Isuzu D-MAX 2020 sx hi-ride (4x2)

Isuzu D-Max 4x2 SX single cab review

Rating: 7.5
$25,350 $30,140 Dealer
  • Fuel Economy
  • Engine Power
  • CO2 Emissions
  • ANCAP Rating
This ute is the opposite of Jason Gillespie: it's all business at the back.
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While we have recently spent time in the 4x4 SX dual-cab sibling, there’s another popular flavour that this pared-back D-Max specification comes in. Don’t worry about off-roading, but get ready to load up the tray because we’ve got the single-cab, 4x2 Isuzu D-Max cab-chassis.

And while the new D-Max is coming soon, Isuzu is keen to offer some sharp deals on its current standing stock.

This base-spec, work-oriented ute is currently advertised at $29,990 drive-away, according to Isuzu’s website. That’s with the automatic transmission, mind you. Go manual (six-speed also), and shave off a fairly significant $3000 worth of drive-away asking price: down to $26,990 drive-away.

How does that sit amongst the competitors? It’s worth running through some prices, considering this end of the market values pricing just as much (or more) than inclusions. The cheapest ticket into a diesel, single-cab 4x2 cab-chassis with a tray fitted from other manufacturers are thus (at the time of writing).

Mitsubishi doesn’t advertise a price directly on its website, but a direct enquiry found a comparable-specification Triton GLX to be available at $31,740 drive-away, including the alloy tray.

Nissan advertises a much heftier $43,032 for something similar, but the only way to get a single cab in the Navara range is with 4x4. Opt for the six-speed manual 4x2 and the asking price is a much lower $25,990.

Toyota, on the other hand, lists $30,990 for its manual diesel HiLux Workmate 4x2 as a special offer. If you want an automatic single cab, you’ll need to step up to the SR 4x4 specification for $49,212 drive-away or in 4x2 guise the auto/diesel combo is only offered in extra-cab guise.

It’s difficult to list accurate prices of Holden Colorado utes at the moment, but it's safe to say there are some discounts to be had.

Mazda has sharpened the pencil, with $34,040 for a BT-50 XT with a 2.2-litre diesel engine and automatic transmission. Volkswagen has dropped out of the single-cab, cab-chassis race, and Mercedes never entered it.

Don’t forget about the Great Wall Steed, which doesn’t offer an automatic transmission, but is priced at $19,990 drive-away.

At this end of the market, it’s a pretty short run in terms of inclusions: 16-inch steel wheels, 7.0-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity, and not a fleck of chrome styling in sight. The SX auto also ships in 'High Ride' guise, giving it ground clearance comparable to the D-Max 4x4.

However, this ute has a few things that top-spec models don’t have. Try a 2.55m long by 1.78m wide alloy tray, which is included in that drive-away price. Make good use of it, because you’ve got a 1294kg payload at the ready. That’s getting towards double what some dual-cab utes have.

And if you somehow fill that tray, you’ve got a 3.5-tonne towing capacity as well. It's worth noting, however, that only 2900kg is available when you’re loaded to the 3050kg GVM, thanks to the 5950kg gross combination mass. Towball capacity is 350kg, by the way.

In terms of proper workhorse chops, this D-Max has things covered. Importantly, when you do start to put the D-Max to work, it’s worth taking the time to adjust your tyre pressures: the sidewalls can sag noticeably when loaded up. Some light truck (LT) construction tyres could help, though they will make the ride a bit firmer.

While that tray is loaded up, folks will be spending bulk hours behind the tiller. Often, it’s crawling through traffic, between jobs and on commutes. With that in mind, the interior is a bit of a mixed bag.

The infotainment system has a real dearth of features to talk about. AM radio, FM radio, and Bluetooth connectivity. Running through a mediocre four-speaker stereo system, it’s an underwhelming experience overall.

Storage options around the cab are decent, however. Being a single-cab ute, there isn’t much room around the small cabin. Double-barrel gloveboxes in front of the passenger are nice, as are the slide-out outboard cupholders that complement the two in the centre console. The lidded compartment is decent-sized, and I think not having a lid on the space atop the dashboard is more practical for your bits and bobs, though less secure if you can't park under cover.

Like other Isuzu utes, I found this one to be decently comfortable for driving around, but the flat seat base and lack of under-thigh support can be a little irksome. But with decent seat adjustment and steering column tilt (no reach), you can dial yourself in reasonably well.

The steering has a traditional feel to it – heavy and vague compared to most other modern vehicles – but it’s perfectly acceptable for the job at hand. That heaviness means it doesn’t turn vague or loose when loaded up.

The suspension is also part of that puzzle. While other models in the D-Max range have moved to a more supple three-leaf suspension set-up in the rear, the load-oriented single-cab D-Max utes continues with the older five-leaf set-up. Naturally, when you’ve got a payload that could handle the 2012 Beef Expo Champion Interbreed Bull (Glenlands Prince, at 1227kg since you asked) straight into the tray, the unladen ride isn’t going to be sumptuous. It’s not unbearable, mind you, especially if you’re used to vehicles in this segment. And you’d prefer to put up with a firm ride, if it means you have a usable payload.

The engine is another element up to the task of hard work. The 3.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine barely needs an introduction, with ‘4J’ Isuzu engines pulling double-duty in Isuzu utes and light trucks since the 1980s. 4JJ1-TCX is the nomenclature for the current engine, which will get updated once again when the new D-Max arrives later this year.

The engine is a classic lugger, with a broad feeling of torqueiness across the rev range, although its certainly happier at the lower reaches of the tachometer. Redlining it regularly feels like tachycardia. Peak power of 130kW comes on at 3600rpm, while at 2000–2200rpm you’ll have 430Nm at the ready.

The gearbox, a six-speed Aisin-sourced torque converter unit, seems as pragmatic and deliberate as the engine. It’s not a fast shifter, but it seems to make good decisions on your behalf.

Fuel economy is another strong point of the Isuzu motor, with a claimed combined consumption figure of 7.5 litres per hundred kilometres. Our usage was similar as well, hovering around the 8.5 mark.

The D-Max is a popular choice for buyers in the 4x2 ute segment. Toyota’s HiLux is far and away the leader in that regard, racking up over 11,000 sales. Isuzu claims second position, ahead of the Mitsubishi Triton and Mazda BT-50.

Isuzu’s warranty offering is good: six years and 150,000km. However, you might get through the kilometres before the time limit, depending on how many kays you are piling on.

Servicing is the same as other D-Max utes, regardless of specification. It’s covered under a seven-year capped program, which is listed at $369, $479, $529, $499 and $379, $1179 and $409 for each respective visit at 12 month or 15,000km intervals.

The D-Max is missing a few tricks in terms of safety, especially compared to the better-selling HiLux. Although there is a five-star ANCAP safety rating back from 2013, standards have come a long way since then, and the D-Max wouldn’t get five stars these days. There’s no autonomous emergency braking or forward-collision warning, for example. And although there is a 7.0-inch infotainment display, it’s lacking a rear-view camera on cab chassis models.

Only Toyota’s HiLux offers the more advanced safety kit as standard, but it can only compete on price when you opt for a manual transmission. The Triton can be specced with the ‘ADAS’ gear as well, but only in dual-cab pickup style with a much smaller business end.

Safety omissions aside, the value proposition of this D-Max work ute is hard to go past. And when you consider its six-year warranty and well-earned reputation for reliability, it stacks up as a good choice amongst the blue-collar, hard-yakka ute crowd.

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