If tough work is on the agenda, Isuzu’s D-MAX steps up to the plate
As regular readers would know, we’ve had a strong involvement in the development of the Isuzu Ute brand in the Australian market.
Right from the outset, when the brand launched under its own name, rather than maintaining the previous links with the Holden Rodeo, we’ve been privy to the efforts undertaken by the company to gain a toehold in this highly important segment of the industry.
Launching into the Australian market in October 2008, the 11-model range premiered with the intention of building brand awareness and subsequently customer loyalty. One year later and the D-MAX brand had achieved 2434 sales. Three years later saw the introduction of the all-new D-MAX, and, by the close of 2014, the company was celebrating having notched up its 50,000th sale, comprising 45,275 D-Max models and a further 4,745 examples of the more family focused MU-X.
What makes the brand unique is that until the D-MAX was joined by the MU-X, the ute range has underpinned everything the company has achieved, with the brand’s fortune depending purely on one model range.
The latest X-RUNNER version of the D-MAX, released in March of this year, was based on an Isuzu D-MAX 4×4 LS-Terrain. The X-RUNNER took the standard interior features of the D-MAX to the next level, with the addition of auto climate control air-conditioning, Sat-Nav system, Rear Park Assist and reverse camera.
The X-RUNNER also receives the convenience of Isuzu’s new Passive Entry & Start System (PESS) – which links remotely automatically, removing the need to fumble for the key fob.
A quick word about the reverse camera that Isuzu has teamed with rear parking sensors. The clear full-colour display screen provides high-definition images of the area behind the ute, backing up the information by including reverse park sensors.
In Delivery’s view this should be a mandatory feature on all utes and SUVs, in an effort to avoid the human tragedy that still occurs when a vehicle reverses over a toddler. Five-star safety ANCAP ratings apply to the vehicle but peripheral active safety features such as the camera and rear parking sensors take surround safety to a new higher level.
The camera image also shows the position of the towball so clearly that a driver can reverse and position the towball precisely under the tow hitch of a trailer, with complete safety, ending the park by feel and bump that some find to be the only alternative.
The black Isuzu D-MAX competing for the title of Ute of the Year was the 4×4 LS-U crew-cab model, and it came with a black moulded hard cover over the tub area, which itself featured a full polycarbonate liner. Sports bars are also mounted on either side of the tub, more from a visually attractive perspective than providing any rollover protection. Also fitted were side steps, making it easier for the more compact members of society to clamber on board.
The interior trim in its black leather is attractive, and when carrying loads or equipment in the rear of the cabin the rear seat moves in two directions, with the seat base folding upwards to secure flush against the seat back, or the backrest folding forwards to protect the seat squab and provide a flat floor. The underside of both the backrest and the seat squab are covered in carpet.
The powerhouse benefit of the Isuzu is of course its 3.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine.
With 130 kW of power at 3,600 rpm and with peak torque of 380 Nm rated through from 1,800 rpm to 2,800 rpm it’s not the highest output engine on the market, that accolade goes to the 3.2-litre engine in the Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50. But, in line with its origins as being manufactured by the Isuzu Truck division, which this year achieved 26 consecutive years of market leadership in the Australian truck industry, it’s unstressed and highly capable of slogging on when others start to cough and wheeze.
The transition of some of the ute manufacturers in 2015 to offer smaller displacement engines such as 2.3 litres and 2.4 litres, plus the existing 2.0-litre engine of the VW Amarok, has resulted in a different focus for the buyer, one that considers fuel economy and lower emissions.
The decision to fit smaller capacity engines makes it easier to hit the target for lower emissions, with one of the reasons being quite simple, if you burn less fuel mixture in a small cylinder you will undoubtedly produce less emissions.
A smaller displacement engine cannot provide the same degree of engine braking or retardation as the larger capacity engine. Consequently, steep hill descents, especially for those towing trailers, caravans or horse floats, will require a more cautious approach in selecting lower gears manually and the use of the braking system to prevent overheating of brake components.
The shifting of maximum towing weights to higher levels when using these smaller capacity drivelines in the view of Delivery Magazine is potentially dangerous. Electronic systems such as trailer sway control will minimise the potential for imbalance, but they will not prevent the cause.
The buyer should also be a little wary about being overwhelmed by the thought of a seven-speed or even eight-speed automatic transmission. At first sight it seems an excellent addition to any engine, but when driving these applications it becomes obvious that greater number of ratios in the transmission are there because the engine needs additional gearing to remain competitive.
If you’ve got the horses under the bonnet, the matching with a five-speed auto, especially one as good as the Aisin unit used in the D-MAX as well as Mitsubishi’s Triton, Toyota’s HiLux and Prado, works well and efficiently. With adaptive logic they assist with downshifting on steep hills, holding the lower ration without having to pre-select manually, once the driver comes off the throttle and touches the brake pedal lightly.
D-MAX doesn’t sport the higher body mounting of some models, in particular the Ranger, BT-50 and Amarok, and, consequently, a shorter height driver doesn’t feel as though they start to lose forward vision, or that the vehicle bulk suggests it is less manoeuvrable. The height of the top of the dashboard is also lower, which reduces the visual heaviness of some other vehicles.
The D-MAX can best be summed up as being a strong workhorse that in the more basic trim variants will get the job done, as well as most and better than some. It may lack some of the technical wizardry of graphic displays as incorporated in the Navara NP300 and Mitsubishi Triton, but it’s easy to operate and control the various functions on the dashboard. And, on the latest model, the pairing of a mobile phone is about as easy as it gets.
Finally, we look at service and warranty support. Isuzu Ute’s five-year ‘bumper to bumper’ warranty and five-year Roadside Assistance is joined by a new Capped Price Servicing (CPS) programme. This certainly removes some of the decision making associated with when, where and how much you’ll be paying for the life of the vehicle.