This 2019 Isuzu D-Max X-Runner is based on the LS-T, right at the top of the range for the D-Max. It’s worth an extra $190 over the LS-T, which gets you some special accents and decals.
That makes the D-Max X-Runner $54,990. Your cheapest D-Max is a single-cab 4X2 SX, going for $28,600. Your cheapest 4X4 dual cab, on the other hand, is the LS-U with a list price of $44,100. That's more than a ten large difference, looking at this limited-edition X-Runner.
The D-Max’s interior hasn’t changed since Moses had a snotty nose, especially when compared to the forever-updating range of competition. The centre stack has that big climate-control dial at the bottom, below an 8.0-inch infotainment display. The display has native navigation and is receptive to jabbing fingers, but there isn’t any Apple CarPlay or Android Auto available.
The top-spec LS-T adds some soft-touch surfaces around the cabin, including the door cards and centre console lid. With the X-Runner, cue up plenty of garish red stitching and details around the cabin. It adds some nice touches, sure, but it’s still pretty dated and scratchy in places, especially when compared to your other options in the segment.
In terms of practicality, the D-Max interior scores well. There are twin cup holders next to the handbrake, along with a nook for your phone under the two USB, one 12V and one HDMI points. There’s some additional storage space atop the dash, as well as above the glovebox (along with another 12V socket). Slide-out cup holders under the outboard air-con vents are a nice touch, as well.
The seats have leather trimming and six-way electric adjustment, but are mostly flat and not overly supportive. I prefer a seat base with some rake that offers a little bit of thigh support.
Another thing that hasn’t changed is the engine, which is something Isuzu is most proud of. Isuzu Australia told CarAdvice that there was an idea to replace the venerable 3.0-litre 4JJ1 diesel with its new-generation 1.9-litre engine. Lessons were learnt from watching the Aussie ute market, and Isuzu’s local arm fought hard to keep the 3.0-litre diesel engine under the bonnet and under the emission laws.
Along with keeping the engine alive with (mostly) a diesel particulate filter, Isuzu also managed to up the torque available: 430Nm at 2000–2200rpm. What’s more, the original 380Nm is available between 1700–3500rpm – nice and broad.
If you’re constantly hooking into the Isuzu hard for everything it has to give, you’ll be left with a clattery, vibrating mess. It’ll move along, but it’s not happy when over that 3000rpm mark. But if you keep it below there, it’s a solid performer. Refinement levels are lower than just about all of the competition, however. The donk is derived from Isuzu’s range of trucks, and you can tell refinement and smoothness weren’t high up on the list of priorities.
While not necessarily smooth, the engine’s torque delivery feels nice and flexible. There’s a linear, solid feel to the way the D-Max drives thanks to that wide band of torque. When loaded up with 750-odd kilograms of horse feed, the engine didn’t really notice much. It revved out a little harder, but didn’t feel fazed. Neither did the gearbox, loaded or unloaded. It's predictable and deliberate, without any unsightly lurches.
We were using around 8.5 litres of diesel per 100 kilometres on a mix of highway, hilly country roads, and some time off-road (low-range and high-range). That was including a loaded loop, as well. I reckon that’s pretty good compared to the official 7.9L/100km figure.
Another big change for the dual-cab D-Max is the rear suspension. Replacing the older five-leaf set-up is one comprising only three leaves, in a format that is meant to improve the unladen ride without sacrificing the load-hauling abilities. It sounds too good to be true, but spring makers can do tricky things with varying, tapered thickness and corners.
In an effort to check out the claims, we loaded 750kg worth of horse feed onto the back of the D-Max, thanks to the very nice and helpful folks at Knowles Stock Feeds in Moss Vale, NSW.
With a laptop and camera left behind as insurance (It's about $700 worth of horse feed), a run around town between speeds of 40km/h and 90km/h on varying quality surfaces yielded impressive results.
Measuring from the wheel centre to the top of the guard, the D-Max sank down 45mm with the weight aboard. But, more importantly, there was still around 1.5 fingers of space between the rear bump stops. With the third leaf now more active in the pack, it felt nicely sprung and smoothed out bumps on rough bitumen impressively.
The hydraulic steering, normally on the heavy side compared to some of the more refined electric set-ups, wasn't fazed by the change in take and weight distribution. It felt fine.
With loaded driving ticked off, that left some off-roading to complete the picture. Yes, towing is important, but we didn’t have a tow bar.
I found some dodgy off-road tracks and put the D-Max through its paces. And as you can probably guess, it’s the same story as any other D-Max without the special sticker-pack treatment: good, but not great.
The worst thing about the D-Max is the lack of any effective traction aids. Both differentials are completely open, without a locker or LSD in sight. Traction control, one area where many manufacturers have made huge strides in terms of off-road capability, isn’t much chop. It works when your wheels are spinning fast enough, but you’re often left stuck.
Rear-end articulation is pretty good, while the front end is typically pretty stiff against getting cross-axled. The underbody design is smart and smooth without a huge amount of protection, and the side steps don’t get in the way too badly.
Low-range is geared pretty well, and the Toyo highway-terrain tyres are okay. There is room for improvement: Throw in a locker (or two), along with some better tyres and suspension, and it would be a great off-road unit.
Your servicing schedule is every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. There’s a capped service cost program with costs listed as $350, $450, $500, $450, $340, $1110 and $400. That means over seven years or 105,000km you’ll spend a straight $3500 keeping the service book up to spec via the dealership.
While the D-Max no doubt gets outgunned by some competition in terms of interior, tech, safety, ride and refinement, the humble Isuzu still manages to outsell those deemed better.
Part of this is the pricing, which is often a bit sharper than the listed price, and often drive-away. The other two elements that make up the D-Max's appeal are its engine and reputation around reliability. It's hard to properly quantify the latter, but other than popping CVs when driven very hard off-road (a potential issue for any ute with an independent front suspension set-up, really), you don't hear of many issues with the Isuzu.
The former is easier to quantify. The engine is gruff, clattery at high revs, and not as outright powerful as the competition. The Ford Ranger's new 2.0-litre 'BiTurbo' four-cylinder motor makes 20 more kilowatts and 70Nm more torque from two-third's of the capacity, while being significantly more efficient and refined, for example.
The D-Max is not a vehicle for early adopters, however. For some folks throwing down the money, there is some comfort found in an engine that performs well enough, but feels less stressed than other options. In a way, the D-Max has the same appeal as the 79 Series LandCruiser.
That brings it down to the crux argument: if you are buying your 4x4 ute for refinement, safety and tech, look elsewhere. But if you want something that has scorned such developments to keep its recipe simple and unadulterated by change, the D-Max looks like a safe bet.
The engine performs better than the peak figures suggest, especially when under load, and is handled well by the gearbox. The interior gives little in the warm ’n’ fuzzies department, but is hard-wearing and practical. And while the suspension is rough, it's good loaded and equal to the field off-road.
The D-Max would be a 4x4 ute high on my list of choices from the current market, personally. I would save money by going low-rent, and would bargain hard for the best prices. Then, I would spend anything I save (and more, probably) on modifications. Locking differentials solve the traction issues off-road, and some suspension and tyres will improve it even more.