CarPlay as adding trailer sway control and a better ride. And fair enough, considering over half of all Isuzu customers buy to tow.
The overall design inside is showing its age but soft perforated leather seat inserts and polyurethane bolstering have an un-work truck like feel, and the electric adjustable seats and mirrors help for finding a nice driving position that remains high and comfortable despite only a height-adjustable steering column; lower-spec manual models would benefit from some reach adjustment.
The soft-touch leather treatment extends to the console bin lid, dash and armrests for a better finish than the hard and scratchy plastics of old. Chrome handles and glossy black air vents are less noticeable but round out a solid interior that neither leads nor trails its class.
Space inside the cab is good and rear-seat passengers have plenty of leg room - both kids and tradies - and six-cupholders including the coveted square milk carton holder in the centre console - which the Holden Colorado dropped - have everyone covered.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine:3.0 litre four-cylinder turbo diesel (130kW @3600rpm, 420Nm @2000 - 2200rpm)
- Transmission: 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
A change from five to three-span leaf rear suspension promises to round out the ride for better comfort and it works as advertised.
Isuzu provided us with both the MY17 and MY18 utes for back-to-back testing over the same road loop and on the same tyres pressures – we had to check that last bit of information as the update settles quickly with a touch less bumpiness over rough roads and a finer ride.
It’s the first dual-cab ute in the Australian market to employ the setup – the Amarok has a similar sprung rear in Europe – and it’s a smart change on an ageing platform.
Off-road the D-Max isn’t any less capable and on a squirrelling off-road course that had been belted by a torrential Queensland down pour the 18-inch highway terrain tyres weren’t fussed for traction both up and down hill. The addition of underbody protection helped clear some exposed tree roots and rocks though its 235mm clearance is ample for most part-time adventuring.
The steering is light and accurate, and while maintaining a slightly more agricultural feel compared to the current best in class, the D-Max blends tough ability with forgiving traits for easy town driving.
The 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel remains unaltered, producing 130kW at 3600rpm and 430Nm at 2000-2200rpm, provides good mid-range grunt and had more than enough pull for the 1900kg caravan and 600kg payload we had setup – maximum payload is around 850kg – and the updated suspension rode flat and stable, including a highway-speed slalom manoeuvre. The new trailer sway control undoubtedly helped out behind the scenes.
The GVM has also increased to 2950kg for 4x2 models and 3050kg for 4x4 variants, cementing Isuzu’s tough-truck reputation, along with service intervals pushed out to every 12 months or 15,000km, equalled by the Ranger and Mazda BT-50 but beaten by Nissan Navara’s 20,000km requirement.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
It’s not going to unsettle any of the top dogs but Isuzu’s top-spec ute remains a solid, tough tow ute without any fussy styling and now an even better ride. Interior upgrades improve the feel inside and while off-road performance is strong, the new 4x2 will open up a new pocket of buyers that don’t need that sort of capability.
- Interested in buying Isuzu D-MAX? Visit our Isuzu showroom for more information.