Isuzu D-MAX 2021 sx
review

2021 Isuzu D-Max review: SX cab-chassis 4x2

Will Isuzu's revamped D-Max take control of the hard-working two-wheel-drive ute segment? We think it just might.
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You could argue that we spend too much time and angst worrying about the top end of town when it comes to utes. Equally important is the less prestigious part of the segment, where the fundamental values of utility and practicality reign supreme.

No ‘suits in utes’ around here – this is an area where blue collars and hi-vis rule.

With a new range of two-wheel- and four-wheel-drive utes released in Australia, Isuzu is looking to challenge the HiLux-dominated status quo. And it is hitting the ground running with a drive-away offer: $29,990 for this 2021 D-Max SX 4x2 cab-chassis.

So far in 2020, Toyota accounted for over 38 per cent of the so-called ‘traffic controller’ 4x2 ute market with 5968 sales. Isuzu, second place in the race, mustered 2231 in the same period of time.

This 2021 D-Max, an all-new model, sports plenty of improvements and additions over the outgoing model – some of which are becoming increasingly important to this fleet-focussed part of the world. And on the top of that list is safety.

MORE: D-MAX v RANGER v HILUX

Safety

Safety inclusions for a basic, entry-level work ute are fantastic thanks to Isuzu pulling no punches across the entire D-Max range. Autonomous emergency braking and forward-collision warning are there, along with lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and blind-spot monitoring. Extra points go to the braking working across intersections, and the additional centre airbag (a first for the segment).

A lot of these safety smarts operate via twin forward-facing cameras tucked up behind your rear-view mirror and keeping a constant eye on proceedings.

We found the lane-departure warning to be a little overzealous at times. While it certainly works and picks up on inadvertent swaying in your lane, it also activates when you use all of your lane on purpose: giving yourself some extra space or towing around corners. It can be turned off easily enough through the steering wheel controls and multifunction display.

There is no more ‘low-ride' style two-wheel drive in the Isuzu range anymore. It’s the more heavy-duty high-ride offering, which means unlike most of the entry-level competition, this D-Max can tow up to 3500kg.

Driveline

Like the rest of the D-Max range, this new SX single-cab ute benefits from Isuzu’s new ‘4JJ3’ 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine. Making 140kW at 3600rpm and 450Nm at 1600–2600rpm, the engine feels gutsy and flexible, pushing the 1695kg along with ease. It’s a smooth and reasonably refined engine, as well – much more so than the previous-generation D-Max.

While you can spend an extra $2000 on a six-speed automatic gearbox, the six-speed manual is a nice choice. Shifting feels meaty and direct, matching easily with an evenly weighted clutch.

Also worth noting is that Isuzu hasn’t extended the drive-away offer to the automatic variant at launch.

This six-speed manual gearbox has been somewhat apprentice-proofed. To lessen the effects of automotive skulduggery, revs are capped below 2000rpm when taking off from a standing start. No cheeky clutch-dumps, then. Once moving, and after a slight feel of doughiness through the accelerator pedal, the D-Max surges purposefully with plentiful torque on tap.

While Isuzu rates the SX single-cab D-Max to use an even 8.0 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, we used a little more: 8.6L/100km, which included a fairly even mix of town and highway driving laden and unladen.

Steering is finger-twirling light at a stop thanks to electric assistance like the rest of the field. And with 12.5m worth of turning circle (an improvement over the old model) and good visibility, this ute is surprisingly easy to manoeuvre. A rear-view camera, something Toyota’s trayback HiLux doesn’t have, is also a welcome addition.

Steering feel gets progressively heavier as your speed builds, and feels perfectly fit for purpose in this application.

Engine configuration
Four-cylinder turbo diesel
Displacement3.0L
Power
140Kw @ 3600rpm
Torque
450Nm @ 1600-2600rpm
DriveRear-wheel drive
Transmission6-speed manual
Fuel consumption (combined cycle)8.0L/100km
Fuel tank size76L

Suspension

While all Isuzus have a rear suspension consisting of three leaves, they are available in two flavours: standard duty and heavy duty. More lifestyle-oriented vehicles have a softer spring rate, while all cab-chassis and lower-specification (4x2 SX space-cab and 4x4 LS-M) utes have stiffer rear springs.

With a 3000kg GVM, this little battler sports a 1305kg total payload (before deducting the tray weight). Unlike many single-cab two-wheel-drive utes, this D-Max SX has a 3500kg braked towing capacity. And with a 5850kg gross combination mass, you’re still able to tow 2850kg when fully laden.

As tested, our D-Max SX has a payload of 1,087kg thanks to the 218 kilograms worth of tray and towbar on the back. That means kerb weight as tested is 1913kg.

When towing the full 3500kg, you’ve still got 437kg of payload left over. Not bad.

Loaded testing

Thanks to the fine folks at Nepean Landscape Supplies, we loaded the back of the D-Max right up to it's maximum capacity. As the forklift unloaded the tonne of sand, the back end of the D-Max squatted down noticeably. But, importantly, there was still a few fingers' worth of bump stop spacing available. The pyramid-shaped bump stop, progressive in design and decently long, is also nice to see.

Loaded to GVM, there’s no problem with the D-Max’s 3.0-litre driveline. Gearing is low enough for painless take-offs, and the plentiful torque allows for easy cruising.

The suspension did get a touch spongy and wallowing at the maximum payload. Bumps and potholes were nicely absorbed without any big translations into the body, but you can tell that shock absorber damping was right at its limit. Although, just slowing down a little through bends and over humps kept things civil enough.

If I were doing this kind of loaded driving day in and day out, I’d look at some uprated dampers. But, the springs themselves are up to the job.

We did note on a sunny day, both loaded and unloaded, the active safety technology did deactivate for short periods of time. This happened a couple of times, and was solved by either restarting the car or allowing it to sort its own problems out.

The tray, by the way, is of alloy construction and comes in three different flavours. Ours is the heavy-duty alloy tray, which includes a (entirely appropriate, these days) hand-washing station and toolbox mounted down each side. Tie-downs come via load rails down each side of the tray, and they worked well enough in our testing.

Length5325mm
Width1870mm
Height1790mm
Wheebase3125mm
Kerb mass1695kg
Kerb mass as tested1913kg
Tray + towbar weight218kg
GVM3000kg
GCM5850kg
Payload1305kg
Payload as tested1,087kg
towing capacity3500kg
rear overhang1310mm
front overhang890mm
turning circle12.5 metres

Interior

Like we have already reported, the interior of this new Isuzu D-Max is a quantum leap over previous offerings. Vinyl floors are complemented by thick (accessory) rubber mats, and soft-touch materials get traded in for hard plastics. Ergonomically, the interior is a winner, with tilt-and-rake steering column adjustment and good seats.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included in the 7.0-inch infotainment display, which also displays the rear-mounted camera. If you’re keen to tow, having the towball included in the reversing camera vision will make hitching up easier.

Mechanical air-conditioning controls are simple and effective, playing to the whole utilitarian bent of this model. Twin gloveboxes and four cupholders are handy, while the dashboard’s top storage compartment has lost its lid.

Power supply comes via single USB and 12V outlets, and there’s additional storage in the door cards and a centre console. Storage behind the seats is limited but useable, which is where you’ll also find the bottle jack.

VERDICT

The combination of torquey diesel engine, good gearbox and sorted suspension means the D-Max SX is solidly capable of its most important discipline: load hauling. It’s also very safe and easy to live with thanks to good technology inclusions.

While it has gone up in price, the inclusions have gone up also. Other utes can be had for less, and dollars speak volumes when buying in bulk. However, Isuzu has moved the game forward in terms of safety in this segment – and that also speaks volumes.