Terrain Topper

Isuzu shows it still has what it takes to lead the ute market

Don’t jump to the conclusion that we are saying Isuzu is market leader in the ute market with its all-new D-MAX. The sales figures show that’s not the case, with even a cursory glance at the first nine months of this year clearly showing that, in the 4×2 market, the leader is Toyota’s HiLux with a market share of 23.9 percent. The 4×4 ute market confirms that the market leader is again the HiLux with 21.5 percent of the market segment.

No, what we are saying is that while Toyota has the runs on the board, all verified by the sales charts, the ute we at Delivery magazine would buy would have an Isuzu badge on the bonnet and tailgate.

Let’s just run through the history and heritage of Isuzu and differentiate why the D-MAX gets our vote as the best ute on the market. You might also be wondering why then did Delivery magazine present its 2012 Ute of the Year award to the Ford Ranger. Well, as any good comedian will tell you, success can be just a matter of timing. Ford launched in time to be considered for our annual awards, Isuzu launched about one month too late for this year’s event. CARS_UTES_Isuzu-D-Max_3

Ford’s Ranger and Mazda’s BT-50 come out of the same melting pot and feature identical engines, transmission options and bodywork options. Both are good vehicles with strong engines. The manual transmission is not the best example of a gearbox, making the automatic transmission the preferred option. As a buyer, you choose which badge you want on the bonnet largely for reasons of ease of purchase through your local dealer. Other than that, you’ll be happy enough with your buying decision.

Holden’s Colorado and Isuzu Ute’s D-MAX are both based on the design created by Isuzu Ute. If you believe Holden, it’s a Holden design, and if you talk to Isuzu Ute, they’ll explain that they did all the work. One thing is clear, the engines and gearboxes are different between both makes, Holden using VM-Motori engines of 2.5 or 2.8 litres, and Isuzu staying with its 3.0 litre, four-cylinder. Also different are the factories in which each is built. Although both are in Thailand, that’s the only similarity.

The HiLux may currently hold top spot in the sales charts, but it is by no means the best product on the market, failing to match the five-star crash safety ratings of Mazda and Ford with the Ranger and BT-50, Volkswagen with the Amarok, or Holden with the Colorado and Isuzu Ute with the D-MAX. Power and performance as well as fuel economy for HiLux are also not in the same ballpark as the latest competitors.

The award of five-star crash rating safety is going to substantially affect the ute market, particularly where sales and supply to mines are concerned. The big miners are only interested in the highest safety standards, and, for most, that means five-star safety and nothing less.

We’ve been testing the Isuzu D-Max in LS Terrain crew cab form, and this is about the top spec model in the line-up. Available with manual or automatic transmissions, both with five ratios, the 4×4 version has a limited-slip differential with snorkelled differential breathers to increase water-fording depths.

CARS_UTES_Isuzu-D-Max_1The automatic transmission is electronically controlled with Adaptive Grade Logic and a lock-up torque converter in 2nd, 3rd and 4th gear ratios. There’s a Power mode button that raises the gear shift points further up the engine rev range, and, when on slippery surfaces such as snow and ice, a further selection will see the start from rest applied in 3rd gear, keeping revs low and reducing the tendency for any chance of wheel slip.

The driver can select 4WD/high from 2WD/high by turning a knob on the centre console at speeds up to 100 km/h, but when selecting 4WD/low range the vehicle must be stationary. In high range, the engine to final drive matching is 1:1, while a drop back to 4WD/low will swap the ratio to 2.482:1.

To justify our earlier statement that we think the Isuzu Ute is the best on the market, we need to take a look at the background to the development of the latest Isuzu D-Max.

Isuzu has been making trucks for years, and is renowned for making extremely tough products. Consequently, when you look at the way the new Ute is designed and manufactured, you can appreciate the strength built in to the product.

Starting with the chassis, it’s a ladder frame style with six cross members on the general range increasing to seven cross members on 4×4 and 4×2 Hi-Ride models.

The front suspension on all models is independent, with the 4×4 using torsion bars, upper and lower wishbones and a stabiliser bar. The rear suspension on 4x4s uses a conventional solid beam axle mounted on semielliptical leaf springs. The steering system is by rack and pinion with engine-speed-sensitive power assistance.

The heart of any ute is its engine, and we reckon that Isuzu has the strongest of any model on sale in Australia.

It’s a 3.0-litre, in-line four-cylinder, turbocharged diesel with a double overhead camshaft design and 16-valves. The power output is 120 kW produced at 3,600 rpm, and the torque rating is 360 Nm at 1,800-2,800 rpm when matched to the manual, and 333 Nm rated from 1,600 to 3,200 rpm when matched to the automatic transmission.

We haven’t yet come across one unhappy Isuzu Ute engine owner, and, bearing in mind the latest engine version is simply a derivative of the same one the company has been using in the previous D-Max and Rodeo, and its light truck range, it’s got all the right recommendations going for it by way of support.

With chain-driven overhead camshafts, you don’t have to worry about breaking rubber V-belts. The valve design features roller rockers and the combustion chambers have a variable swirl system to improve combustion. The turbocharger is a variable geometry unit, and the fuel injection system uses the latest high pressure, common-rail design. CARS_UTES_Isuzu-D-Max_2

The big difference, though, is how the engine delivers its power and torque. It feels tougher than anything else on the market, and its strength enables it to hold a ratio longer on a steep climb. It also shows this strength at low speeds when off-road and carrying a full payload.

Isuzu fits something it calls first gear stall saver, which brings in electronic engine control when in first gear, low range. Ease your foot off the clutch and the engine just idles the ute up from wherever you happen to be, even up the steepest gradients, and never seeming to miss a beat or stall. It works really well, even when fully laden, and is streets ahead of the competition in this category in delivering the engine torque through to all four wheels.

The other great strength of the Isuzu 3.0-litre diesel is that of fuel efficiency. The combined fuel consumption for the 4×2 versions is 7.9 l/100 km, and this rises to 8.4 l/100 km for the LS 4×4 manual. Exhaust emissions for the Euro IV rated engine come in at 208 and 237 g/km respectively.

When you deal with Isuzu design, you deal with years of engineering experience. The one thing you don’t get is marketing people dictating towing claims the engineers don’t like. For example, a braked trailer weighing up to 3,000 kg, and no more, gets the thumbs up for the Isuzu LS. That’s a safe level, and one that will minimise the risk of accidents when towing on the highway. In our view, the manufacturers claiming high levels, such as 3,500 kg and above for vehicles that tare off at a maximum of around 1,800 kg, should be personally responsible for any resulting accident claim.

So, if you want a ute that feels strong, is strong, and will remain that way, check out the Isuzu D-Max. It’s our choice, and we reckon it might soon be yours.

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