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2020 Isuzu D-MAX LS-M off-road review

By Evan Spence, 04 Mar 2021 Road Tests

2020 Isuzu D-MAX LS-M

Here’s why the mid-spec LS-M D-MAX is the smart call for modern four-wheel drivers.

THERE has been a trend in recent years of punters buying lower-spec vehicles and using the money that would have gone into leather seats and faux woodgrain towards 4x4 accessories. I can’t help but agree with this as being a good idea.

Think back to the early ’90s, and how bad lower-spec utes were in particular. These vehicles single-handedly supported the aftermarket stereo installation and upgraded seat industries, while putting their kids through university in the process.

 

You had to spend money upgrading them, as you got just what you needed and nothing more. Times have changed, low-to-mid spec utes are far more user friendly now. I won’t say luxurious – far from it – but it is certainly amazing to see how far these workhorses have come.

Enter the latest offering from Isuzu, the 2020-21 D-MAX, and on test here in LS-M spec with a six-speed manual transmission. It sits above the base SX model, but below the LS-U and X-Terrain models respectively.

Now, I won’t give things away too early in the piece, but, for me, this is the sweet spot in the Isuzu range for modern four-wheel drivers. It’s for those who want to use the vehicle for work and play, while saving a few bucks in the process.

DOLLARS AND CENTS

NOW, I’ll start with money talk because a new 4x4 is a huge investment. I recommend you use the Isuzu website to check up-to-date pricing in your local area. I entered my postcode, selected no optional accessories, the six-speed manual transmission (X-Terrain is only available with an auto), a ute tub, in 4x4 configuration (naturally), and Obsidian Grey Mica as the colour choice.

These are the nuts and bolts:
• SX: $52,715 Drive Away
• LS-M: $55,970 Drive Away
• LS-U: $60,065 Drive Away
• X-Terrain: $60,490 Drive Away (RRP is usually $68,465).

By purchasing the LS-M over the LS-U, you have saved yourself $4095, a significant amount in the kitty to spend on 4x4 accessories. If you were to go lower again, to the SX model, that’s a $7350 saving over the LS-U. You do however lose some handy additions we feel are worth the jump to the LS-M for.

WHAT DO YOU MISS OUT ON?

SIFTING closely through the specs box, it’s interesting to note the differences in inclusions between the models.

The main differences between the SX and LS-M are as follows:
• Steel wheels vs alloy
• Black door handles and mirrors vs colour coded
• Halogen headlights vs LED
• No DRL or LED fog lights in SX trim
• Four-speaker stereo system vs Six-speaker in the LS-M
• No USB outlet in the rear of the SX
• Less interior storage options in the SX.

When you look at the differences between the LS-M and LS-U we found:
• 18-inch wheels vs 17-inch (we prefer 17-inch anyway)
• Standard leaf springs in LS-U vs heavy-duty in LS-M
• Rear park-assist sensors available in the LS-U
• Side-steps standard in LS-U (we’d take ’em off)
• Chrome exterior accents in LS-U (chrome don’t get you home)
• LED rear combination lights in LS-U
• Carpet flooring in LS-U vs Vinyl in LS-M (we like vinyl flooring)
• Dual-zone climate control in LS-U
• Electronic adjustable lumbar support (driver only) in LS-U
• Leather-wrapped steering wheel in LS-U, urethane in the LS-M
• 9-inch touchscreen display in LS-U vs 7-inch in LS-M
• SKY SOUND stereo system with eight speakers in LS-U vs Six speakers in LS-M.

Make of that what you will, but the vinyl flooring, 17-inch alloy wheels (better looking than the 18-inch wheels in my opinion), lack of side-steps and inclusion of heavy-duty rear leaf springs are an advantage for four-wheel drivers.

WHEELS REVIEW: D-MAX versus Ranger

 

Sure, the larger nine-inch touchscreen and eight-speaker sound system would be really nice, as would the rear park assistance and dual-zone climate control, but are they worth the coin? That’s on you, but for my money the LS-M is the bang-for-buck option in the 2020 Isuzu D-MAX range.

ON ROAD

YES, I know it’s a ute, but the on-road ride is on the firm side when unladen. Even my wife who has zero interest in anything automotive-related, commented on how bouncy it was on rough road surfaces, moments before spilling her coffee (go vinyl flooring).

It’s not terrible and, naturally, once loaded up it would be fine, but it’s certainly not a class-leading ride on road when unladen. Otherwise, there’s very little to report in terms of negatives. The brakes are nice, steering feel isn’t heavy like the previous generation, and the handbrake works really well. Overall, it’s a nice place to be. It just feels … solid.

We’re seeing excellent fuel economy, hovering around the 8.0L/100km mark. The six-speed manual gearbox is a no-fuss affair and, while most will opt for the auto, there’s no reason to not suggest the manual if you prefer to row through the gears. As mentioned, interior comfort is next level when compared to the previous generation, and I’d happily use this vehicle daily for work, off-road shenanigans, picking up groceries and everything in-between. It’s versatile, and at the end of the day that’s what you want in a dual-cab ute ... right?

WHAT’S INSIDE?

THIS latest Isuzu D-MAX is a significant leap forward in terms of on-road dynamics and driver experience over the previous generation. The main difference would have to be the interior comfort levels and overall design. I’ve mentioned it before but the vinyl flooring used in the LS-M is an absolute boon for muddy tracks and worksites. It’s a solid bit of vinyl too, which suits the interior rather than making it feel cheap. Full points to Isuzu there.

The cupholders are also a work of art. Sounds like a silly point to bring up, but they are something I use and appreciate every time I drive the vehicle. If you have driven a 2020 Suzuki Jimny, you’ll understand how important good cupholders are …

All controls are intuitive and laid out well, however you do miss out on dual-zone climate in the LS-M. Not that I’ve found a situation for that to be a deal breaker. As mentioned in my previous first impressions article, the seats in the current D-MAX are first class too and, while not electronically controlled in the LS-M model, they are comfortable and supportive. A huge improvement for occupant comfort and, let’s be honest, safety. I don’t feel fatigued driving this vehicle for long periods of time.

The six-speaker stereo system with seven-inch display is simple to use and, while a nine-inch touchscreen would be nice, I’ve got no real beef with the seven-inch display. My only gripe is the stereo could be a fraction louder overall, but I like my tunes abnormally loud. No big deal though, when you can listen to the sultry burble of that 4JJ3-TCX engine instead.

SAFETY DANCE

GET ready for a bunch of acronyms, as the 2020 D-MAX is absolutely loaded with new safety technology.

The first one to remember is IDAS, or Intelligent Driver Assistance System. This technology is standard across the D-MAX range – love it or hate it, safety tech is here to stay and will save lives. According to Isuzu, IDAS covers a range of active and passive safety technology, made up of cameras and sensors designed to keep an eye on your surroundings while you drive.

In terms of active safety, you get Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Forward Collision Warning, Post-Collision Braking and Turn Assist (with AEB). Misacceleration Mitigation, Driver Attention Assist, Trailer Sway Control (TSC), Rain Sensing Automatic Wipers and Automatic Headlights (with auto-dipping high beam).

It doesn’t end there, with Lane Departure Prevention, Reversing Camera, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Traffic Sign Recognition. There’s even more available in higher-trim specs, but you get the point … this is one smart and safe four-wheel drive.

It’s not just crazy acronyms that make the new D-MAX as safe as houses, the proof is in the pudding. In 2020, Isuzu received a five-star ANCAP rating across the range. There are eight airbags inside, too, which comes under its Passive Safety Feature banner. It’s hard not to be impressed with this level of safety technology incorporated into a dual-cab ute.

Personally, I found some of it to be too intrusive as it arrived off the showroom floor, but since playing with the settings and dulling things down, I’m happy it’s there.

THAT MOTOR

IT’S no secret the 4JJ1 turbo-diesel motor found in the previous incarnations of the D-MAX is held in high regard. Legendary even. It’s what many would dub a 500,000km engine, which will basically outlast civilisation with proper servicing. Well, Isuzu has wisely kept a 3.0L motor, but have significantly revised it for better performance. Now known as the 4JJ3-TCX, it’s quieter, smoother and more powerful.

When I say revised, I really should say re-engineered. There’s a new cylinder head, pistons, block, high-pressure injection rail and variable geometry turbocharger to start with. The previous model was dogged with complaints that it was too noisy. It never bothered me, but it was a little truck-like. Funny that.

I can safely report this current oil-burner is much smoother and quieter in the cab. From the seat of the pants, it feels to have way less turbo lag, which is refreshing. Power figures are also up, with 140kW available and peak torque of 450Nm from just 1600 to 2200rpm. Just what you want in a tow rig, work vehicle or four-wheel drive.

SPEC SAVER

IT’S safe to say I’m rather smitten with the 2020 Isuzu D-MAX in LS-M trim spec. For me, it’s the perfect balance of being practical and useful, as well as comfortable and capable enough. It’s what you want in a dual-cab ute. And let’s not forget that wonderful 3.0-litre turbo-diesel motor, which just feels like it will go forever.

I’d spend the money you save over buying the higher spec LS-U or X-Terrain on some quality suspension, larger all-terrain tyres and some frontal protection, and you’ve got a solid vehicle. I’ll go so far as to say you’ve now got one of the best dual-cab utes on the market. As a Hilux owner, I don’t say that lightly.

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