Isuzu’s D-MAX is the friend you need that doesn’t let you down – Words and images by Stuart Martin.
The D-MAX is one of those hardy combatants in the segment that keeps going back for more work from the field medics – patch me up and send me back into battle, it says.
The fundamentals of the ute went largely unchanged for years, and it firmly sits within the parameters of “isn’t broken, doesn’t need fixing”, although it’s starting to look a little overpriced.
An engine update and the addition of a six-speed auto brought it back closer to the field, and the brand has recently updated the D-MAX with perforated leather trim, upgraded USBs and tweaks to the interior materials among the changes.
The top-spec LS-T is priced from $54,700, and as a permanent part of the range it certainly warrants consideration for those in the market for a top-spec dual-cab utility.
Working in competition, Ford’s penultimate Ranger is $57,690 as an auto, with the XLT getting 147 kW and 500 Nm, as well as full smartphone integration, digital radio reception, rain-sensing wipers and auto headlights. The XLT also has a tyre pressure warning, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. The collision, lane departure and driver fatigue warning systems are an $800 optional extra – but at least they’re offered.
A top-spec Z71 Colorado auto is $57,190 and it too packs more wallop – 147 kW and 500 Nm (if only across a narrower rev band) – as well as full smartphone integration, digital radio, tyre pressure monitoring, seven airbags, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, lane departure and forward collision warning systems as standard.
Nissan’s much-improved Series III Navara ST-X asks $54,990 for its seven-speed auto, 140 kW/470 Nm twin-turbo diesel, with 360-degree camera system and seven airbags, although leather trim, front seat heaters and power adjustment for the driver adds $1500.
Mazda’s mildly-revamped GT is a $56,990 auto proposition, and, while it’s more powerful 147 kW/500 Nm five-cylinder is a little thirstier, it has rain sensing wipers, digital radio and full smartphone integration.
The D-MAX has changed little from the outside, with chrome exterior trim and the new blue providing a handsome aesthetic, with the cabin coming in for more attention, courtesy of the new leather trim and cabin materials providing a less plasticky passenger space.
Single-zone climate control is below par and there are no vents for the rear occupants. They do, however, get cupholders, a USB and an armrest – and at 191cm I can sit behind my own driving position without touching the seat back or the roof.
Roof-mounted speakers (two of the eight on the system), three integrated child seat anchors (but no ISOFIX mounts) accessed by a single-strap backrest release, and storage beneath the rear flip-up bench, are also welcome features.
The driver gets tilt-only steering adjustment for the leather-wrapped steering wheel (with phone, audio and cruise controls aboard) and powered seat movements, as well as power-folding exterior mirrors that are of a useful size but are not heated. The latter could do with more range of adjustment to offset the absence of reach changes to the steering wheel position, but a reasonable driving position is achievable.
The dashboard has two gloveboxes and a dash-top storage area, but that was inaccessible due to the stubborn refusal of the lid to open; the door pockets are also a little on the small side.
Instruments are clear to read and there’s a centre trip computer display controlled by buttons on the ends of both column stalks, but there’s no digital speed readout on offer.
The centre-mounted eight-inch touchscreen controls the infotainment and satellite navigation system, and the entertainment system can be fed by two USBs and an HDMI port ahead of the gear selector (along with a 12-volt outlet), but these are covered by difficult-to-remove inserts.
The chuggy cast-iron and alloy 3.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel has a diesel particulate diffuser and uses common-rail direct-injection, double overhead cams, 16 valves and a variable-geometry turbo to produce 130 kW at 3600 rpm, with 430 Nm of torque available from 2000 to 2200 rpm.
The manufacturer claims 7.9 litres from the 76-litre tank per 100 km on the ADR combined cycle, but our time in the LS-T had numbers around 10.3 (at an average of 34 km/h) litres per 100km, thanks to more metropolitan running than highway work among the duties.
The engine does its best work in the meat of the torque curve. The six-speed auto isn’t the quickest or smoothest shifter, although the ability to change down and supply more engine braking without manual selection on downhill runs meant it was left to its own devices most of the time.
The test vehicle had the optional hard tonneau and window cowlings, with the latter useful for airflow in wet conditions, but additional wind noise is noticeable at cruising speeds. The diesel thrum is prominent under load but aside from that the cabin is reasonably quiet.
As far as the ride comfort is concerned, changes to the number of rear leaf springs (reducing from five down to three leaves) and the alterations to the material from which they are made has taken some, but not all of the fidget from the rear end, and has delivered a better overall ride in association with the gas dampened shock absorbers.
The D-MAX still needs weight in the rump to settle it completely, but the 1024 kg payload and 3500 kg braked towing capacity (and corresponding 350 kg ball download) are unchanged, making that a win for the D-MAX occupants.
Cargo capacity is contained by four tie-down points within the lined tray that’s 465 mm deep, 1485 mm long at the top (1552 mm at the floor), and 1530 mm wide (1105 mm between wheel arches).
Isuzu lists the LS-T at a GVM is 3050 kg – 2026 kg kerb weight and 1024 kg payload – and a GCM 5950 kg.
It takes up more road space than the styling would have you believe. It’s 5295 mm long with a 3095 mm wheelbase, 1860 mm wide and 1855 mm tall. For those looking to go off-road, it claims 235 mm of ground clearance, an approach angle of 30 degrees, with ramp-over and departure angles near 22 degrees, but Isuzu is yet to fit a standard rear diff lock.
The front end retains coil springs, double wishbones, gas dampers and a stabiliser bar to control the 18-inch alloy wheels with Toyo Open Country 255/60 tyres (with full-size alloy spare). While the turn-in of the steering is not top of the class – neither is 3.84 turns lock-to-lock or a 12.6 m turning circle – the D-MAX covers ground on a winding road at a decent pace given its rough’n’ready character.
Safety features are just within the segment averages, with six airbags, traction, trailer sway and stability control, anti-lock function for the front discs and rear drums, as well as hill ascent and descent control and underbody engine protection, but the features list sadly doesn’t include rain-sensing wipers or automatic headlights.
The model update has brought with it a longer service interval – 12 months or 15,000 km – within a capped-price servicing scheme that runs for five years or 75,000 km (between $340 and $500), although the warranty runs to a worthwhile five years or 130,000 km.
D-MAX owners love them, and there’s plenty to be said for the reliable workhorse in its revamped form, but its price tag is – in the face of renewed competition – looking a little steep.