Isuzu has the runs on the board for producing excellent engineering. The launch of the new D-Max Ute range shows it knows more than most of its competition
For many buyers in the ute market, the name of Isuzu probably doesn’t sound that familiar, especially if the customer has mainly focused on passenger cars rather than light commercials. However, for those familiar with the truck business, the name of Isuzu carries a lot of weight.
There’s something very reassuring about driving an Isuzu engineered product. Through a long and continuous success story, this Japanese truck maker has been overall market leader of the Australian truck business for 23 consecutive years. While other manufacturers try to wrest the number one position from Isuzu, its phenomenal success is tribute to the way it does business, both honourably and honestly.
There have been strong links through the years between Isuzu and General Motors that started as far back as 1971. The Holden Jackaroo and Holden Rodeo were developed and manufactured by Isuzu, and so too was the Holden Gemini.
In 1998, Isuzu and GM formed DMAX, a joint venture to produce diesel engines. Within one year, GM was to grow its stake in Isuzu to 49 percent. By late 2002, Isuzu was repurchasing its stock from shareholders, primarily those such as General Motors, reducing those shares held by GM to 12 percent. By 2006, Isuzu had repurchased all shares held by GM.
In June 2006, GM and Isuzu announced a joint venture called “LCV Platform Engineering Corporation” (LPEC), to develop a new ute. Isuzu saying, at the time, it would use its engineering expertise to develop the ute, and GM would develop derivatives based on the integrated platform.
These details of the comings and goings of joint ventures and co-development are mentioned as a way of explaining how Holden came to be marketing the Rodeo, why that model subsequently went through the name change to Colorado, and how that coincided with Isuzu bringing the D-Max to our shores. Both companies used the strongly dependable 3.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel, although Holden added the Commodore V6 petrol engine as an option for the local market.
The launch of the new Isuzu D-Max comes four years after the Isuzu nameplate first launched the D-Max brand as a stand-alone product in our country. Since October 2008, Isuzu Ute Australia has managed to carve a market share of 5.1 percent and sold 18,300 vehicles. The aim for 2012 is to return sales of 8000 vehicles and increase its market share to 5.8 percent.
The new 2012 Isuzu D-Max range takes all the excellent and proven benefits of the original D-Max, such as reliability, durability and engineering ability, and, in all areas, take the standards achieved previously to a new and higher level.
You could be forgiven for thinking, at a cursory view, that the latest models are merely cosmetic changes with minor engineering upgrades. Not so! The 2012 D-Max is new from the ground up, and the engine upgrades add further benefits such as increased power and torque, longer service intervals and greater efficiencies.
The cabin is longer, wider and higher; in fact, the overall length is now the longest in its class. The interior is more spacious, and, with better design, that space is also better used to give more space to rear-seat and front-seat occupants.
The chassis has deeper longitudinal rails and an increase in the number and density of the cross rails to make the result one of the strongest ladder-rail chassis in existence.
Our viewpoint, on believing that everything about the new D-Max is better than the previous model, comes from owning the previous model. We even went to the extent of driving our own D-Max to attend the preview of the new model, just so we came out of the old and into the new without confusion between other makes and models.
There has always been confusion surrounding whether the Holden Colorado was identical to the Isuzu D-Max in all but badging and final trim levels. Given that the Isuzu diesel was common to both products, the major difference was that Holden chose to offer a petrol version of its V6 Commodore engine as an option. All the time they were in contention, it was also suggested that the Isuzu version featured more suitable wheelbase lengths and that bearing sizes were larger, more in keeping with the Isuzu Trucks heritage.
Now, with Holden launching its new Colorado, does the same apply, especially with Holden almost claiming total responsibility for the design of its product?
Readers with long memories of the British car industry are already able to understand the principle of badge engineering. This is the term used when two companies each market a vehicle that is essentially identical except for a different badge on the bonnet. That’s how the British Motor Corporation brands of Wolseley, Austin, Morris and MG managed to survive alongside the Rootes Group brands of Singer, Sunbeam and Hillman.
Today, not much has changed. The overall design of the new Colorado and D-Max was a collaboration between GM and Isuzu, with the bulk of the effort attributable to the Japanese research and development team. Both marques are manufactured in Thailand, the Colorado in a GM plant and the D-Max in an Isuzu factory, shortly to be joined by a second new Isuzu factory that comes on stream in December of this year, again in Thailand.
While the chassis, frame, roof and door panels are essentially identical, some trim levels and inclusions, plus the diesel engine and transmissions, are totally different. Holden uses the VM-Motori diesel and its own transmission, whereas Isuzu Ute has upgraded and improved the performance of its 3.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled engine from the previous model.
The Australian preview of the new D-Max took place in the hinterland around Port Douglas, in Far North Queensland. In one of the quieter moments, Delivery was able to discuss the development of the new range with Ichiro Murato, the Japanese LCV Executive Chief Engineer, who, interestingly, also worked on the previous D-Max.
Mr. Murato shared some of the behind the scenes developments featured in the new D-Max, such as a five percent improvement in aerodynamic efficiency. Mr. Murato completed his university degree in aeronautics and led his design team to evaluate the drag coefficient of the new model in tests conducted at the Japan Railway Institute, the same wind tunnel facility that worked on the profiles of the Japanese bullet trains.
The new model actually shares the same Cd (drag coefficient) as its predecessor, at 0.47, but has undergone a five percent increase in frontal area. This means that as the air slips past the body more efficiently, there’s also less wind noise.
A and B pillars have been kept relatively slim, thanks to the increased use of high tensile steels in sections throughout the framework, and, unlike some of its competitors, all body parts are made from steel, not plastics. The A pillar is positioned 100 mm forwards of its predecessor, and the B pillar profile has been sculpted around the radius at the base where it joins the floor to allow easier foot access and egress for rear seat passengers.
There’s been a significant improvement in rear seat size, space and comfort, plus foot space under the rear of the front seats. The front seat slide runners have been positioned towards the outer edges of the seat base to give more foot room for rear-seat passengers, and it is noticeably better. So too is shoulder room and headroom, and the rear seat squab has a deeper recline angle.
The 4×2 versions feature an underslung rear axle, while the 4×4 versions go for a higher stance with an overslung suspension system sitting atop of the rear axle. This gives the appearance of greater ability, but actually doesn’t make that much of a difference to the angles of approach (30 percent) and departure (22.7 percent) when off-road.
What Isuzu designers have been at pains to achieve is a low deck height and tub walls that shorter people can reach over to gain access to the load area. Taking the new Ranger, BT-50 and Amarok into comparison here, shows that the high tub wall is really restrictive to cargo deck access. The D-Max deck height is 15 mm lower than the previous model, and wider by 70 mm.
The legendary D-Max 3.0-litre now has its intercooler moved to the front of the engine, losing the distinctive bonnet air intake, and there’s been a redesign of the combustion area to give the pistons new oil-cooling channels and an improved swirl pattern to the combustion chamber. The turbine itself is a variable geometry unit.
The five-speed manual gearbox remains similar to the previous unit supplied by Isuzu, but has a redesigned shift mechanism on the top of the box. This has taken out much of the slightly sloppy feel from the shift quality. The five-speed automatic is supplied by Aisin and features “Grade Logic Control” that adapts to driving style.
The truck experience of its giant Isuzu relation sees chain-driven camshafts, as opposed to the belt driven version of the competition, and, similarly, more durable items such as wider than normal bearing end caps and the use of cast roller rockers.
The newly designed chassis is a massive 42 percent stronger, the wheelbase is 45 mm longer and the longitudinal chassis rails have been increased in size to 173 mm. Track dimensions, front and rear, have each been increased by 50 mm.
If you are into towing capacities, once again Isuzu shows its truck heritage and opts for a sensible claim of 3,000 kg for a 4×4 and 2,500 kg for a 4×2. These are safe recommendations based on an engineering understanding of trailer sway and stability, and not on the decisions based on marketing-driven influence that apply to so many of the utes on the market today. The tow ball down force is 300 kg and 200 kg respectively.
Isuzu Ute Australia is currently looking at establishing fixed price servicing throughout its 100 national dealerships, 15 of which are shared with an Isuzu truck specialist franchised outlet. The service intervals have been extended out to 20,000 km periods, with a 10,000 km interim safety check. The oil used is standard mineral compilation rather than semi-synthetic lubricants.