Forget your chanting classes, forget your self help books. Drop the feng-shui coach and take down those inspirational posters. Want to know how to feel better and happier with your soft, white-collar, indoor existence? Drive a ute.
An overly simplistic solution to all of your modern life challenges and issues you say? Perhaps, but there is something about turning the complexity dial down to two, and stepping up into a big, chunky, dirty, basic ute that helps realign the world and makes even the most mundane driving errand just a bit more fun.
Our long-term Isuzu D-Max Space Cab has elicited the same positive, well-being feedback from the entire CarAdvice Melbourne team.
Resplendent in its muddied black paintwork, filthy tyres, misaligned spotlights and no-nonsense 'Isuzu' tailgate lettering, the D-Max quickly became the tool of choice for a quick run to the Burrito store or as a handy helper for impromptu home renovation projects.
So what is the appeal?
Unlike many of the shiny toys that come through the CarAdvice garage, it isn’t fancy gadgets or luxuriant materials that make the Isuzu D-Max a favourite.
Bottom line, everyone loves a tradie. It’s the tough but friendly demeanour that regularly wins the hearts and minds of the nation. Sure they can be a bit rough around the edges, but the honest ‘can-do’ approach to pretty much everything has undeniable ‘likeability’ appeal.
Take the Bluetooth audio function for example. Pairing, by way of the basic tri-line LCD display on the stereo is remarkably easy. Adding or switching to a second phone is near on impossible though, and the standard audio quality is terrible.
Solution? Simply delete any paired phone in the system and start again, then lower the microphone sensitivity and bam - a workable system.
The six-speaker ‘sky surround’ stereo too is more Audioslave than audiophile, but turn Chris Cornell up nice and loud, and sound purity and acoustics will always run second fiddle to some in-car karaoke. That mini-USB input jack needs to go though.
It is the same with the air conditioning. Forget swanky multi-zone climate settings and worrying about synchronisation between all vents… the D-Max has one knob for temperature and another for fan speed. Basic. Honest. Functional.
The cloth seats are cozy and comfortable. Storage is practical and plentiful. None of it is brilliantly executed, but its not terrible either and you find that getting used to the ‘uteness’ of it all isn’t as hard as you’d thought it would be.
We chose the Space Cab over the more popular double cab as we felt this is the most sensible compromise between space and practicality.
While the rear 'suicide doors' can be a bit awkward, as you have to open the front door to open the back one, which can be tricky with a handful of shopping (plus the seatbelt is attached to the rear-door, so make sure you warn front-seat passengers before you swing open the back…), they offer up usable space for gear, and even children, on short trips.
Under the jump seats are storage compartments that house the Isuzu’s jack and tool kit and space enough to keep recovery gear, towing D-shackles, and other tools. One enterprising friend said that he lines the compartment with a garbage bag and fills it with ice when going fishing – most likely to keep 'refreshments' cold.
The jump seats themselves serve a purpose but can’t really be described as comfortable.
As we noted in long-term report one, my six-year-old daughter calls them the ‘poo seats’ due to their upright design, and is only happy spending time in them for short trips. As an adult, rear cabin room is very tight if running four-up, but if you can sit ‘side saddle’ and are under six-foot tall, then it’s ok for a dash across town.
Plus the rear windows pop out (like in the new Citroen C4 Cactus) to make it a bit more hospitable back there.
The benefit of all this though is a 1825mm-long tray - 273mm longer than the double-cab's. This means you can fit in a trail bike (diagonally) and even the components of a queen-size bed.
Out and about without load in the tray, the Isuzu is typically bouncy and tends to jitter over undulations and rougher stretches of road.
The front suspension soaks up Melbourne streets well, but the tray will bump around behind you. There is a feeling of longitudinal float over bigger imperfections though, which is expected from the one-tonne payload-rated rear suspension.
Fundamentally though, the D-Max is easy and fun to drive. And the whistle from the turbo, the constant blacktop whine from the chunky all-terrain tyres, and even our car's ‘all black everything’ Kanye-spec, don’t taint the feeling in any way.
It’s not especially ‘dynamic’ (the tyres specifically not helping here) and is heavy to steer at low speeds. We found it better to approach corners and roundabouts with judicious care, especially on damp roads, as the D-Max would push-understeer into the corner or err to tail-out oversteer if you were too enthusiastic on the throttle. No real shocks here though.
What has surprised us, though, is fuel efficiency.
The 130kW/380Nm 3.0-litre turbo-diesel returning the claimed 8 litres per 100km around town, and as low as 5L/100km on a highway run.
It’s not often that we’ll achieve a manufacturer’s economy claim, particularly with a car that cycles through a number of different drivers.
As part of it’s work with the CarAdvice team, the D-Max has ventured off road to help avail the video team to more remote vantage points.
The ride on rutted unsealed surfaces is still very bouncy, with the D-Max needing to find its harmonious synchronicity with the undulations to achieve a smooth ride. Gravel and basic tracks never slowed the Isuzu down, however, and on more extreme terrain, the articulation was impressive, with ramp-over ability only hampered by the side steps.
Which, at this point, I’ll own up to denting on a more adventurous expedition into the great green yonder. Sorry Isuzu.
If off road is your thing, we’d recommend ditching the standard steps for a set of tubular sliders. They look better too.
Muddy surfaces did cause the back of the D-Max to slide around, requiring care when negotiating tighter sections of track. The 3095mm-long wheelbase makes the Space Cab not quite as nimble as something like a Jeep Wrangler, but still ultimately just as capable.
We found you needed to be concentrating to get the most out of the D-Max, and to ensure it stayed out of trouble, but there was no issue to reposition for the occasional photo and there was nothing we attempted that the black truck couldn’t get through.
In fact, the only issue we've had with getting somewhere in the D-Max, is the underground car park at Crown Casino. Two meters apparently means two meters… especially when you're rocking decent spotlights.
The lack of hill-descent control never caused an issue. We simply selected low-range and tipped the automatic transmission into first gear, to allow a slow and manageable downhill traverse.
The four-wheel-drive selector is easy to use (2WD to 4WD high on the move, stop to engage 4WD low), and the whine from the driveline is an easy reminder that you are still in low-range.
Considering the Isuzu D-Max isn’t really a dedicated off-road machine, we’ve been really impressed.
Generally though, and quite surprisingly, the D-Max has handled the multi-faceted roll of ‘office runabout’ really well. From the ‘jump in and drive’ learning curve to the high-altitude bouncy fun, the black ‘Max has certainly been a favourite of the team.
It might not be the ultimate work ute, or the ultimate passenger ute – but the Space Cab is a great lifestyle compromise. And of course, the feel-good factor of ‘uting’ about cannot be ignored.
Our long-term D-Max has temporarily gone back to Isuzu for a service, and it is safe to say we’ve missed its cheery demeanour in the driveway.
We look forward to putting the towing prowess of the 3.0-litre diesel to the test, and we'll see how fuel consumption goes with a decent load out back.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.
2016 Isuzu D-Max LS-U Space Cab
Date acquired: January 2016
Odometer reading: 5995km
Travel since previous update: 2408km
Fuel consumption since previous update: 8.7L/100km