The 2017 Isuzu D-Max range has arrived, and shortly after the launch of the revamped model we got our hands on a mid-range LS-M auto dual-cab 4x4.
This version is a bit of a mix of work and play. It isn’t as basic as the entry-level 4x4 SX crew-cab, but nor is it as fruity as the LS-U or LS-T variants. But at $48,500 for this auto model, it’s not exactly cheap, either. Read the full pricing and specs story for the 2017 Isuzu D-Max here.
For that spend you get a 7.0-inch touchscreen media system (the LS-U and LS-T variants get a larger 8.0-inch media screen with built-in sat-nav), while this model and all above it have a standard rear-view camera. LS-M comes with 16-inch alloy wheels with Bridgestone Dueler A/T all-terrain tyres.
The new-look model gets a reshaped bonnet, redesigned front bumper, revised grille treatment, and new designs for the headlights – projectors with LED daytime running lights on LS-M and up, as well as new fog lights.
Inside, this LS-M and the two variants above it come with three USB inputs (one that feeds to the media screen, two that are for charging only – one is conveniently located on the rear of the centre console, meaning backseat employees can fight over a charge plug – or the kids can battle it out for device juice on the weekend). The LS-M model’s stereo system has jumped from six to eight speakers, including the roof-mounted surround sound speakers previously reserved for the top-grade model.
So it’s certainly not poorly equipped, but considering you get plastic on the floor, a plasticky steering wheel, none of the latest in-car connectivity such as Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and not that many mod-cons, it isn’t fighting above its weight, either.
The media system isn’t one of the better ones in the world of utes. It is slow to load and has to re-load things like your music every time you choose a new album. But the sound system is pretty darn good.
The cabin is pretty much a carryover from the existing model, which is to say it looks and feels older than all of its mainstream competitors. It can’t match many of them for fit and finish, either. Our car had a poor fitting passenger airbag cover, and a secondary glovebox lid that twisted more than Chubby Checker. Its middle dash-top storage box also has one of the most temperamental opening actions of any storage area in any vehicle.
It falls short of some of its contemporaries for tactility of controls, too, with its air con dials offering no feedback to suggest they were actually doing anything to the climate, and indeed we tested the D-Max’s heating and it didn’t seem to be working, but the air con was. Likewise, the dial for selecting where the air was being sent offered no noticeable effect on the ventilation: with it set to head only, there was still plenty of air being sent to the foot-wells.
That said, storage in the D-Max is decent, with a pair of central cupholders, and bottle caddies in all the doors, as well as dual map pockets in the rear. The space on offer in the second row is decent, with more knee-room than some rival utes, along with reasonable headroom and toe-room.
The driver’s seat offers fine adjustment, but there’s no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, meaning you might not be able to find the correct position.
One of the big talking points for the updated D-Max is its Isuzu truck engine. It’s still the same basic premise – a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder with 130kW of power – but this time around it has more torque, now 430Nm from 2000-2200rpm (up from 380Nm), and it has the choice of a new six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.
Ours was the latter, with the Aisin-sourced cog-swapper expected to offer an improvement to the driving manners of the existing version, with its five-speed auto. And for the most part, the new drivetrain is an improvement on the old one, but at times the transmission can feel a bit confused.
It was quite active once you’re between 80-110km/h – it’ll hold speed fine, but find a slope and it can shuffle up and down through the gears and fall into a torque hole as a result. That busyness also meant the engine was quite audible in the cabin: it’s a truck engine, after all, so it’s not surprising that it sounds like one.
Its new engine was loud but smooth to rev around town, with its wallop of torque being quite linear. Isuzu says the new engine takes the old powerplant’s 380Nm torque and spreads it out (from 1700-3500rpm), while there’s a peak power point midway earlier in the band. The six-speed auto was fairly well sorted around town.
We put 750 kilograms in the tray as part of this test to see how it would haul the mass, and it did so effortlessly. Again, it wasn’t hushed, but it was strong and hauled the load without hassle. We also towed a 1900-kilogram boat and trailer combo, and the D-Max’s drivetrain was keen to hold gears a bit longer than we’d thought necessary – but again, with an earlier upshift there would have been a torque hole on the other side of the change. The transmission holding the drivetrain in third gear meant momentum was maintained, where an upshift would have meant the opposite.
The D-Max felt a little flustered with the weight of a boat and trailer behind it, with some shunting under braking at times. Its suspension dealt with the situation fine, though, and its grade braking function – where the transmission will rely on exhaust braking when descending – was welcome.
The D-Max’s road manners – with nothing in the tray and nothing on the tow-ball – was acceptable, but the game has moved on somewhat in terms of driver engagement and comfort.
The suspension is slower to settle over bumps than many other utes in the class despite offering a solidity and control that other utes can’t match, but its steering is lazy. Where other utes will hang on through corners and allow you to adjust the direction of the truck mid-corner, the D-Max’s steering feels inconsistent and uninterested, particularly at higher speeds.
Off-road the D-Max was offered up a mixed bag of results, too. In the slower-speed, technical off-roading course we used for this test, it performed with ease, clambering up a rutted, undulating climb without touching down at front, in the middle or at the back. Its wheel articulation was excellent, and there was virtually no twist to the body over offset rocky crawls. All models now get hill descent control, and it worked a treat.
At higher speeds on loose surfaces, though, the D-Max was a little skittish, and its anti-lock brakes offered up fine braking performance accompanied by a unique squealing sound – comparisons editor Curt Dupriez said it sounded “like dolphins crying”: we don’t know how he knows what that sounds like.
During our test, we saw fuel consumption of 11.6 litres per 100km across our gamut of testing disciplines. The claimed fuel use is 7.7L/100km.
One of our biggest criticisms of the existing D-Max was the company’s insistence that it be serviced every six months/10,000km, and with the updated model the company has addressed that by lifting the intervals to 12 months/10,000km, while also extending the capped-price service plan to five years/50,000km. The average cost over that period is low, too, averaging out at $300 per visit. Isuzu’s warranty cover is five years/130,000km.
The 2017 Isuzu D-Max LS-M may aim to be a mix of work and play, but in practice it’s a workhorse ute all day long. This is a vehicle that remains a strong option for those who want a Monday-to-Friday truck, but one that is now feeling quite old compared to its rivals – so you may not wish it to be your weekend ride, too, unlike some other vehicles in the segment.
If you can get a good deal on one, it’ll likely be a hassle-free ute. Just be aware that there are more rounded and refined offerings out there, many of which are more affordable, too.
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