- Punchy engine
- Smooth gearbox
- Long warranty
- Does not do anything unusually well
What stands out?
The second-generation Isuzu D-Max is a down-to-earth ute that carries and tows well, and in 4WD form can handle hard work off road. Its newly revised diesel engine and six-speed gearboxes deliver good fuel economy. All models, from farm truck to family tourer, have stability control, full airbag coverage, and a six-year warranty.
What might bug me?
Staying comfortable, if you’re tall: seat bases in the less costly D-Maxes are on the short side, and may leave you wishing for more support under the thighs. And while the driver’s seat is manually adjustable for height, the range of adjustment is small.
Finding your way around the audio system. A convoluted touchscreen menu structure takes longer to navigate than you might expect. And there's still no Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone pairing.
The lack of autonomous emergency braking even in the later 2019 and 2020 models.
What body styles are there?
Single-Cab, Space-Cab and Crew-Cab, and in both ute and cab-chassis form.
Space-Cab models have fold-down seats behind the front seats, accessed via rear-hinged doors that can open only when the front doors are open.
Crew-Cabs have a conventional four-door arrangement, with seating for five.
Buyers of cab-chassis models fit trays of their choice at the rear, commonly tailor-made by aftermarket specialists. Utes come with a factory-fitted tub at the back.
The D-Max is available as a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, or with dual-range four-wheel drive. Rear-wheel-drive D-Maxes are available in Low-Ride and High-Ride form. The low-riders are easier to load and unload, while the high-riders have a 4WD look and more clearance for driving on tracks.
Four-wheel drive D-Maxes use a part-time 4WD system, which means you can operate them only in rear-wheel drive on sealed roads but may switch to 4WD on loose surfaces. In 4WD you can choose high-range or low-range gears – the latter allowing you to drive comfortably at very slow speeds, which helps in difficult conditions.
The D-Max is classified as a light commercial pick-up/cab-chassis.
What features did every D-Max have?
By the time the second-generation D-Max was retired it had a handy set of standard features, including:
- Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls and audio streaming. An MP3 compatible sound system with an AM/FM radio, a CD player, AUX and Micro-USB inputs, and at least four speakers.
- A leather-wrapped steering wheel with buttons for controlling the sound system.
- 12-volt outlet in the glovebox.
- Six airbags: two directly in front of the driver and front passenger; one alongside each front occupant to protect the upper body; and a curtain airbag on each side protecting the heads of front and rear passengers.
- Hill-start assist, which helps you start from rest on uphill slopes by controlling the brakes automatically.
- Hill descent control, which helps you drive down steep and slippery tracks by controlling the brakes automatically, leaving you free to concentrate on steering the car.
- Electronic Traction Control. This helps the car maintain drive on slippery surfaces, and is especially helpful with the four-wheel drive models in difficult going.
- Electronic Stability Control, which helps prevent you from skidding out of control. This is mandatory on all passenger cars but not on commercial vehicles like the D-Max.
In addition, all but one D-Max had a colour touchscreen for controlling cabin functions, remote central locking, power windows, and cruise control that can be operated from buttons on the steering wheel. (The exception is the D-Max EX, a no-frills 4WD farm truck.)
All D-Max ute models, and not the cab chassis versions, now feature a rear bumper to improve occupant collision protection, along with a reversing camera as standard for increased safety and visibility. Both remain optional on cab chassis models due to the nature of the tray.
All D-Max variants, apart from the SX Low Ride 4x2 Single Cab-Chassis manual came with trailer sway control.
Every D-Max sold from May 2019 six-year, 150,000km warranty, which is transferable should you buy a used one within that time.
Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?
Only one engine is available in the D-Max, a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel. Isuzu says this engine, introduced in February 2017, was developed explicitly for Australia.
It consumes about 7.8 litres/100km in official tests (urban and country combined), with little difference between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive versions, or manuals and autos.
Manual and automatic gearboxes each supply six ratios (gears).
What key features do I get if I spend more?
The least costly D-Maxes are the SX models (and the basic EX farm truck). All run on 15-inch or 16-inch steel wheels and have vinyl floor coverings, cloth seats, and a 7.0-inch central touchscreen. SX Crew Cabs have a better sound system, with eight speakers.
Spend more for a D-Max LS-M and you get nicer looking 16-inch wheels made of aluminium alloy. Headlamps are a brighter, projector type, taillights are illuminated by very long-lasting LEDs, and there are fog-lights in front. An overhead console in the cabin has map-reading lights and space for your sunglasses.
You get the eight-speaker sound system, and you can charge mobile devices from three USB outlets – including one for rear passengers. A reversing camera is standard.
Spending more again on a D-Max LS-U brings you an 8.0-inch touchscreen that can play DVDs, and satellite navigation. There is carpet on the floor, and the air-conditioning maintains a set temperature. Tough fibre-reinforced polymer side steps make it easier to enter the vehicle. Wheel diameter grows to 17 inches, for a more fashionable look.
The range-topping D-Max LS-T, has leather seats, with powered seat adjustment for the driver.
A proximity key allows you to unlock the doors and start the car with the key safe in a pocket or bag, and roof rails make it easier to fit luggage systems. Automatic transmission is standard, and the wheel size increases again to 18-inches.
Does any upgrade have a down side?
Going from a Single-Cab D-Max to either a Space-Cab or a Crew-Cab reduces both the length of the tray and how much weight it can carry.
Choose the most expensive D-Max, the LS-T, and you lose the option of specifying manual transmission. And its lower-profile, 18-inch tyres will be less effective off-road, and more prone to damage, than the taller-profile tyres on the less costly vehicles.
Every colour except for white is an extra-cost option.
How comfortable is the D-Max?
The D-Max is spacious and comfortable inside. The dash is utilitarian but well constructed, with switches and a touchscreen easily accessed by driver or passenger. Vision out for the driver is very good, thanks to big glass areas and a short bonnet. The big windows are nice for passengers, too.
The manually adjusted seats in the less costly D-Maxes might leave you wishing for more thigh support on long trips if you’re tall, and depending on your body shape you might also like a greater range of more adjustment. In contrast, the power-adjusted leather seats in the expensive D-Max LS-Terrain are excellent, offering plenty of adjustability and support.
D-Max LS-U Crew Cab interior
With the engine and gearbox upgrade of February 2017, Isuzu added more insulation from engine and road noise. But the engine still sounds rowdy compared with those in some alternative utes.
The D-Max rides as utes generally do. With only passengers on board, the ride can be quite firm and uncomfortable. Very smooth roads are okay but everywhere else you know you are travelling in a bumpy workhorse. That is because the rear springs are stiff, so that they can support heavy loads.
Some cargo in the tray will settle the rear, for a more comfortable and balanced ride.
Many D-Maxes come with heavy-duty suspension, which makes the ride even firmer. The exceptions, which ride more comfortably, are the LS-Terrain, the two LS-U 4x4s, and all but one 4x2 (the SX Single-Cab chassis Low Ride is the odd 4x2 out).
What about safety in a D-Max?
All D-Maxes have six airbags – and extend side-curtain coverage to any rear passengers. D-Maxes also have electronic stability control, which can help you control a skid (it applies the brake automatically to one or more wheels).
All D-MAX ute models, and not the cab chassis versions, now feature a rear bumper to improve occupant collision protection, along with a reversing camera as standard.
No D-Max has active driver-aids such as forward collision warning or lane-departure warning.
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has awarded all D-Max Crew Cab 4x4s and Crew-Cab High-Ride 4x2s its maximum five stars for safety, most recently in February 2017.
I like driving - will I enjoy this car?
Utes aren’t designed as drivers’ cars, and the D-Max is only a mid-fielder when it comes to driving enjoyment even by ute standards. It is not as nice to drive as, say, a Ford Ranger or Volkswagen Amarok.
Put your foot down and the D-Max remains fairly noisy, but the new engine and gearboxes bring you more performance with the roar. You notice that in a more lively response to the accelerator pedal, and the ability to hold tall gears a little more comfortably when climbing hills. The six-speed auto, in particular, is well-matched to the engine.
Four-wheel drive D-Maxes have decent off-road ability but some other utes will go further. That is partly because the D-Max does not offer a rear differential lock, even as an option, relying instead on electronic traction control, which in some conditions is less effective than a diff lock for maintaining smooth forward progress. Ground clearance is mid-field but if you do run aground in a D-Max there is ample under-body protection.
The D-Max’s newly introduced Hill Descent Control is very effective. In addition, the auto gearbox has a sequential shift mode that also comes into its own off-road, allowing you to hold a preferred gear when desired.
COMPARISON: 2019 D-Max v Triton v Navara 4x4 review
How is life in the rear seats?
Crew-Cab models have a three-person rear seat that’s spacious and comfortable by ute standards. Compared with popular cars and SUVs there is good width and legroom but a more upright backrest. Crew-Cabs also come with three child-seat anchor points.
The Space-Cab models have two small, folding jump seats that are suitable only for children and small adults, and over short distances.
How is it for carrying stuff, and for towing?
Good, of course. It’s a ute! And the D-Max is also suited to towing.
How much you can carry depends on which D-Max you get. Fewer seats in the cab means more length in the tray – and the longer trays accept more weight (because there’s less weight in the cab).
Legally, a D-Max can carry about as much as any other ute. Even the D-Max with the least capacity – the LS-Terrain Crew Cab – can carry nearly 800 kg in the tray (40 bags of cement) and a driver and passenger, and still be legal.
In practice, if you load the tray of a Crew Cab to the legal limit, the robust D-Max chassis feels stable and secure on the road.
But prior to the engine upgrade of February 2017, the D-Max’s diesel engine was obviously feeling the weight, especially on hills. It did the job, but not as easily as some other utes.
Reviewers have not repeated this load test in an upgraded D-Max but expect a similar result. The broader distribution of grunt from the new engine can be expected to improve loaded performance slightly.
MORE: 2019 Isuzu D-Max tow test
All four-wheel drive D-Maxes are rated to tow a braked trailer weighing 3500kg, which is as much as any similar ute. That’s like towing a robust 20-foot tandem-axle off-road caravan, or a three-horse float with the horses on board.
Two-wheel drive D-Maxes are rated to tow 2500kg, which is more like a loaded two-horse float or an 18-foot tandem-axle light-duty road caravan.
In practice, the D-Max’s chassis tows 3500kg well. But the engine and gearbox in pre-2017 D-Maxes struggled with that much weight behind. Any D-Max was much better matched to a 2500kg trailer, the limit for 2WD versions.
Once again, you can expect the revised engine and gearbox supplied since the upgrade of February 2017 to do a slightly better job.
In any ute, extreme care should be taken when carrying or towing big loads.
Where is the D-Max made?
All Isuzu D-Max utes are made in Thailand.
What might I miss that similar cars have?
When looking at D-Max rivals from the same period, some of them drive more smoothly and comfortably, accelerate faster, and feel more responsive in corners – the Volkswagen Amarok and Ford Ranger, for example.
If you like driving off-road you might wish for a rear differential lock. The Amarok, Ranger and Mazda BT-50 have one as standard, as do most Toyota Hiluxes and some variants of the Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton.
Perhaps better compatibility with your smartphone – through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The Holden Colorado, Mazda BT-50, Ranger, Mitsubishi Triton and Amarok offer this, for example.
The Triton, Ranger and Hilux features autonomous emergency braking, while the Colorado offers a forward collision warning and lane departure warning on its most expensive variants.
I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?
As a family car, our reviewers like the LS-U 4WD Crew Cab, with the six-speed automatic gearbox. You get all the most important features (including a standard reversing camera) while retaining the versatility of the 17-inch wheels and tyres.
Are there plans to update the D-Max soon?
Yes, the second-generation D-Max has been replaced by an all-new model set to arrive in Australia in September 2020.
This model first arrived in Australia in 2012 and had few updates in the meantime.
About August 2016 LS-U versions gained a touchscreen and reversing camera, and satellite navigation was dropped from the LS-Terrain.
A mid-generation facelift arrived about the middle of February 2017. It brought a fresh look up front, a revised diesel engine with more grunt, six-speed auto and manual gearboxes, hill-descent control, and the extension of a touchscreen and (optional) reversing camera to SX and LS-M variants. LS-U and LS-Terrain D-Maxes received an 8.0-inch touchscreen, with satellite navigation restored, and the LS-Terrain got 18-inch wheels.
It received a slight upgrade in May 2018, revised suspension and reversing camera as standard throughout most of the range. The top-of-the-range LS-Terrain was renamed the LS-T and received interior tweaks.
An even slighter upgrade was applied in May 2019 which brought some minor cosmetic details with the LS-U and LS-T Crew Cabs gaining more durable fibre-reinforced polymer (FRP) sidesteps bolted on with steel brackets. Isuzu also increased the warranty period from five to six years.
The all-new third-generation D-Max range was revealed in August 2020 to go on sale in September. It represents a step up in style, equipment and price for the well-regarded D-Max marque with Isuzu Ute Australia confident it will compete head-on with the likes of the Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux.
- Punchy engine
- Smooth gearbox
- Long warranty
- Does not do anything unusually well
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