An all-new engine unique to Australia, and an updated look, make the 2017 Isuzu D-Max a great option for entry-level ute buyers. But, does it stack up? Paul Maric finds out.
It’s often lauded as one of the toughest trucks in the segment, almost impossible to kill. Now, the Isuzu D-Max range has received a performance kick with a more powerful 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine – and a minor facelift to go with it.
One of the cheapest ways to get into a D-Max is at the bottom of the range, with an SX single-cab chassis D-Max. We skipped the low-rider and hopped into the high-rider single-cab chassis to see whether the facelift and engine revision gives this ute an edge over its rivals in this fierce segment.
Starting off from $28,500 (plus on-road costs) for the low-rider D-Max SX single-cab chassis, the high-rider is priced from $31,700 (plus on-road costs) and comes standard with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The biggest part of the D-Max change is the all-new turbocharged diesel engine developed exclusively for the Australian arm of Isuzu Ute. The new powerplant receives a 4JJ1-TC Hi-Power nameplate and uses a single turbocharger attached to a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine.
It produces 130kW of power and 430Nm of torque and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The new engine produces 50Nm more torque than the outgoing engine, but more importantly, that torque is accessible across a wider range, with a substantial 380Nm available from 1700rpm, all the way through to 3500rpm. The peak 430Nm between 2000-2200rpm means the engine isn’t working as hard to extract that torque.
An Aisin six-speed automatic gearbox has been improved thanks to a strengthened rear differential capable of handling the extra torque thrown at it. The new engine is also Euro 5 compliant, meaning it’ll see Isuzu into the future.
It uses 7.2L/100km on the combined cycle when mated a six-speed manual, and 7.5L/100km with the six-speed automatic.
While there’s little difference visually between the low-rider and high-rider D-Max variants, buyers will find the added ground clearance a bonus when traversing work sites. It does come at the cost of payload and braked towing, though, 1194kg (high-rider) versus 1249 (low-rider) for payload and 3500kg (high-rider) against 2500kg (low-rider).
Inside the cabin, changes to the instrument cluster, dashboard and inclusion of a 7.0-inch colour LCD touchscreen give the interior a fresh feel. Between the speedometer and tachometer, there’s also an LCD screen that displays the vehicle’s vital statistics and trip computer.
On the infotainment front, the 7.0-inch screen looks good, but is quite simple in terms of its function. It comes with AM/FM radio and Bluetooth audio and telephone streaming, along with a USB input, but that’s it. It misses out on DAB+ digital radio and features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also no voice recognition function for quick dialling of contacts.
The rest of the interior is basic, but functional. Vinyl floors allow for easy hosing-out of the cabin, while durable plastics cover the doors and surrounds. A dual glove box is a handy feature, as is a reasonably-sized centre console and cupholders. There’s automatic up/down on the driver’s window, with the passenger window remaining a long-press function.
While it’s not a big deal, the rear window doesn’t feature a demister. It’s easy enough to simply swivel and clean it, but it’d be a handy feature to have on those frosty mornings.
In terms of other features, the SX comes with central locking, electric windows and mirrors, cruise control, single-zone manual air conditioning, manually adjustable seats and a trip computer. It misses out on a standard rear-view camera – this is a dealer fit option that integrates the camera either into the infotainment screen or within the rear-view mirror.
On the safety front, the entire D-Max range comes with six airbags, including the base SX model. But, it’s only the 4x4 crew cab and 4x2 high-rider crew cab variants which score a five-star ANCAP rating. The rest of the range (SX high-rider inclusive) receives a four-star rating.
We tested the D-Max empty, with a load of bricks, and with a helping of coffee machines (thanks to the guys at Coffee Machine Warehouse).
Unladen, the D-Max rides like a lot of utes in this segment. It’s quite springy and reacts sharply to small bumps on the road.
It wasn’t anywhere near as reactive as we thought it would be, though. Hitting speed bumps at speed would result in a soft impact at the front and a sharper hit at the rear, but not enough to unsettle the car.
That trait began to disappear as soon as a load was placed in the rear. A tonne of bricks and even four heavy coffee machines settled the rear end and allowed the heavy-duty leaf springs to take up sudden hits and distribute them through the chassis, as opposed to oscillating the leaves.
It was the engine that surprised us the most. The previous engine in the D-Max suffered at times from turbo lag, but that’s all-but gone with the all-new engine. Even from a standing start, it roars off the line and slings you back in your seat.
When we tested a similar specification in our recent six-way ute comparison, we found it to be as quick as the Ford Ranger, which uses a larger 3.2-litre engine with an extra cylinder. It’s a peppy mill and works very well with its six-speed automatic gearbox, which can also be manually shifted if required.
The only downside worth noting is how noisy the engine is, both at idle and when powering through the rev band. It can also vibrate through the cabin from around 3000rpm, which is noticeable when you overtake or need to take off in a hurry.
Despite the lack of weight over the rear, there is adequate grip and traction always available. More impressive, though, was the non-intrusive stability-control calibration. Even on gravel and loose surfaces, it didn’t intervene harshly and worked with the driver rather than against.
Both the Ranger and Colorado have moved to an electrically-assisted steering rack and, while the D-Max still runs a hydraulic unit, it’s easy to steer at speed. At low speed, it could be a bit lighter to help with parking, but overall it is quite good and offered adequate steering feel.
Isuzu has improved the servicing and warranty offering with this new model too. D-Max now requires yearly servicing as opposed to six-monthly intervals, while the warranty has been extended to five years instead of three with capped price servicing and five years’ roadside assistance.
Over three years of ownership, the D-Max costs just $860 to service. But, keep in mind the yearly service intervals are every 10,000km or 12 months, whichever occurs first. That’s under the 15,000km average distance travelled by passenger cars in Australia, and even more under the average travelled by commercial vehicles.
At this price, the Isuzu D-Max SX 4x2 single-cab chassis high-rider is the most expensive of its type in the segment. And, it’s not like it’s loaded with features its competitors don’t have. In fact, it’s quite far behind the game already, despite launching only recently.
While there’s far better value in the segment at the recommended retail price, the entry-level D-Max is often on sale with drive-away pricing. For example, the SX single-cab chassis 4x2 low-rider is available for $26,990 drive-away now with a manual, which is almost $2000 less than its list price exclusive of on-road costs.
So, while on face value it’s not a cost-effective purchase, there’s always a deal to be had with your local Isuzu dealer. Price aside, the D-Max is a very competent commercial vehicle with an engine that really stands up well against the competition.