The Isuzu D-Max ute – which built its reputation with a no-frills approach and an agricultural design – has undergone a transformation not seen since Shane Warne started dating Liz Hurley. From knockabout to new-age, simple to sophisticated.
The first completely new Isuzu D-Max in almost a decade has been transformed from a no-nonsense pick-up to one of the most advanced utes in its class.
It’s unclear what Isuzu’s passionate fanbase will make of this slick new look and all the fancy tech, but they will need to work some overtime to afford the new one.
Prices have risen by between $2000 and $8100 – which will elevate the 2021 Isuzu D-Max from the more affordable end of the ute market, to land smack bang in the middle of the price points for the top-selling Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger.
In the meantime, here are the key highlights – and what you need to know if you’re in the market for a new ute.
It’s certainly a buyer’s market, with the new Isuzu D-Max to be followed soon by an updated Toyota HiLux (facelift and tech changes), an updated Ford Ranger (now with remote smartphone access and upgraded headlights) and a new Mazda BT-50 (the Isuzu’s new twin under the skin).
What we know so far: after soldiering on for years against newer and better equipped rivals, the 2021 Isuzu D-Max will lead the ute class – on paper at least – when it arrives in showrooms from 1 September.
It might look familiar, but the 2021 Isuzu D-Max is new from the ground up, the first full model change since 2012.
It has a completely new and stronger chassis, an all-new, wider body, a more spacious high-tech interior – and a new, more powerful turbo diesel engine, even though the 3.0-litre capacity is the same as before.
In addition to the full suite of advanced safety technology and creature comforts such as wireless Apple CarPlay, the new D-Max finally has heavy-duty four-wheel-drive hardware for the first time, to get even further off the beaten track.
The journey for the 2021 Isuzu D-Max started six years ago; since then more than 360 prototypes have clocked up more than 4 million kilometres of durability testing.
Although Australia is the second biggest market in the world for the Isuzu D-Max, the company says the new model was developed for Australia rather than in Australia, and will continue to come to us from Thailand, where it outsells the Toyota HiLux.
Even though the new D-Max is bigger than before, it’s designed to slip through the air as efficiently as possible.
The body was aerodynamically tested in the same facility in Japan used to design bullet trains.
The new model has a longer wheelbase and a wider footprint than before, but it’s shorter bumper-to-bumper – and has a tighter turning circle of 12.5 metres (versus 12.6 or 12.7 for most rivals), to make it easier to handle the daily grind.
An electric power steering system has replaced the previous hydraulic set-up, so drivers barely need to lift a finger to turn the steering wheel.
This improvement to low-speed manoeuvrability is symbolic of the many changes introduced on the 2021 Isuzu D-Max that reflect the evolving use of these vehicles.
Utes are still used as workhorses, of course, but they’re increasingly being used as family cars and weekend getaway machines. An increasing number of buyers are treating utes like SUVs and expect the same level of creature comforts and safety.
As such, Isuzu has loaded the new D-Max with advanced technology.
Every model in the new range – including the basic tradie version – comes with the works.
Standard equipment on all grades includes Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay – a first for the ute class – a digital speed display, and height and reach adjustable steering.
Top-end models come with a high-resolution 9.0-inch infotainment display with embedded navigation and digital radio, as well as dual zone air-conditioning. Basic models come with a 7.0-inch display.
All D-Max double cab utes also come with rear air vents, a rarity in the class.
The big news is the major advancement in safety. As reported by CarAdvice earlier, the 2021 Isuzu D-Max is the first ute on sale in Australia with a centre airbag.
Mounted between the front seats, it’s designed to prevent front seat occupants from making contact in a side impact crash.
It brings the airbag tally to eight, the highest airbag count in the ute class.
A full suite of advanced safety technology has been designed to prevent crashes in the first place.
Two 3D cameras in the top of the windscreen constantly scan the road ahead, and will activate autonomous emergency braking if the driver isn’t paying attention and the car ahead stops suddenly.
Other utes available with autonomous emergency braking include the latest versions of the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, Mitsubishi Triton, the Ssangyong Musso, and the soon-to-be-axed Mercedes-Benz X-Class. Utes without the tech – for now – include the Nissan Navara, Volkswagen Amarok, and LDV T60.
However, unlike most rivals to date, the autonomous tech in the D-Max will also slam the brakes if you’re about to turn in front of an oncoming car.
The same cameras are used for lane keeping assistance and speed-sign recognition.
All models except those equipped with manual transmission come standard with radar cruise control, to maintain a safe gap and match the speed of the car ahead.
When cruise control is activated, the new D-Max will slow to the posted limit.
Blind-spot warning makes it easier to detect motorcycles and other vehicles in adjacent lanes.
Rear cross-traffic alert takes some of the guesswork out of reversing out of driveways or shopping-centre parking spots.
If you’re heading off-road and are concerned about autonomous emergency braking being activated by driving close to tricky obstacles, the tech can be switched off in the digital menu in the dash.
Under the bonnet is a new 3.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder. Only the conrods carry over from the previous 3.0-litre.
Power and torque have increased to 140kW and 450Nm. This is still a lower output than most of the D-Max’s key rivals, however the engine – also used in delivery trucks – is said to be under-stressed. Isuzu says peak torque is broader than before, with 400Nm available from just 1400rpm.
Maximum towing capacity remains 3500kg, however it’s now across all models, including the basic tradie version that we’ve dubbed the ‘traffic controller’ thanks to its popularity in work zones.
Hardcore four-wheel-drive fans will be pleased to know there is finally a rear differential lock as standard on all 4WD versions.
The rear suspension remains a three-leaf spring design – whereas most ute rivals have five-leaf rear springs.
Isuzu says its three-leaf rear springs are now made out of an evenhigher strength, tempered steel which it claims is stronger, lighter, and more flexible than before.
The layout of the rear dampers has also been redesigned, for better wheel articulation.
The chassis rails are larger and thicker than before, have more cross braces, and use 980 megapascal ultra-high-tensile steel.
The body is constructed with a mix of 980 megapascal and 440 megapascal steel.
Translation: it’s been built tough, and to remain competitive with newer rivals throughout its eight- to 10-year lifecycle.
There are better ground clearance (240mm), approach (30.5 degrees), and departure angles (24.2 degrees) than before which, as our table at the bottom of this story shows, is more competitive with the top-selling utes, the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger.
Wading depth has improved to equal class best: 800mm, up from 600mm.
All of these improvements, of course, come at a price.
As we said earlier, the RRPs across the 2021 Isuzu D-Max range have risen by between $2000 and $8100 when comparing recommended retail prices (see table of the key changes at the bottom of this story).
There are four model grades and three body styles: single cab, space cab, and double cab.
At the full recommended retail price, the top-of-the-range Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain is $8100 dearer than the previous flagship, the LS-T.
However, the $58,990 drive-away launch offer is $4000 dearer than the previous LS-T $54,990 drive-away price, and the model now comes with a roller shutter hard lid, tub liner, fender flares, eight-speaker premium audio, Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay, remote start, welcome lights. And, of course, the full suite of advance safety tech, as per the rest of the new D-Max range.
The base model SX now starts with the 4x2 high-rider single-cab-chassis, from $29,990 drive-away, an increase of $3000 (from the long-term offer of $26,990 drive-away for the low-rider 4x2 diesel manual).
However the new Isuzu D-Max base model can tow 3.5 tonnes versus 2.5 tonnes before, and comes with the full suite of advanced safety tech, including a rear camera which is standard on all model grades.
Warranty remains six years or 150,000km, whichever comes first. Service intervals remain 12 months or 15,000km. A capped price servicing program runs for seven years, which includes roadside assistance for seven years if you service within the dealer network.
Overall, the new 2021 Isuzu D-Max ute range looks good on paper. After going through the spec list in detail, only a few things were conspicuous by their absence.
A 360-degree camera is not yet available on any model and a sensor key and push button start are only available on the dearest model – we reckon it should be standard on all LS grades. Although the new D-Max has wireless Apple CarPlay, it does not yet have wireless phone charging.
And Isuzu still charges extra for a tow bar, even though the company says more than 50 per cent of buyers opt for a tow bar – and a tow bar is standard on top grade Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux models.
Needless to say, we’re looking forward to getting behind the wheel of the 2021 Isuzu D-Max. The embargo for first drive impressions lifts on 28 August, 2020. Be sure to check back with us then for our launch review.
In the meantime, check out the tables below to compare prices and key specification differences.
For even more coverage on the new Isuzu D-Max, see the links below. We have aimed to cover every angle. Let us know in the comments below if there is anything we’ve missed.
2021 Isuzu D-Max pricing for Australia
NOTE: Selected models. Prices exclude on-road costs except where marked.
|Drive||Body style||Transmission||RRP||Price rise||Drive-away launch offer|
|4x2||Single Cab Chassis SX||Manual||$32,200||$3,600||$29,990|
|4x2||Single Cab Chassis SX||Automatic||$34,200||$3,600|
|4x4||Single Cab Chassis SX||Manual||$40,200||$2,000|
|4x4||Space Cab Chassis SX||Manual||$43,700||$2,700|
|4x4||Space Cab Chassis SX||Automatic||$45,700||$2,700|
|4x4||Double Cab Ute SX||Manual||$47,900||$3,300|
|4x4||Double Cab Ute SX||Automatic||$49,900||$3,300|
|4x4||Double Cab Ute LS-M||Manual||$51,000||$4,100|
|4x4||Space Cab Ute LS-U||Auto only||$53,900||$5,200|
|4x4||Double Cab Ute LS-U||Manual||$54,900||$6,100|
|4x4||Double Cab Ute LS-U||Automatic||$56,900||$6,100|
|4x4||Double Cab Ute X-Terrain||Auto only||$62,900||$8100 (versus LS-T)||$58,990|