The Isuzu D-Max X-Runner ute is thwarting Australia’s corps of motoring writers. We’re trying everything possible to get them hopelessly bogged on the beaches of Queensland’s Moreton Island, with visions of X-Runners bobbing out to sea to join the wrecks offshore.
It’s not that the D-Max is in any way unendearing, it’s just that Wheels has been invited to guinea pig one of Isuzu’s ‘I-Venture Club’ off-road driving adventures and we feel we owe it to the Japanese to plumb a level of boneheadedness that the public will be hard-pushed to equal.
You probably know the D-Max fairly well already. Powered by a gutsy 130kW 3.0-litre turbodiesel four that’s tougher than a $10 steak but no longer able to mix it with the likes of the Ford Ranger, this X-Runner version is a special edition. Isuzu is importing just 360 of them.
Of those, half will be Lapis Blue and the other half Pearlescent White. You’ll pay $51,990 for the privilege and Isuzu staffers are already wearing long face because they haven’t built enough. The last X-Runner edition quickly sold all of its 660 units. So far, so good.
But we’re really not here to talk about contrasting striping and decals, front and rear body kits, reversing cameras, alloy sports bars and tub liners. We’re here to see how well the D-Max copes with being driven into the Coral Sea. As the handbook advises that only the first 500mm of the Coral Sea’s depth should be negotiated, that plan is rapidly abandoned.
The generous approach, breakover and departure angles, the low-range transfer case and the 380Nm of torque that’s available from just 1800rpm make light work of the light sand trails on the island, traction assisted by dropping the Bridgestone Duelers to 18psi. The 225mm ground clearance is bettered by its Holden Colorado cousin and there’s no diff lock or hill descent control, although taking manual control of the five-speed Aisin auto ’box in low range means you won’t really need it. So capable is the vehicle that even sneaking it into rear-wheel drive mode will still see it tackle most of the sand trails: the only giveaway is a five-metre-tall rooster tail of sand. The handy shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive system means you don’t have to stop to incur the wrath of a man who’s been windscreen-wiping sand for a kilometre.
Some fellow motoring journalists are tapping the fascia with their knuckles, in order to gain a nuanced understanding of Isuzu build quality. They look unimpressed by the hard plastics, but the test of sending the D-Max clambering up a 50cm high sand ledge proved that it’s well up to snuff. The coil-sprung front and leaf sprung live axle rear end offer decent wheel articulation and despite the diff excavating a 30cm trench into the bank, it still emerges functioning exactly as originally specified. It also drives through quicksand without breaking stride and can sidehill to a 49-degree angle before it falls over. A Hilux is rated to 48 degrees before it does an impression of the Tirpitz.
The D-Max X-Runner is, annoyingly, a bit too capable for Moreton Island but those paying punters who do take theirs on an I-Venture Club event will probably be glad of that fact. It’s a smart move on Isuzu’s part, getting customers to see what their vehicles are capable of in the event that they might otherwise be diverted by something with more soft-touch plastics, a slicker infotainment system and a badge that wings in with a bit more clout.
All the basics are covered, from a rundown of the low-range transmission through to use of snatch straps and wading techniques – the sort of things we should know but might be a bit embarrassed to admit we don’t all fully understand.
The D-Max will never be the most glamorous ute but, as sales figures attest, Isuzu Ute Australia can’t get their hands on enough of the things. It’s easy to see the appeal of something this bulletproof and well-equipped. With updated Mitsubishi Triton, Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux looming, the D-Max’s task is set to get a whole lot tougher.
Model: Isuzu D-Max X-Runner
Engine: 2999cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbodiesel
Max power: 130kW @ 3600rpm
Max torque: 380Nm @ 1800-2800rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 1925kg
0-100km/h: 12.1sec (claimed)
On sale: Now
Click here to read the full range review of the Isuzu-D-Max