Isuzu’s D-Max moves into a new league.

Story Bruce McMahon

Isuzu has refined the D-Max utility range with a bigger body, more power and more comfort. The 13 all-new models for 2021 – from 2WD, two-door models to the hero 4WD dual cabs – are a major step up from predecessors; better sorted and equipped to take the fight to top-sellers such as Ford’s Ranger and the Toyota HiLux. Where the old D-Max was a solid performer and decent workhorse, the new generation Isuzu is dressier and has broader market appeal while gaining better on and off-road credentials.

With Australia the ute’s major market outside Thailand, there has been a deal of engineering and design work to ensure this one meets local needs and wants. That runs from the D-Max’s suspension tune through to a pre-cut hole in the inner front guard of Australian-destined vehicles for fitting a snorkel.

The much-trusted 3L diesel engine has been reworked to produce an extra 10kW, taking it up to 140kW and 450Nm of torque. Isuzu also worked on aerodynamics for better fuel economies. So the body of a dual cab Isuzu is smoother these days. Bulging wheel guards have disappeared, the roof has a wide channel for better air flow and the high-mounted stop light on the rear of the cab is designed for cleaner air heading over the tray. The body is wider, yet a touch shorter at 5.2m long on a 3125mm wheelbase; the front treatment ties it to existing Isuzu style cues and it is handsome enough, particularly on upmarket models’ 18-inch alloy wheels.

The four-door D-Max’s tray size comes in at around 1.5m x 1.5m; there are four tie-down hooks, whereas some rivals boast six.

Attention to aero detail on this new body, stronger steel for the ladder chassis and better sound-deadening means a quieter cabin. It is also a more civilised interior, with a wider spread of softer surfaces and less hard plastic.
The driver and front seat passenger score good seats; drivers also score reach and tilt adjustments for the steering wheel – not always found in commercial vehicles – allowing most to find optimum driving positions.
D-Max models across the range arrive with a touchscreen for phone connection and audio plus Apple Play and Android Auto functions.

This new-found sophistication carries through to a comprehensive list of safety equipment, among the best in class. Added to the utes’ eight airbags is Isuzu’s Intelligent Driver Assist System where, among a swag of assistance measures, cameras and sensors help out with the likes of crossing lanes unintentionally, braking the vehicle if closing in on a drama, monitoring blind spots, settling it down if a trailer sways and recognising speed signs with warnings that are flashed on the instrument panel. Here, speedometer and tachometer are well sorted, but the graphics for the D-Max’s trip computer – measuring fuel consumption, travel times and average speeds – are a tad jammed up, stuck between those two gauges.

There are few complaints about the D-Max’s road manners or its off-road abilities straight off the showroom floor. The ute’s ride and handling are more composed than before, matching most of the best of today’s dual cab utes. There may still be some bump-thump on uneven surfaces, but there is far more suspension control and less rear-end skip over the likes of corrugations. Likewise, Isuzu’s electrically assisted steering provides an assured feel, from parking lot speeds to dirt road cruising.

This is a well-sorted utility better suited to today’s workhorse-come-lifestyle needs, especially long hauls. The diesel is quieter and the six-speed manual or automatic transmissions more refined, although the engine still pulls up sharp just beyond 4000rpm – by that time the machine is well up to (often beyond) speed limits. Isuzu says the automatic versions of the four-door D-Max should return 8L/100km and, without heavy off-road use or using the maximum tow capacity of 3500kg, that should be close to the mark.
While the 4WD Isuzus impress with this on-road sophistication delivered through a more-refined, better-equipped cabin and improved engineering, there remains decent off-road credentials helped now by the addition of a locking rear differential, plus slightly less body overhang front and rear and 240mm of ground clearance.

The dual cab Isuzu D-Max is now a better, more comfortable proposition – on or off the road – for a wider range of customers across Australia. The ute’s renowned workhorse heritage is complemented by extra sophistication this time around.  Recommended retail prices for 4WD Isuzu D-Max begin at $40,200 through to $62,900.

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This story excerpt is from Issue #135

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2021