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Isuzu takes all-new D-Max upmarket

Third-generation Isuzu D-Max ditches utilitarian focus to amp up technology, comfort


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14 Oct 2019

THE third-generation Isuzu D-Max ute has broken cover in Thailand, where it goes on sale this month ahead of an expected Australian arrival next winter, maintaining its time-honoured 3.0-litre diesel engine while taking a significant step up in terms of cabin comfort and technology.


Isuzu Ute Australia (IUA) PR and sponsorship manager Mark Harman told GoAuto the company could not yet confirm anything about the new model as it is focusing on the 2019 model year D-Max that launched in May.


This is despite a promotional video produced for the D-Max reveal featuring Melbourne city streets and numerous Australian off-road locations, with animated renderings of the new model overlaid along with engine sound effects more suited to a sportscar than a commercial vehicle.


The all-new D-Max marks a significant departure from the current model’s utilitarian style, with bold exterior styling and a hi-tech, almost luxurious interior.


A 9.0-inch central touchscreen featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring dominates the overhauled interior along with digital controls for the dual-zone climate control and a much more sophisticated-looking multi-function steering wheel, behind which is a revised instrument cluster with a large full-colour trip computer display.


Families will welcome the presence of rear air-conditioning vents in dual-cab variants, the rear quarters of which are claimed to be now more comfortable and easier to access.


The D-Max’s class-leading cabin storage is carried over, with dual gloveboxes, a dash-top compartment and slide-out cupholders at each end of the fascia maintained. Isuzu claims a total drink-holder count of 10, including storage for 1.5-litre water bottles.


Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is available on the new D-Max, which also has six airbags, automatic bi-LED headlights quad LED tail-light clusters, rain-sensing wipers, all-round parking sensors and bigger 320mm front brake rotors but no mention yet of autonomous emergency braking (AEB) or lane-keep assist.


The windscreen has a coating that reduces harmful ultraviolet rays and cuts infrared radiation to reduce the amount of heat entering the cabin. Keyless entry and start is also offered, along with remote engine start.


A contrast-stitched leather-look finish has been applied to the dash top, door trims and central armrest, matching the upholstery of plush-looking new seats that include an “anti-vibration elastic comfort” foam that is designed to reduce occupant fatigue.


The new, more modern centre console mimics European passenger car design by flanking the gear selector with a metallic and piano-black panel with controls for parking sensors and other driving mode functions, while the rotary four-wheel-drive controller has moved to the central stack, Nissan Navara style.


Isuzu says switching between 4x2 and the two 4x4 modes is now quicker and wading depth has been boosted from 600mm in the current model to 800mm. The engine has been located further back to improve weight distribution and the all-new chassis is said to be 23 per cent stiffer than that of the current D-Max.


However, the company only mention an automatic transmission in relation to the 1.9-litre engine and while the 3.0-litre engine appears to be initially manual-only, which could be why IUA is holding off making any announcements, along with the absence of safety systems such as AEB that are required for a five-star ANCAP safety rating.


As reported last year, Australia is Isuzu’s biggest export market for the D-Max and MU-X and

IUA executives have confirmed that Australian feedback will influence the specification of next-generation products.


The current 3.0-litre engine that was developed for Australia to comply with local Euro 5 emissions regulations in 2017 has been revamped for the all-new model, producing 140kW of power at 3600rpm (up 10kW) and 450Nm of torque between 1600 and 2600rpm (up from 430Nm between 2000 and 2200rpm).


In addition to these improved outputs, Isuzu claims 300Nm is available from just 1000rpm and the upgraded engine is more fuel-efficient.


When it was introduced in February 2017, Isuzu executives confirmed to GoAuto that the 3.0-litre engine could be further enhanced to meet stricter Euro 6 standards if required.


Apart from its relatively heavy steering, the current D-Max is one of the easier one-tonne utes to park, but for the latest model, Isuzu has further increased the maximum turn angle of the front wheels to reduce its turning circle while also reducing steering effort and re-gearing the system to deliver “improved steering performance”.


In addition, the company has responded to criticism levelled at the current D-Max about the fixed reach of the steering column by including four-way movement in the new model along with eight-way driver’s seat adjustment.


Meanwhile, a new double-wishbone front suspension set-up with higher mounting points is claimed to improve stability in all conditions while long-span rear leaf springs manufactured with a “warm stress shot peeing” method are said to provide better durability and flexibility for a smoother ride.


Similarly, adopting shear mounts between the chassis and body – now 20 per cent stiffer and stronger due to the use of more high-tensile steel – is said to help reduce noise and vibration. Isuzu says corrosion resistance has also been improved.


In 4x4 versions of the new D-Max, the tailshaft is a weight-saving one-piece aluminium unit and is hooked up to an electromagnetic locking differential.


A rear differential lock has been offered as a factory option in overseas markets such as South Africa for some time, with Isuzu Ute Australia preferring to rely on electronic traction control to get the job done in the dirt.


Externally, the headlight design of the new D-Max provides a clear link to the outgoing model, while the huge grille marks a significant departure for the Isuzu brand. The company also makes much of aerodynamic improvements to the redesigned D-Max, with underbody panelling and unique integrated rear bumper contributing to its newfound slipperiness.


As reported, the latest D-Max will share much with the next-generation Mazda BT-50 following the discontinuation of its long-standing co-development partnership with General Motors that spawned the first two D-Max models as well as the Holden Colorado and Rodeo utes, Trailblazer and Jackaroo SUVs and even the Piazza sportscar.


Similarly, a multi-decade collaboration between Mazda and Ford has come to an end, the latter teaming up with Volkswagen to develop its next generation of commercial vehicles.


The still-secret new-generation MU-X wagon version could go upmarket enough to spawn a rival to the LandCruiser Prado, with a Mazda-badged version also possible under the new co-development arrangement between the two Japanese brands.


Having launched here in June 2012 – almost simultaneously with the related Holden Colorado – the second-generation D-Max is among the oldest of Australia’s current crop of one-tonne utes, after the Volkswagen Amarok that arrived in February 2011 and Ford PX Ranger six months later.


Since then, the D-Max has become Australia’s second-most popular 4x2 ute after the Toyota HiLux and fifth most-popular 4x4 ute after the HiLux, Ranger, Mitsubishi Triton and Holden Colorado. The Isuzu MU-X is also far and away the nation’s best-selling ute-based SUV.


IUA sales were up 7.1 per cent in 2018 with 27,640 units recorded, missing its targeted decade of double-digit percentage growth. Its ambition of achieving 30,000 annual sales by 2020 is also in jeopardy as volume is down 7.0 per cent so far this year with 18,521 sales to the end of September.

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