Car reviews - Isuzu - D-Max - LS-Terrain
Quick and direct steering for a 4x4 ute, visibility, standard stability control, off-road ability, rugged charm, sensible equipment list
Room for improvement
Slippery, unsupportive and odd-coloured seats, harsh rear-seat ride, aftermarket-looking audio system deletes steering wheel controls, no steering reach adjustment
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26 Apr 2013
Price and equipment
AT $51,700 the top-spec D-Max LS-Terrain crew cab serves as flagship to Isuzu’s ute range, coming with luxuries like sat-nav (including 10,000 built-in off-road destinations), leather seats and a reversing camera.
None of these features are available on the Holden Colorado, which was co-developed with the Isuzu and shares some chassis and interior components and sheetmetal from the windscreen pillars back.
For comparison, Holden has gone for more cosmetic bling on its slightly (as in $200) pricier top-spec Colorado LTZ, with items like a hard tonneau cover and a sports bar – although the LTZ hits back with a digital climate-control system.
Other standard kit on the D-Max includes air-conditioning, power windows, remote central locking, height-adjustable front seatbelts with pre-tensioners, cruise control, roof rails, electric driver's seat adjustment and 17-inch alloy wheels.
THE D-Max cannot live up to the car-like interior ambience of a Mazda BT-50 but it is well-presented and habitable enough to double as family runabout as well as workhorse, despite the prevalence of tough, tradie-friendly hard plastics.
However we found the seats quite unsupportive and the leather upholstery – in addition to being a questionable shade of brown – was slippery.
The leather’s lack of buttock-gripping qualities meant three-up rear passengers got quite familiar while the driver negotiated even fairly gentle corners.
But those rear passengers are well catered for, with a comfortable angle to the backrest and generous amounts of legroom.
Driver’s seat adjustment is easy – but slow – due to electric controls, although we lamented the lack of reach adjustment for the steering, which meant we either felt too close to the pedals or too far from the wheel.
A touch-screen Clarion infotainment unit offers almost endless features but looks decidedly aftermarket and results in the loss of steering wheel controls.
It is a bit fiddly to use, too, with confusing, unintuitive menu screens that require a lot of getting used to before the driver can confidently use it on the move.
On the up-side, the sat-nav function is excellent and it provides a useful reversing camera, adding to the D-Max’s good external visibility (for a ute).
The dashboard layout is identical to a Colorado, with plenty of in-dash storage, but we prefer the Colorado’s blue backlit, Chevy Camaro style instruments.
However the D-Max scores points with a 4x4 mode indicator on the instrument panel, a glaring omission from the Colorado.
Out back, the tray has only four lashing points, which are not ideally located, and unlike rivals such as the Ranger and Amarok, there is no 12-volt power outlet or exterior light for the load area.
Engine and transmission
ISUZU may not have the torque output bragging rights in its segment but its 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel delivers a wide torque band, making it feel effortless in most situations.
Peak power is 130kW at 3600rpm while torque of 380Nm is available between 1800rpm and 2800rpm (manuals get max grunt for an extra 200rpm).
When off-roading in low range, it will pull the D-Max up some seriously steep inclines without any accelerator input and without threatening to stall, even on manual variants we have tried.
The five-speed automatic fitted to the LS-Terrain is a smooth operator but at triple-digit speeds it could do with a sixth ratio as it is revving quite high for a diesel, with the associated commotion emanating from behind the dashboard.
Other than that, while leaving occupants and bystanders in no doubt about the type of fuel being combusted, the diesel engine is respectably refined and quiet for a commercial vehicle during suburban driving – only the VW Amarok really beats it on this count.
We recorded a marked difference in fuel consumption between manual and automatic variants we tried, with a respectable 6.9 litres per 100km for the former and a disappointing 9.5L/100km on the automatic tested here.
That’s strange as the manual’s official consumption figure is is two tenths higher than the auto at 8.3L/100km.
Ride and handling
WE FOUND the dual-cab D-Max rides better than space cab we also tried but even then it does not iron out imperfections as well as Ranger or Amarok, transmitting chassis shudder through the cabin.
Happily it does not feel as large and unwieldy on the road as a Ranger, but it cannot match the Ford’s excellent – for a truck – road manners and it is well behind the out-and-out refinement delivered by the astonishing Amarok.
We liked the steering, which is quick and direct for a 4x4 ute, but this is not a vehicle to be hustled along – especially as you might slip out of the seat.
The standard electronic stability control is a real bonus for confidence and safety, especially in the wet.
Off-road is where the D-Max shines and we were lucky enough to visit Isuzu’s 4x4 Land in Thailand, where the company has built a challenging course to demonstrate and test the abilities of their product.
Despite the lack of a locking rear diff, we were able to climb some incredibly steep slopes with ease and the D-Max coped admirably with challenging axle articulation and wading tests.
We were also impressed with how well the D-Max gripped and felt rock-solid stable when negotiating a curved lateral slope.
Selecting high- or low-range 4x4 modes is easy, using a dial on the centre console.
Safety and servicing
UNFORTUNATELY for Isuzu, the D-Max missed out on a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating, scoring a second-best four stars due to a lack of dual pre-tensioners on the front seatbelts.
The company is working towards a solution but for now some fleet operators – not to mention private buyers – will overlook the vehicle as they increasingly insist on five stars.
Six airbags are standard – the Colorado has four – but it was not enough.
The D-Max does score a five-year warranty though, and servicing comes every six months or 10,000km – check costs with a dealer.
A REPUTATION for reliability, backed up by a five-year warranty, great off-road ability and some of the segment’s best value for money might be enough to draw customers to the Isuzu showroom.
If paved roads are your main territory, the Amarok remains pick of the bunch, with the Ranger and BT-50 a close second if you can live with their bulk – and the Mazda’s polarising styling.
We would pick a D-Max over a Colorado or Nissan Navara at this end of the market for its sensible specification level that packs in plenty of kit for the asking price.
It might be a bit rugged and agricultural compared with the top players, but we found a certain charm in that.
Rivals, Volkswagen Amarok ($24,490 – $61,490 plus on-road costs), Pricey, but you get what you pay for in terms of road manners, refinement and overall quality. Great off-road ability, too, but we have durability concerns about the highly strung, relatively small 2.0-litre engines.
Mazda BT-50 ($25,570 – $53,140 plus on-road costs), If you can get over those looks, the BT-50 is offers value for money and shares the Ranger’s good points while having an even better interior filled with generous levels of equipment.
Ford Ranger ($19,740 – $59,390 plus on-road costs), Proudly designed and engineered in Australia, the Ranger would be top of the tree if it were not for the pesky Amarok for its outstanding ride, handling and decent interior, but it feels so big on the road.
MAKE/MODEL: Isuzu D-Max LS-Terrain 4x4 Crew Cab
ENGINE: 2999cc four-cylinder turbo-diesel
LAYOUT: Front, longitudinal
POWER: 130kW @ 3600rpm
TORQUE: 380Nm @ 1800-2800rpm
TRANSMISSION: Five-speed automatic
TOP SPEED: 250km/h
SUSPENSION: Independent double-wishbone front with stabiliser bar/overslung leaf-sprung rear
STEERING: Hydraulic rack and pinion
BRAKES f/r: Ventilated discs/drums
PRICE: From $51,700 plus on-roads
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