Despite the glut of high end, expensive dual-cab 4WDs on roads around Australia, when you want to actually get to work and use your vehicle as a tool of trade, you buy something like the 2017 Isuzu D-Max 4x4 Single Cab Chassis. Huge alloy tray, tough as nails, and a hardy, utilitarian interior – that’s what workers need on job sites around the country.
The cab-chassis truck segment is hardly exciting – it’s the reason why apprentices get stuck with the work truck while the boss most likely drives a high-end dual cab. To be fair, though, the work truck segment is better facilitated than it ever was – touchscreens, cruise control, steering wheel controls and air conditioning weren’t even considerations not that long ago. Now, they are all par for the work hack course.
There’s little doubt that the D-Max 4x4 SX as tested here is reasonably solid value for money. Pricing starts from an even $38,000 before on-road costs, while the entry-level 4x4 EX starts below that priced from $34,800. When you consider that you’re buying into a work truck with a reputation for indestructibility and years of loyal service, that’s not a bad starting point.
Equipment highlights for the SX include: a full suite of electronic safety aids and six airbags (a rear-view camera is optional, and as we always say we’d like to see that on the list of standard equipment), colour-coded power door mirrors, air conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, 8.0-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth telephone and audio streaming, and power windows with one-touch up and down for the driver.
While some models in the D-Max range get a full five-star rating from ANCAP, the SX tested here is a four-star vehicle. It does, however, get six airbags, as all D-Max variants do, across the range. The rear-view camera (or lack thereof) is a part of the safety ensemble that we think needs to be standard regardless of price point or vehicle to be honest. That’s even more of an issue for vehicles like this that are likely to be stacked high in the tray, thus limiting rearward visibility.
The raw numbers stack up well against the competition both on paper and in the real world, as we’ve seen every time we’ve tested a D-Max in the wild. Under the bonnet, there’s Isuzu’s tough as nails 3.0-litre turbo diesel, which cranks out 130kW and 430Nm in fairly effortless fashion. That engine is backed by a six-speed automatic transmission. Against a claim of 7.7L/100km on the combined cycle for the auto, we saw a return of 8.1L/100km during our week with the D-Max – diesel engines once again proving to be admirably close to their claims in the real world.
The D-Max can haul a trailer weighing 3500kg, has plenty of ground clearance at 225mm if you want to use the 4WD system, and a decent 12.6-metre turning circle. Weighing in at 1680kg, it’s no lightweight but it’s got that planted solid feel we like from a work truck. The genuine accessory tray fitted to our test model is 2550mm long and 1778mm wide.
We’ve loaded these things up before and we know they can lug plenty of cargo around without any deficit in performance or drivability. Plenty of these trucks spend time without weight in the tray too, so it’s just as valuable assessing how they ride unladen for those buyers that don’t carry as much weight as often.
If the 4x4 model we’ve tested here isn’t to your liking, take a look at Paul’s review of the 4x2 SX from a few months ago.
The cabin is comfortable in comparison to other work trucks, if still spartan in appointments and gadgetry. The seats are excellent, which is the main factor to assess for tradies and delivery drivers, rubber mats make the clean-up easy, and all the switchgear has that tough, hard-wearing feel about it. Likewise, there are some hard plastics throughout the interior, but that’s par for the workhorse course and no better or worse than anything else in this end of the segment.
We liked the seats even after a few hours on the road, visibility is excellent and the ergonomics are solid too – no stupid layout of switches or controls. The driving position is also well better than average, and despite the single-cab body style you can get far enough away from the wheel if you’re on the tall side. Reverse parking is pretty simple too, especially given the high-waisted nature of the alloy tray.
The seats, and the fact they don’t create any undue fatigue, are important for buyers likely to spend long periods of time behind the wheel over the course of the working week, and it’s another area where manufacturers have lifted their game somewhat in recent years. Don’t believe me? Sit in a 15 or 20-year-old cab-chassis truck and get back to me.
There’s a 12V socket but no USB input, and despite the touchscreen on offer, there is (strangely we think) no satellite navigation available. It seems to me that this would be a sensible and not especially expensive inclusion given the screen is already there. Satellite navigation would be a solid value-inclusion proposition for buyers too.
In general, there is a decidedly ‘base’ feel about the cabin, but it doesn’t feel cheap either, so that’s not as cut and dried as it might seem. There’s the aforementioned solid visibility fore and aft, enough decent storage ahead of the gear shifter, two cup holders and a decent console box. The door pockets are on the small side, but will hold a bottle.
As with nearly every vehicle at this end of the segment, the cabin features plenty of hard surfaces where you can belt your elbows, wrists or knuckles, but the adjustable seatbelts are good.
We found that even taller drivers can move far enough away from the steering wheel to get comfortable when you’re driving. Might seem like an obvious thing in any vehicle, but not all single-cab-chassis trucks were always this good.
The huge tray presents as an excellent workhorse accompaniment and features good, solid gates, quality side steps to climb up into the tray, a tough cage to protect the back window and useful, solid tie-downs. It’s all par for the course out back, but a quality tray is important.
The oiler is noisy at both start-up and idle, let alone when you crank it into the upper reaches of the rev range, but that comes with a point – it’s powerful. Under load, the noise increases, but so too does the speed – effortlessly. The D-Max has enough grunt to get up to highway speed rapidly, and the chunky torque figure makes getting off the mark easy too.
We like the Isuzu’s automatic gearbox, which is smooth under any load and shifts positively as well. You’ll find under acceleration it’s almost imperceptible unless you’re really working the diesel engine hard. You don’t really need to either, such is the lazy way in which it delivers its power and torque, but you can if need be without feeling like the gearbox is going to implode.
The steering is decent – for the class – which is to say a little on the slow side and not especially feelsome. It never floats about, though, and isn’t too vague either, so it’s assuring enough from behind the wheel. The turning circle is likewise average – okay for the city, but it could be a little better too. We do like the lightness of the steering resistance at low speeds though. Overall, the engine is absolutely more ‘agricultural’ than ‘refined’.
The ride itself is, like just about every truck-based vehicle of all brands and models, not in danger of winning any awards unladen. The D-Max skips around, feels firm in terms of tune, and doesn’t absorb nasty roads with much aplomb. It’s not a vehicle that requires the wearing of a kidney belt or mouth guard, but it’s not especially sported either.
A day spent slogging through rain on test indicated that the D-Max can get a little skatey in the wet – perhaps mainly due to the light truck tyres as much as anything else. As with most of these vehicles, a load in the tray and judicious use of the throttle pedal help keep things both more comfortable and in a straight line.
Is the D-Max the best in this workhorse segment? No, but then again there’s nothing that truly stands out down in the lower reaches of the cab-chassis market either. We like the reality that it’s likely to still be punching on with many hundreds of thousands of kilometres on the dial.
Click through to our gallery to see more photos by Sam Venn.