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Car reviews - Isuzu - D-Max

Our Opinion

We like
Supple and comfortable three-leaf suspension on dual cabs, tried-and-true 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine, off-road traction control system, towing ability, permanent addition of LS-T
Room for improvement
Basic infotainment system and switchgear, spartan interior particularly on lower variants, no five-seat MU-X option, awkward packaging when third-row seats are folded

Gallery

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Isuzu logo20 Apr 2018

Overview

ISUZU is not one to rest on its laurels. Only a year after updating its MU-X large SUV and D-Max pick-up, the Japanese brand is back with a number of small tweaks to its popular diesel-powered 4x4 range.

Implementing its changes following feedback from customers and the media, Isuzu Ute is hoping a refreshed and improved product line-up will help spur double-digit sales growth for the tenth consecutive year – every year since Isuzu Ute launched in Australia in 2008.

While most elements – including exterior styling and the venerable 3.0-litre turbo-diesel powerplant – remain the same, there are more subtle changes including a new leaf-sprung suspension set-up for dual-cab versions and a new, permanent range-topper in the form of the LS-T.

The changes are useful but minor, and it remains yet to be seen whether the tweaks are enough to ensure a sales boost.

Are Isuzu’s changes sufficient in spurring the burgeoning 4x4 brand on to its tenth consecutive year of double-digit sales success?

Drive impressions

The story of Isuzu Ute in Australia has been one of prolific success. Ten years of uninterrupted, double-digit sales growth shows that the Australian public have taken a shining to Isuzu products in a big way.

With only two vehicles on offer, Isuzu was able to outsell manufacturers such as BMW, Audi and Suzuki in 2017, all of which offer a significantly broader product range. So they must be doing something right.

The current generation of D-Max pick-up first touched down on Australian shores in 2012, followed by the MU-X the following year, and Isuzu has been able to keep its line-up fresh against fierce competition by listening to feedback and fixing, updating or deleting features to further hone their desirability to Aussie consumers.

While the D-Max has been a strong performer for Isuzu, the brand has identified a number of areas for improvement, first of which is the leaf-spring suspension, which has been updated for dual-cab variants.

Previously employing a five-leaf spring pack, dual-cab D-Max models will be the first in Australia to employ a new three-leaf set-up, which is lighter than the outgoing model and offers greater ride comfort, according to the manufacturer.

We drove the model year 2017 and 2018 D-Max variants back-to-back to compare the difference, and it is clear that the decision to switch to a three-leaf spring pack was a good one.

The ride is immediately more settled without introducing increased bodyroll or a wallowy feel, and small road imperfections are dealt with admirably, eschewing the bouncy and jarring feel often associated with leaf-sprung vehicles.

Off-road the effect is arguably more pronounced, with greater wheel travel and better ability at negotiating off-camber sections and uneven ruts and trenches.

Payload is not harmed by the new suspension – in fact all variants have increased their payload by 100kg. It is a shame the suspension changes haven’t been made across the range.

The gross vehicle mass (GVM) on the D-Max has also been increased, up to 2950kg on 4x2 variants and 3050kg for 4x4 models.

Many owners buy an Isuzu for its towing prowess, and during our test we tried three different hauling set-ups – an MU-X pulling a 1900kg caravan, a D-Max with a 1700kg boat trailer, and a D-Max with a 600kg payload in the rear, which according to Isuzu, made up approximately 93 per cent of the vehicle’s GVM with two adult occupants in the vehicle.

Isuzu’s venerable 3.0-litre turbo-diesel is supremely capable of towing a large load, with a flat, even torque band that can pull large amounts of weight with minimal fuss. Even on uphill sections of road, a modest application of throttle is enough to keep the vehicle’s momentum steady despite nearly two tonnes of weight behind the vehicle.

No changes have been made to the 4JJ1-TC diesel powerplant in the range update – it was heavily revised early last year – and every model using the same unit producing 130kW at 3600rpm and 430Nm from 2000-2200rpm, mated to either a six-speed manual or Aisin automatic transmission.

Performance from the engine could not be described as thrilling, but it does what it is designed to do very well. It can tow large amounts of weight with ease, and when off-roading, the low-end torque helps the vehicle walk up and down hills with ease and control.

Both Isuzu models have now gone without front or rear differential locks for some time, instead relying on its traction control system to navigate low-traction and off-camber sections.

While many off-road fans are skeptical of traction control systems over lockers, the Isuzu system is a smart and sophisticated one, quickly realising when wheels are losing traction and sending power to the opposite side without losing upward momentum.

Hill descent control can be adjusted on the fly by steadily applying the throttle or brake to the desired speed for a couple of moments, and allows for worry-free descents.

While the interior has been updated with some more premium trim elements, the interior of the D-Max and MU-X remain at the lower end of their respective segments in terms of luxury and refinement.

Hard plastics still abound through the interior, and the 7.0-inch touchscreen only offers the most basic functions. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available on any Isuzu models.

The addition of 2.1-amp USB ports are useful, especially for those who spend extended amounts of time on the road.

Making the LS-T a permanent range-topper is a smart move given the thirst Australians have for top-spec utes, and the leather upholstery adds a nice touch, however overall refinement falls behind the top-spec offerings from its competitors.

For the MU-X, when folded flat the third-row sits awkwardly, with the boot floor a few inches above the tailgate bumper. While positioning the seats above the floor results in comfortable third-row seating dimensions, it makes for lost boot storage and clunky ergonomics.

While many customers buy an MU-X for its seven-seat layout, offering the option to remove the third row could add some extra versatility to the range.

It was difficult to gauge the noise levels in the cabin as the test drive was at a private test facility and not on freeways or any public roads. The turbo-diesel engine is still quite noisy but no worse than its competitors.

Not a lot has changed in Isuzu’s latest update, especially for the MU-X, however it is good to know that the manufacturer is listening to customer feedback.

The three-leaf suspension is a great addition, and we wouldn’t be surprised if other manufacturers followed suit. Adding the LS-T as a D-Max range-topper is also a great idea, and should bring in incremental volume to the brand in 2018.

Isuzu’s 3.0-litre remains as arguably the most desirable powerplant in the one-tonne pick-up market with its towing ability and bulletproof reputation, while towing is now safer with the addition of trailer sway control.

The interior trim levels reveal Isuzu’s truck heritage, but those who get into one aren’t doing it for its luxurious cabin.

While the changes are minor, Isuzu continues to go from strength to strength, and a tenth consecutive year of double-digit growth may be a real possibility.

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