HONEST TO GOODNESS | UTE Review – Isuzu D-Max SX Crew-Cab

Isuzu ute has forged its reputation as the solid, reliable workhorse – Words by Stuart Martin

The richness of the dual-cab ute model mix within the Australian new-vehicle market is indeed a vein of wealth for the car makers.

Many reside on the other side of the Luxury Car Tax threshold, provided the power plant and being fit for a work purpose keep the taxman’s mitts off some of the funds from sale. But when you start to be humble, you need to remember that the humble ute is first and foremost a worker bee.

If being a blue-collar beast designed to shoulder a load, carry a cohort and take it where the road crews are yet to venture with any visible results is the working brief, then the D-Max is right in the hunt.

Some of the current crop have taken a step toward the passenger car segment with coils under the rump and softened the focus of function over form, but Isuzu isn’t one of them.

Granted, it has given its leaf-sprung rear end a tickle to satisfy those looking for a little more ride comfort, but not in the heavy-duty SX cab-chassis guise tested here.

The D-Max ute continues to soldier on in the face of more powerful and better-equipped machinery, given a mechanical upgrade in 2017 and having had some tweaks and tickles in the intervening years.

We’re spending some time in the SX dual-cab, one of a depleted range of cab-chassis models on offer by the brand now, sadly something of an endangered species in many other LCV line-ups as well.

Starting from $43,400 in six-speed manual guise, the SX auto stuns the bank balance less than the segment’s greediest, hitting the hip pocket for $45,500, with a little over $2000 for the factory tray.

Among the extras are the optional reversing camera for $475.20, the trailer brake controller at $722.70 and the tow bar kit for $883.30, putting it just under $55,000 as tested around $54,500.

That asking price puts it in the ballpark of several segment leaders and well above some of the recent Indian, Chinese and South Korean entrants – although these ranges don’t all include a cab-chassis option.

Also starting below $40K is Mitsubishi’s face-lifted Triton in cab-chassis guise, which asks $36,240 for the four-door, but it falls short in payload and towing numbers, not to mention being heavier.  Nissan’s RX Navara 2.3 comes with a $38,850 price tag. Toyota’s HiLux 2.8 SR double-cab is $46,015 and the Volkswagen Amarok TDI420 cab-chassis dual-cab asks $46,090 for an auto.

The Ford Ranger cab-chassis line-up is similarly small, asking $46,440 for the 2.2 four-cylinder and $46,740 for the 3.2-litre five-cylinder; the Mazda BT-50 with the same engine asks $45,510 for the XT four-door. Holden’s Colorado 2.8-litre cab-chassis four-door wears a $43,490 tag and boasts more power and torque than its estranged cousin, but the torque spread isn’t as useful.

Isuzu opted to stick with its 3.0-litre turbo-diesel four cylinder when it parted company with GM. This is a chain-driven double-overhead cam 16-valve set up and runs with a diesel particulate diffuser and high-pressure common-rail direct fuel injection, a variable swirl system and an intercooled variable-geometry turbocharger.

That results in a peak power of 130 kW at 3600 rpm and 430 Nm between 2000 and 2200 rpm.

There’s a broad spread of torque surrounding that peak which puts it ahead of the Holden on terms of flexibility.

It lays claim to an ADR laboratory full use figure of 7.9 litres per 100 km but our time in the SX yielded 10.5, during which it carried loads in the tray and hauled horses in a hefty US float, duties which it completed without complaint.

The solid feel of the power plant is mirrored in the chassis, with the ladder-frame set-up with six cross members rarely complaining through twisty terrain, providing a stable platform for the suspension.

The front end is an independent set-up using coil springs, gas dampers, double wishbones and an anti-roll bar. The tray is supported by a heavy-duty set-up comprising alloy-steel over-slung long-span semi-elliptic leaf springs with gas dampers.

The rear end shoulders considerable load on the tow ball or in the tray without complaint, resisting the urge to sink toward the road. Ride quality does improve somewhat under these conditions too. Unladen it still skips around a little, but the preference for a leaf-sprung set-up over other configurations remains unaltered.

The upper end of the range has recently been given a tweak, but the worker’s machinery has missed out in aesthetic terms at least.

The cabin is plain in terms of materials and functionally robust, with rubber flooring and mats and cloth trim. The driver does get a leather steering wheel, a red centre display is also there for the driver’s information, but it’s not as easy to decipher as the white version elsewhere in the range.

Under-seat storage beneath the rear bench has the jack and room for other tools and the tow-bar tongue, with the ability to hoist the rear bench vertically to carry extra gear in lieu of passengers, who are accommodated comfortably enough but don’t get vents or the rear USB charge point present in the up-spec models.

In-cabin storage is decent, with two glove boxes ahead of the front passenger (with one of two 12-volt outlets for the front occupants), as well as a reasonable centre console and useful door pockets. The SX gets a touchscreen-controlled infotainment system fed by USB or audio jack, but there’s no integrated satellite navigation, nor is Apple CarPlay or Android Auto present to provide it for the driver.

In safety terms, the D-Max does show its age, missing out on a driver’s knee airbag and any form of automatic emergency braking or forward collision alert, the latter being something the Triton, Colorado and Ranger among others all have in the arsenal, although it is also lacking in the HiLux.

There are six airbags (dual front, front-side and curtains), stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes and seatbelt pretensions up front and the fitment of the optional reversing camera, but that’s about it; there’s no automatic headlights or rain-sensing wipers. It does carry a five-star ANCAP vehicle, albeit under the 2013 testing regime.

The model update did bring with it changes to the maintenance and cover – the D-Max is backed by a six-year / 150,000 km warranty (better than most and beaten only by SsangYong with the Musso with its seven year, unlimited distance and seven year capped price servicing at 15,000 km intervals, followed by  the Triton’s seven-year cover, with six years of roadside assistance and seven years (or 105,000 km of capped price servicing programme).

The brand also claims that for up to seven years of ownership, the total cost of IUA’s capped price service program equates to only $3600.

In this era of dual-cab cabs doing double duty on the school run and worksite, the pendulum has swung – for some – too far toward the school zone and away from the construction zone. This is a true workhorse that does both jobs and doesn’t feel like it would be off on sick leave from over-work any time soon.

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