Better known for its trucks, Isuzu also has a vibrant and popular off-road range built around the D-Max ute.
Ruggedness and reliability have long been hallmarks of the Japanese brand, which takes its utes seriously. The D-Max employs a truck-based engine and simple but honest design that’s about getting the job done rather than standing out from the crowd.
What does it cost?
At $46,000 for the SX auto, the D-Max is towards the more affordable end of the dual-cab 4×4 segment.
For that, you get the same basic mechanical package as more expensive variants but with fewer fancy bits, which translates to steel wheels and less design glitz.
There are also some glaring omissions, one of which can be fixed with an option pack: no standard reversing camera. There’s also no digital speedo and the monochrome trip computer screen can be difficult to read in bright sunlight.
However, a five-year warranty is a win and provides additional peace of mind over most rivals.
Capped price servicing covers the first five services, although you’ll need to get it checked every 10,000km or 12 months. While one service is $590, the other four required in the first five years or 50,000km are very affordable, the quartet totalling $910.
What are the Standout features?
It’s all about getting the basics right with the D-Max, so don’t expect much bling.
That said, there is a 7.0-inch touchscreen, albeit one that has small virtual buttons for some of its controls, making them tricky to aim for on the run.
It’s hooked up to an eight-speaker sound system (most rivals have six) which includes two speakers in the roof; it’s no Dolby theatre system but at least shows an effort for what most people use every time they hit the road.
While better equipped D-Max – including the LS-M and LS-U – get a second USB input in the rear the SX does with only a single one up front.
There are also two gloveboxes, part of a comprehensive selection of storage spaces.
How comfortable and convenient is it?
The simply ventilation dials make it easy to adjust the temperature, for example.
And the vinyl floor is rugged and easily cleaned.
Hard plastics are the order of the day, though, something that lowers the cabin ambience.
A noisy engine is also a constant cabin companion.
And without reach adjustment on the steering, not everyone will dial up the perfect driving position.
The front seats, too, are relatively flat, lacking the lateral support that can add to cornering comfort.
How safe is it?
There are front, side and side curtain airbags which helped the D-Max achieve the maximum five-star ANCAP rating, a score that only applies to the high-riding 4×2 and 4×4 versions (other D-Maxs have a four-star rating).
There are also front seatbelt reminders, but none for the rear, and no parking sensors; even a camera costs extra on this SX model.
The latest gen crash warnings or active safety systems are also missing. In pedestrian testing, the D-Max was rated as marginal by ANCAP, which highlighted risks of injuries to upper legs and heads.
Drivetrain and performance
At 3.0 litres in capacity, the Isuzu’s four-cylinder is bigger than most, but its outputs are modest, at 130kW and 430Nm.
Some would suggest it’s unstressed, which counts for plenty in a world where heavy work is often part of the everyday.
But you know when the D-Max’s engine is working; it’s gruff and lacks the refinement of class leaders.
That noise steps up a gear when the engine is working harder, such as with a load in the tray. You’re also having to keep the accelerator flat to the floor for longer.
Fuel use is, at least, respectable, claimed at 7.7L/100km.
Space, practicality and payload
The Isuzu has excellent storage options in the cabin, from its dual gloveboxes and various binnacles (on top of the dash and in the centre console) to the small shelf under the steering wheel. It’s a ute designed to work.
Front and rear the D-Max provides decent space for its occupants; it’s that rear headroom and legroom, in particular, that makes it handy for those wanting to utilise the back seats.
But the tray loses marks; while its footprint is respectable, it’s was the shallowest of our contenders. At 949kg the payload is also the lowest here, something that drops further once you add a driver and passengers.
Those wanting to carry ladders or other long items will appreciate the removable protective surround at the back section of the roof.
Plus, there’s some under-seat storage in the rear.
How does it drive?
Taut suspension sets the scene for a work ute that’s not at its finest unladen.
While it recovers from bumps quickly, you know you’ve hit them. There’s some jiggling over smaller imperfections and a mild jolt over larger ones.
The steering is also fairly light when underway, making around-town touring more work than it could be. But it gets annoyingly heavy when it comes time to park – exactly when that lightness would come in handy.
Things improve when you add kilos. The D-Max is very well sorted when laden, disposing of large bumps well and remaining settled through bends.
It’s a shame the payload isn’t higher, although at least it copes well with the weight it’s tasked to take.
An old-school engine and old-school interior combine with old school ute driving manners to create a vehicle that’s showing its age. Sure, the D-Max can lift heavy things – and promises to do so for many years – but many rivals also promise the same. The five-year warranty protection is a rare redeeming feature for a ute that’s outclassed in 2018.