Latest generation dual-cab which sits atop new ute podium
Exceeding expectations is never an easy task. Especially in the automotive sector. Not to mention in the world’s most competitive market.
With more than 60 brands in a small market, the Australian vehicle battleground is a tough place to do business. Isuzu punches well above its weight with only two vehicles in its stable — the MU-X off-roading SUV and the D-Max ute.
The latter has just been replaced, and three months after reaching showrooms, Isuzu has ramped up production to meet demand.
Leading the way is Isuzu’s most expensive offering, the X-Terrain at $58,990 drive-away.
Queues are building for the kitted-out
D-Max for good reason. Not only does this third-generation ute come with tougher looks, but dramatic technological improvements.
Previous Isuzu offerings were bereft of the latest equipment. Comfort, infotainment and safety kit in this latest D-Max puts some passenger cars to shame.
Prices have risen, yet that’s indicative of the specification improvements. Those keen for a workhorse can still get into a two-wheel drive single-cab SX for less than $30,000 drive-away.
Dual-cabs are now Australia’s most popular selling vehicles — more families are adopting them as weekday runabouts and then a conduit to weekend activities. That’s why the likes of a nine-inch touchscreen armed with wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connected to an eight-speaker sound system, leather trimmed seats (front with electric adjustment), push button start and dual zone aircon are all standard in the top-spec model.
The X-Terrain also comes with fender flares to provide some extra bulk over the 18-inch alloys, sports bar, tub liner, front and rear underbody spoilers, hard roller tonneau, while features like the side steps, door handles, mirrors and grille are all in dark grey to add a meaner external edge.
Exclusive colours to the top-shelf ute are orange, red and pearl white, and also available are blue, black, silver, grey and a flat white. Metallic paint options add $500.
Warranty coverage is six years or 150,000km, only trumped by Mitsubishi which offers 10 years. Isuzu developed the D-Max in conjunction with Mazda — the BT-50 only differs with some internal specification and bodywork, but Mazda offers a five-year warranty and unlimited kilometres.
Capped price servicing is available for seven years if you return to an Isuzu dealer, at an average price of $481. Compare servicing over five years and the Isuzu is less expensive by nearly $300.
Leading the ute genre with tech, it achieved a five-star rating from crash authority ANCAP under the most stringent conditions this year. Many vehicles wouldn’t get close now given prerequisites like lane keeping assist to help maintain positioning between lines, as well as emergency braking that can be applied if the driver fails to act quickly enough to an impending frontal collision.
The D-Max also comes with blind-spot warning (not on the likes of Toyota’s HiLux SR5 or the Ford Ranger XLT), as well as adaptive cruise control to maintain preset distances from other vehicles, and rear cross traffic alert to warn of possible collisions when reversing — a brilliant aide in carparks.
Adding further peace of mind are parking sensors front and back, reversing camera and traffic sign recognition which keeps a constant eye on speed zones. Isuzu also use cameras rather than radars for its protection systems — which automatically adjust if a heavy load changes the angles.
Looking more modern and bolstered by the large central touchscreen, the interior is vastly improved compared to its predecessor. There are still some hard plastics but they’re inoffensive and softer materials are used in the areas touched most.
Good storage space comes via a console and an area in front of the gear shifter for phones, keys or wallets, while the deep drink allocations are perfect for bottles — takeaway coffee cups are best suited to the pop-out dash holders while there is another pair in the fold-down back armrest. Additional bottle allocations are in the front doors.
Seats offer reasonable support front and back, while those in the second row get their own USB port as well as aircon vents.
Missing from the X-Terrain are heated front seats. Even Queenslanders like the option on cold mornings or to soothe aching bodies.
Nothing too technical will cause confusion operationally, as shortcut buttons below the touchscreen give quick menu access, while the driver has a digital display between the analog tacho and speedometer.
Familiarity comes from under the bonnet, and it’s the same engine used in the previous iteration that has been re-engineered for extra power and torque (improvements of 10kW/20Nm).
While down on some rivals, it’s an honest and reliable donk. This engine is also found in Isuzu’s N-Series trucks, with sightly different outputs. Those trucks have a gross vehicle mass up to 6500kg, so the four-cylinder turbo-diesel likes to work.
Acceleration is strong and while the steering can feel vague on occasions, it’s an easy dual-cab to drive.
Collectively, the third-generation D-Max chassis, suspension and engine updates provide a smoother and more refined on-road experience. Falling short of a Ford Ranger’s on-road prowess, the D-Max still manages comfortable performance with or without a load aboard.
Our testing also included the base SX cab-chassis variant, and while expectantly firmer at the rear with a 1200kg payload and heavy-duty springs (the X-Terrain is 970kg), it remained composed and predicable on all but the roughest of surfaces.
Going off road remains within the D-Max remit and shifting from two- to four-wheel-drive is done on the fly, requiring a shift into neutral when stationary and low range is engaged in two seconds.
Our tests returned average fuel usage of 8.4 litres per 100km (7.5L on longer highway trips), which is good for a ute weighing more than two tonne.
The equipment and safety credentials add up to a top value package. There’s little point spending a fair bit more for a whole lot less, even if I have to pay for my own tow bar.
Truck-inspired external styling and a true truck engine. This will do the towing job, and the muscly lines deliver the toughness I’m after.
TOYOTA HILUX SR5 $64,430 D/A
Just updated, the unbreakable reputation is reflected in brilliant resale. Recently upgraded, the 2.8-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel now generates 150kW/500Nm and also has a maximum towing capacity of 3500kg. Behind the D-Max in equipment, safety and interior finishes.
FORD RANGER WILDTRAK $67,490 D/A
The ute for those not wanting to compromise on comfort. Some baulk at the 157kW/500Nm 2.0-litre 4-cyl twin-turbo diesel compared to the 147kW/470Nm 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel. Question is whether the driving competence is worth the extra investment.
Isuzu used to fight on price. Now it can battle on prowess. Easy to drive and with an outstanding specification list, the D-Max
X-Terrain has become the best value in a competitive market.
AT A GLANCE
ISUZU D-MAX CREW CAB X-TERRAIN
PRICE $58,990 drive-away (impressive kit for coin)
WARRANTY/SERVICING 6yr/150,000km (fine); $3373 for 7 services (not bad)
ENGINE 3.0-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel, 140kW/450Nm (hard worker)
SAFETY 5 stars, 8 airbags, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise, traffic sign recognition, blind spot monitor (excellent)
THIRST 8.0L/100km (8.5L on test)
SPARE Full-size, steal (OK)
TOWING 3.5-tonne towing (on par)