Space and Pace

The latest D-MAX is even better than its predecessor in space-cab form

It’s one of Australia’s most frugal utes when it comes to fuel economy, but there’s much more to the D-MAX range than just a strong heart and a high level of fitness.

At Delivery, we are fortunate to be in the position where we can have the pick of the bunch in terms of being able to evaluate all the different contenders on our market. No matter that many utes all look similar, each, under the skin, is very different from the next.

American politicians, including President Obama, have mentioned that it’s possible to put lipstick on a pig, but at the end of the day it’s still a pig. Another wonderful quote also refers to wrapping up an old fish in paper called change, but it’s still going to stink after eight years.

At Delivery, we see some similarities with these comments, given that some utes appear to be show ponies while others that might appear more basic are in fact the models that are most appealing.

A ute buyer chooses this category of vehicle because it is going to be working for its living. If it was purely for transport, the buyer should choose a vehicle with more comfort, better interior space, lower ground clearance and better fuel economy. These are usually called cars.CARS_UTE_Isuzu-D-Max-Ute_1

So, whatever model of ute you select, you are going to end up with a compromise. If you have a single-cab you miss out on space, usually only scoring two seats and not having room for the dog. The compromise here is less interior space for more tray length. Move to a space-cab and the gain in interior cabin space is at the expense of tray length, although the width remains the same.

Choose a dual-cab and the tray length diminishes further in aid of the growth in interior space. But, as you err more in favour of the interior and its added comforts, you lose the very reason for buying the ute in the first place, as in its ability to carry a load and work for its living.

Our favourite version of the ubiquitous ute is the space-cab, and, with a new D-MAX version in the Delivery garage, that’s where our attention is currently focused.

The launch of the current model back in June of 2012 brought with it a completely redesigned vehicle from the ground up.

The chassis was redesigned to provide greater integral strength and less flex, making the suspension work better and cutting back on the chance of generating any squeaks and body rattles. The cross bracing on the rear of the chassis was improved, and, with an increase in the chassis rail side section dimensions, the strength and rigidity overall improved by 42 percent.

The ideal axle location for any ute is achieved by pushing the drive axle as far rearwards as the body and chassis design can provide. Any attempt to shorten the wheelbase will produce a choppy ride and accentuate a tail-down/nose-up attitude to load carrying at maximum payload.

All D-MAX models get the same wheelbase of 3095 mm, the same front overhang of 905 mm, but a variation in rear overhang by virtue of differences in tray and tub designs. Front and rear track measurements are identical at 1,570 mm on all 4×4 models, and so too is the turning circle at 12.6 metres.

CARS_UTE_Isuzu-D-Max-Ute_8We mentioned the need to compromise, and this provides a choice dimensionally of 740 mm from the rear of the cab to the rear axle for the Space-Cab. By choosing the dual-cab, this dimension drops back to 430 mm, a far cry from the 1,235 mm of the single cab version.

If the Space-Cab/chassis takes your fancy then your only option will be looking at a 4×4 SX version. With a five-speed manual gearbox, this will set you back $39,100, or a further $2,200 for the automatic.

So, while concentrating on which model to select, we’ve narrowed down the field of runners and riders considerably, basically to a question of manual or automatic transmission.

Having always been a devotee of manual gearboxes in utes, it comes as a surprise to find us, in this instance, recommending the automatic as the best selection. The electronic shift performance is smooth, cleverly adjusts to terrain demands, and makes driving even more of a relaxed occupation.

The shift logic of these newly-designed automatic transmissions stands out the moment you start driving. At the touch of the brake pedal during a descent, the gearbox downshifts of its own accord to give the driver slight engine braking assistance. Touch the accelerator and the ratios shift back up through the ‘box.

With the SX Space Cab we stayed relatively cost conscious, but even then we gathered cruise control within the vehicle DNA. The rack and pinion steering is also speed sensitive, adding ‘weight’ to the wheel as speeds increase, and has 3.2 turns, lock to lock.

Switching from 2WD to 4WD high range is via a round knob on the centre console and can be executed while on the move. 4WD/H to 4WD/L requires a halt while selection takes place. When descending steep hills, off-road, the gearing in 4WD/Low is highly impressive and safe.

From a safety perspective, electronic stability control and traction control are standard inclusions. So too is hill-descent control and hill-ascent control, all courtesy of the five-speed auto that, in this instance, is supplied by Aisin. This transmission also features a lock-up torque converter that operates on second to fifth gears. Electronic brake force distribution stops you locking wheels, whether laden or unladen. Also new are six SRS airbags, a four-channel, four-sensor anti-lock braking system and brake assist.

Back for a moment to the inside of the Space Cab. What isn’t obvious to the naked eye is that the rear quarter doors are internally hinged and swing out like a smaller version of a barn door to match the main door on either side. If you have ever struggled to put shopping or tools behind the front seats, then this opening rear door is a lifesaver. It provides total access into the rear of the cab, plus for those days when you find some spare souls to transport, it can seat two adults in relatively cramped conditions. If they want a lift badly enough they’ll be sufficiently content with the situation.CARS_UTE_Isuzu-D-Max-Ute_5

Any passenger in the rear section sits on a small padded flap down seat that hinges up against the rear cabin wall when not is use. Underneath, where these seat pads sit, are two cargo bins, one large enough for the jack and wheel brace, the other empty and capable of holding an emergency triangle and first aid kit.

If your last ute suspension behaved as if in a shake, rattle and roll fashion, then D-MAX is going to spoil you. There’s not much a ute design team can do with rear suspension aimed at carrying a maximum payload other than fit taper leaf or parabolic springs. In this instance, they take the safe bet and go with a multi-leaf, long span, semi-elliptical spring pack. They can, however, do something more sophisticated at the front, and here you’ll find a double wishbone, coil spring and gas damper set-up.

By now we have worked our way up to the engine bay, and it’s here you’ll find an uprated version of the original 3.0-litre, bulletproof engine from the previous model.

Remember that Isuzu is a truck builder that actually sells 154 different truck models onto the Australian market. It’s a very experienced truck maker, and that reputation also applies to its engines.

These four-cylinder, diesel, turbocharged and intercooled engines are, in our view, the strongest and most fuel-efficient on the Australian market. The common-rail fuel injection means it’s the latest system for maximum economy, and the use of a variable geometry turbocharger means that the power and performance levels are consistent, right through the rev range.

All that remains now is to drive the D-MAX and experience its levels of ride comfort and practicality at firsthand.

CARS_UTE_Isuzu-D-Max-Ute_4The engine produces maximum torque of 380 Nm at 1,800 through to 3,000 rpm when fitted with the manual gearbox, but is remapped to produce the same torque output, but peaking at 2,800 rpm, when mated to the Aisin automatic. Maximum power is rated at 130 kW produced at 3,600 rpm.

There’s quite an improvement in aerodynamics with this latest D-MAX when compared to the previous model. Interior nose levels are much lower, even with the driver’s window open.

You won’t come away thinking that the Isuzu is an over specified show pony. It’s our belief that the specification provides a practically priced, well performing workhorse that doubles as personal transport whenever needed.

The internal dimensions of the alloy factory-supplied tray were 1,905 x 1,708 mm (length x width) with dropside heights of 250 mm. The deck height from ground level was 900 mm. If you tow a braked trailer the maximum limit is 3,000 kg. The ANCAP rating is currently four stars, and fuel economy for the combined figure consumption, with the automatic, is quoted at 8.1 l/100 km. Warranty levels are three-years/100,000 km.

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