Staging a comeback is a risky game, it didn’t work out that well for Muhammad Ali, and it’s not paying off for Michael Schumacher either. So why does Isuzu think it can stage an epic comeback into the NZ ute market with its D-Max? Well, probably because it never really retired. For many, many years Isuzu supplied Holden with its well-known Rodeo ute in NZ, then following a corporate divorce, Holden retained that same ute range but renamed it the Colorado. This ultimately left Isuzu with a vehicle that shares its underpinnings with the Colorado but has a badge and dealer network all its own. So like most comebacks, it’s a little complicated. All that aside, what’s the Isuzu D-Max really like? Car and SUV spent a week on the comeback trail with the D-Max to find out more.
A quick look at our top-dog LS crew cab D-Max reveals an unfamiliar face on an orthodox ute body. It’s not the prettiest ute around but the toothy chrome grille and vertically stacked headlights are certainly distinctive. The cab is quite flat sided but wheel arches flare outwards dwarfing the standard 16-inch alloys beneath. At the rear jeweled taillights flank a wide tailgate that has a dash of style with its subtle top lip. Chrome touches on the rear bumper, side mirrors and door handles finish off the high-spec look nicely. Overall, the D-Max is a serious looking ute, it’s built for a purpose and has rejected curves in favour of a more traditional boxy shape. In fact, if our test vehicle wasn’t finished in charcoal sheet metal it’d probably be wearing a wife-beater singlet and showing some serious butt-crack.
The D-Max cabin is a no nonsense mix of dark grey plastics and hardwearing cloth trim. The tone is lightened by touches of silver but practicality is the main focus here. While it provides for a pleasant environment the D-Max interior is one step behind segment leaders like the Toyota Hilux and Mitsubishi Triton in terms of presentation and fit out. That said, the central control console is ergonomically good and the main instrument cluster is large and easily read. There’s also a lot of equipment loaded into the D-Max LS with air-con, power windows all round, cruise control, leather steering wheel, trip computer and a lockable glove box all standard kit. The cloth trimmed seats could use more support but do offer commanding road visibility. In the back of the crew cab there is ample headroom and fair legroom, but taller occupants may be more comfortable up front.
Under the vented bonnet lays Isuzu’s 3.0-litre 4-cylinder diesel engine. It’s the only engine option and is standard across the entire D-Max range. It uses direct injection and a variable geometry turbo to produce 120kW of power and a gutsy 360Nm of torque. Peak torque comes on at 1800-2800rpm and it allows the D-Max to move around at a fair clip. Select the right gear and there is plenty of mid-range punch on offer, making open road overtaking a breeze. The D-Max feels well settled at cruising speeds and although there is some rattling when the engine’s cold or under stress it is more refined than some others in the market. Fuel usage is also very reasonable with the D-Max returning 8.4l/100km when mated to the manual transmission like on our test subject.
An automatic option is available but you will lose 27Nm of torque and $3k from your pocket for it. The manual transmission makes for a good choice as it was effortless to use with a fairly light clutch pedal that engaged predictably and a long yet easy gearstick throw. On towing duties the D-Max excels and has a 3000kg towing capability.
Dynamically the D-Max has fairly typical ute handling due to a typical ute set-up of a separate ladder chassis with torsion bar independent front suspension and leaf springs at the rear. It’s competent on twisted roads and while there’s an expected degree of body roll it’s a smooth and steady vehicle to manage. The ride is quite firm but there is some compliance there to iron out bumps in the road. The D-Max has clearly been designed to take a load in the tray and when travelling fully unladen it can skip around a little at the rear. The power-assisted steering makes for easy handling at low speeds, but the turning circle is quite wide and three-point turns demand space.
Moving from tarmac to the rougher stuff is easy in the D-Max with dash mounted buttons allowing on-the-fly shifts from rear-wheel-drive to 4WD high ratio and if required 4WD low ratio. It’s a system that functions well and provides the cornerstone of the D-Max’s off-road ability. Add in the limited slip diff, steep approach and departure angles, sump protection and a high ground clearance and you have a truck that can get its tyres dirty with the best of them.
If things go wrong the D-Max is fitted with modern safety features including ABS brakes with EBD, dual front airbags and side anti-intrusion bars.
So will the D-Max’s comeback that’s not exactly a comeback be successful?
Well, it could be. The D-Max is an interesting entry into the NZ ute market that has a certain appeal. It’s built strong, it’s built to work and everything from the way it looks to how it drives points back to this fact. It may not be as elegantly suited to weekend family duties as the top-spec offerings from some competitors. But it’s dynamically competent in all areas, comes with a 3-year/100,000km warranty and a real no-bull approach. If you’re looking for a capable stead that is more workhorse than show pony then take a closer look at the Isuzu D-Max.
Price: $53,990 ($56,990 auto)
What we like:
- Uncompromising work ethic
- Strong diesel engine
- Off-road ability
What we don’t like:
- Lackluster interior
- Wide turning circle
- Hard seats
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
Other reviews of interest:
Isuzu D-Max LS (2010) – Specifications
¢ Isuzu 4JJ1-Hi-Power 3.0 litre, DOHC, 16-valve, 4-cylinder, common-rail, VGS intercooled turbo-diesel
¢ 5-speed manual
¢ 4-speed automatic with Adaptive Grade Logic, overdrive top gear & lock-up torque converter
(mm unless otherwise stated)
Overall length 5030
Overall width excl.door mirrors 1800
Overall height 1735
Front overhang 770
Front track 1520
Rear track 1525
Ground clearance – minimum 225
Turning circle diameter (between kerbs)(metres) 12.2
Approach angle 34.6°
Departure angle 23.3°
Ramp-over angle 21.0°
Fuel tank capacity (litres) 76
Load Area (mm unless stated otherwise)Back to top
(mm unless otherwise stated)
Rear overhang 1210
Maximum width 1530
Width between wheel houses 1085
(mm unless otherwise stated)
Leg room — front 1085
Leg room – rear 890
Shoulder room – front 1450
Head room – front 1005
Tare Mass 1869
Tare Mass (automatic) 1874
Load capacity incl occupants, options, accessories, luggage, towball load, fuel, payload. 1031
Load capacity incl occupants, options, accessories, luggage, towball load, fuel, payload. (automatic) 1036
Gross Vehicle Mass 2900
Gross Combination Mass 5900
Maximum Towing Mass (Braked Trailer) 3000
Maximum Towing Mass (Non-Braked Trailer) 750
Maximum Tow Ball Mass load 300