REPUTATION is king in the truck world, especially when you’re supplying other manufacturers with their vehicles.
Build ’em tough, make ’em last. It’s something Isuzu has traded on since the stylish KB20 kicked off in the 1970s, providing generations of pick-ups wearing Chevrolet LUV, Bedford KB, Holden Rodeo/Colorado and – in the not-too-distant future with the next-gen version – Mazda BT-50 badges.
So how has today’s D-Max finished last while the related Colorado has clawed its way up the rankings? Are toughness and reliability no longer enough?
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The Thai-made pick-up received a thorough makeover only last year, with a fresh face, extra gear, a stronger yet more efficient powertrain, a quieter interior and extended service intervals backed up by capped-price servicing. Most of that has come as a result of feedback from Australian customers of the previous version launched back in 2012.
Throw in a spacious and well-screwed-together cabin offering decent seating front and rear, a contemporary dash design and, in top-level LS-Terrain guise, useful mod-cons from a rear camera and climate control to keyless entry/start and navigation, and it’s easy to understand why sales are up 20 percent this year.
Still, if there’s one model here to remind us that we are still very much in the light commercial vehicle world, it’s the D-Max. Take the updated interior – a step up but only within Isuzu’s own ecosystem. Leather boosts the ambience a degree but this is dragged back down again by plastics that remind you of their budget quality in both feel and odour. And what’s with the strange and space-wasting circular centre console switch layout?
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The no-frills theme continues to excessive noise/vibration/harshness issues, prompting us to dub the D-Max the din max. Speaking of which, the loud and clattery 3.0-litre turbo-diesel does feel muscular in isolation, with a decent amount of forward thrust, but is actually near the bottom for acceleration and dead-last for mid-range response. The D-Max also needed the most room to stop from 100km/h (just pipping the Navara), though at least it proved the best by far in the fuel economy stakes.
The lack of refinement continues through to the Isuzu’s disappointing road manners, with a chassis that feels half-baked due to steering with too much play and not enough weight or feel – have the company’s engineers driven a Ford Ranger lately? Push the D-Max through some corners and bumps provoke rack rattle and kickback. The ride seems to never settle, and the suspension takes longer to gather itself after big undulations than any ute tested. There’s also more tyre roar than you need put up with in a modern dual-cab. Tradies have sensitive ears too. We hope Isuzu management is taking notes.
Unfortunately, things aren’t great off the beaten track either. In the off-road, loaded and towing tests, the 18-inch-wheeled LS-Terrain would have benefited from a locking rear diff, a better traction-control calibration, greater suspension travel and more grunt.
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Ultimately, the D-Max remains a tough and reliable truck with decades of workhorse experience behind it and probably many years of faithful service ahead. The five-year warranty is better than some, and for a flagship model, the sub-$55K pricing is a bonus. There is definitely a place for a no-nonsense dual-cab that does exactly what it says on the tin.
However, the ute is evolving, slowly but surely, and in its current form Isuzu’s latest truck seems to be leaning too heavily on past reputations.
Engine 2999cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, TD
Power 130kW @ 3600rpm
Torque 430Nm @ 2000-2200rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) 5295/1860/1855/3095mm
Tray capacity 1005kg
Braked towing capacity 3500kg
Unbraked towing capacity 750kg
Ground clearance 235mm
Tyres Toyo Open Country A33A 255/60R18
Test fuel average 9.3L/100km
0-100km/h 10.9sec 80-120km/h 7.9sec