Keeping things simple in a changing market can be difficult.
Considering there are more than 200 choices available to buyers looking for a new dual-cab ute in Australia, it is reassuring to know that the Isuzu D-Max has stayed relatively true to its no-nonsense workhorse heritage.
We say ‘relatively’ true as the 2016 Isuzu D-Max LS-Terrain is the dressed-up and lightly flashy top-spec model.
Things are going well for Isuzu in Australia: the brand has seen annual sales grow by almost 26 per cent in 2015, and 4x4 pickup models have almost doubled in sales since 2013.
That's no mean feat, given that the D-Max doesn’t quite have the same 'energy drink for breakfast' appeal as a Toyota Hilux.
Available locally since 2013, the second generation D-Max was developed as a ‘cousin’ of the Holden Colorado. But, rather than different bodywork over a similar driveline (like the Ford Ranger / Mazda BT-50 relationship), the Isuzu and Holden share body and trim components but are very different underneath.
Powered by Isuzu’s 3.0-litre ‘4JJ1’ turbo-diesel truck engine, the $53,000 D-Max LS-Terrain has 130kW and 380Nm under the bonnet. Not massive numbers on paper (considering the Colorado has 147kW/500Nm), but the 3.0-litre runs in such a relaxed state of tune, the numbers don’t seem to matter when the D-Max is put to work.
It’s relative simplicity to get things moving too. The 4WD system can be adjusted on the move to switch from rear-wheel drive to either high- or low-range four-wheel drive, and in a world where nine-speed transmissions are becoming standard fare, the Isuzu still makes do with five. There is a sport-shift mode, and a grade braking function (no dedicated hill-descent system though), which help to maintain control in more extreme situations.
The combination results in reasonable economy too, returning 10.9L/100km on our test loop, against a 8.5L/100km claim. Our driving included some basic acceleration tests and a variety of terrain.
With a payload capacity of 1005kg and braked tow rating of 3500kg, the D-Max has the ability where it matters.
Fill up the tray and hit the road, with a requisite ‘trucky’ whistle from the turbo, and the Isuzu responds almost the same way no matter what size load you have in the back. The same goes for towing, short of something over two-tonne, you need to look in the mirrors to remember there is a trailer back there.
It handles ‘truckily’ too, and is best kept to sensible speeds and cornering activities. Like most utes, it will bounce around when empty but settles well with a load. Steering is heavy at low speeds but provides good feedback and a sense of confidence on the go.
The work/life balance isn’t quite split down the middle, though.
Inside, the D-Max, even with the heated, leather seats of the Terrain, is a bit clunky and basic. It is like an older version of the Colorado, which itself isn’t the most modern-feeling ute on the market.
The dashboard and its hard-wearing plastics feels hollow, and there are no fewer than five blanking plates for ‘missing’ buttons that make you feel you are missing out on equipment, despite being the top of the range.
While the Terrain includes keyless start (the button is by your left knee, took us a while to find it), climate control and a 7.0-inch touch screen navigation system (with reverse camera), some simple elements, like automatic headlights, are absent.
Overall, though, while it won't win any style awards, the D-Max interior is roomy and comfortable and quite well laid out.
Storage is great, with a deep console box, twin gloveboxes and good-sized door bins. There are handy cupholders in front of the dash vents and even another cubby in the top of the dash. The lid here is a bit counter-intuitive and you have to push down to make it go up… and that doesn’t always work.
The single-zone climate control device is the circular unit seen in the Colorado and, while a bit silly looking, is very easy to use with big, bright numbers noting your temperature setting.
Unlike many third-party units, the infotainment system is simple and easy to use, with good audio connectivity and even a ‘mini D-Max’ featured on the navigation maps. It suits the rest of the car though, simple and no nonsense.
Back seat room is good for three adults, but long rides would be better suited to running four-up, just for the extra shoulder room in the back. There is a center armrest and map pockets, but no vents or charge points.
Despite only being three years old, the model feels much more dated than many of its competitors. This is true on the outside, too: the 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels and giant 4x4 and Isuzu stickers look like 1990’s hand-me-downs.
This is part of the blue-collar charm of the D-Max though. There is a rugged honesty about it, the little truck that isn’t pretending to be something it isn’t, and as we noted, that is something that resonates well with buyers.
On the down side, the 4JJ needs more attention than most, and your D-Max will be in for a service every six-months, costing around $758 per annum to maintain through Isuzu’s capped-price package.
Isuzu stands by its D-Max ‘mini truck’ and offers a five-year, 130,000km warranty. There’s a full-size spare and a choice of nine colours (metallics are a $396 option) to further entice buyers. Ours is Ash Beige. Exciting!
The $53,000 asking price for the D-Max LS-Terrain is a little steep, but Isuzu has regular market offers that see this drop well into the $40s, so make sure you haggle at the dealer.
The 2016 Isuzu D-Max LS-Terrain may not look, or be, as modern as other utes, but it is robust and capable – on and off road. If strength and reliability are high on your requirement shopping list, we recommend taking a closer look.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.