There's a lot of new tech and gear to cover off with Isuzu's latest D-Max. But exactly how much better is it than the old model?
Isuzu has an all-new D-Max, which has proven to be quite a favourite of the CarAdvice team. Although the Ford Ranger proved to have a couple of extra tricks up its sleeve off-road, the D-Max found bragging rights in our three-way ute comparison, before taking the crown of twin-winner at our 2020 ute mega test.
But, exactly how much better is it than the old model? The previous generation, soldiering doggedly on the showroom floor since 2012, has finally been put to new-car pasture.
It’s a likeable old four-wheel drive, provided that you’re happy to put up with decade-old levels of technology, ergonomics and ride comfort. While it lacked the general modernity of the competition, the D-Max did continue to sell in respectable volumes, thanks mostly to its sterling reputation.
Pricing and specs
We’ve got the respective top specifications of the D-Max in this comparison: the new X-Terrain and now discontinued LS-T. And we’ve even got matching blue outfits.
Whereas the old LS-T was asking for $54,800 before on-road costs, there was always a deal to be had. And that trend continues with the new top-spec D-Max.
Although the X-Terrain has a sticker price of $62,900 before on-road costs, the introductory deal of $58,990 drive-away doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
There is a big jump in price to stomach there, but there is pretty good reason for it. Along with being an all-new platform, the new D-Max is able to tick boxes the old model couldn’t dream of.
Some items the old model missed out on, like automatic wipers and headlights, are now standard inclusions for the new D-Max.
One quantum leap comes through safety. The old model, working off an old 2013 five-star ANCAP safety rating, was missing key ingredients like autonomous emergency braking, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring.
The new D-Max, on the other hand, goes full kitchen-sink mode. Across the range, we’ve got autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and intersection detection, rear-cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.
A lot of these safety smarts operate via two cameras mounted high up in the windscreen, away from mud and allowing relatively easy bullbar fitment. Isuzu also tells us the system can work with auxiliary antennas mounted in its line of sight.
|New D-Max||Old D-Max|
|Payload at 3.5-tonne towing||320kg||424kg|
Tech and infotainment
Although the old display was reasonably well sized at 8.0 inches, that’s about where the compliments end. Along with lacking the crucial mod-cons of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the old system lacks any real functionality beyond basic Bluetooth tethering and native mapping.
The better systems in the segment, like the Ford Ranger's in particular, leave it for dead.
Bigger and better in almost every sense, the infotainment system in the new D-Max brings some important changes in this segment hellbent on gentrification. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and digital radio are all accounted for, along with native navigation on a larger 9.0-inch display.
The operating system isn’t as intuitive or slick as others, but it’s a bit of a moot point if you’re going to be smartphone mirroring 90 per cent of the time.
We’ve also noticed that standard settings can feel a little on the dark side, and the system benefits from having brightness increased through the settings menu.
And, thankfully, those dated air-conditioning controls have had a much-needed birthday.
Seats, dashboard, materials, infotainment, ergonomics, multifunction display – general ambience, even: there isn’t an element of this new D-Max’s interior I can think of that isn’t improved over the old model.
While the interior of the previous-generation D-Max might have been a solid stab back when it launched, it was starting to feel quite tired by the time stumps were pulled.
Much better seats, with more adjustment and under-thigh support, team up with tilt and reach adjustment through the steering wheel for a good ergonomic experience behind the wheel.
Buttons and controls are all good, although we still find that with no physical dial, volume can be fiddly to operate on the move.
Some handy touches do carry over, like the dual gloveboxes (although now missing a 12V socket), pop-out cupholders under the air vents, and a spot for your wallet and keys in front of the gear shifter. The storage spot atop the dashboard is much improved as well, now the opening mechanism actually works.
The second row of the D-Max is also better, now sporting air vents, power outlets and more comfort compared to the outgoing model. There are ISOFIX points for the outboard seats of the second row, routing inwards to a common metal tether.
It works, but it can be frustrating to tension straps down properly (if you’re moving seats around a lot).
While both engines carry the same cylinder count and displacement, precious little parts carry over between new and old D-Max engines.
With a new cylinder block and head, new pistons, and fresh fuel injection system and turbo, only the conrods are carried over between the older 4JJ1 and new 4JJ3 engines.
Along with being quieter and smoother, the new engine develops more torque and power, along with using less fuel. I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a win.
Whereas the old motor made 130kW and 430Nm, you’re now looking at 140kW and 450Nm. Not huge jumps, and the numbers keep the Isuzu behind the pack in terms of outright power and torque bragging rights.
From the seat-of-pants experience, the new driveline delivers its power in the same unhurried, ratio-holding nature, like a traditional diesel engine that focuses on low and mid-range pulling power.
It’s still not as outright fast as other engines in the segment (especially any V6), but it’s a solid improvement nonetheless.
While manual transmissions are still available for the D-Max (except for the new range-topping X-Terrain), we've got the more popular six-speed automatics. It's still sourced from Aisin (like the HiLux), but the new D-Max has an updated cooler and slightly faster shift speeds.
In terms of fuel economy, the old D-Max pips the new model by the smallest of margins: 0.1 litre per 100km. This is a difficult number to replicate: something starting with eight is possible over long highway runs, but nines are also achievable in heavier usage around town.
|New D-Max||Old D-Max|
|Engine||3.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel||3.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel|
|Power||140kW @ 3600rpm||130kW @ 3600rpm|
|Torque||450Nm @ 1600–2600rpm||430Nm @ 2000–2200rpm|
|Second torque range||400Nm @ 1400–3250rpm||380Nm @ 1700–3500rpm|
|Claimed consumption (combined)||8.0L/100km||7.9L/100km|
On the road
And the improvements keep coming when you’re cruising on the blacktop. Along with being more comfortable behind the wheel and having a few extra herbs under your right foot, this new D-Max benefits from improved ride and handling characteristics. Bumps and rough sections are better absorbed, transmitting much less into the cabin.
Another big thing you’ll notice is the difference that electric power steering makes. It can feel slightly vague at times if you’re more used to hydraulic power-steering systems. Once you’re used to its lightness, the D-Max has a good steering feel that doesn’t yield any surprises.
Only when pushing hard through corners, do you notice that understeer comes on a little earlier than others in the segment. However, why you’d want to regularly do that in a 4x4 ute has me beat. This new D-Max is plenty good enough.
It sounds like I’m really putting the boot into the old D-Max here, and I guess I am. In isolation, it’s not a bad old bus. But in any modern company, it is certainly an old bus.
Charming with its gruff, almost down-to-earth nature, it feels noticeably rough around the edges when compared directly to its replacement.
Now with a much-needed locking rear differential, the new D-Max is able to mix it much more competently with the rest of the 4x4 ute brigade. While it doesn’t break any new ground or benchmarks, it’s a solid improvement (once again) to where the old D-Max left off.
Things would be better if the D-Max took a leaf out of the Ford Ranger’s book, and kept traction control active on the front wheels, instead of turning the system off. However, those keen for maximum off-road traction would be well-served considering a locking front differential regardless.
Ground clearance gets meagre improvements across the board, although it’s difficult to gauge the true effectiveness of this in the real word. An improved wading depth, thanks to a redesigned air intake set-up under the bonnet, is much more perceptible, however.
|New D-Max||Old D-Max|
Both of these utes carry the same 3500kg towing capacity, along with a commensurate 350kg towball capacity. With a longer wheelbase and slightly less rear overhang, the new D-Max should bring a little extra stability when towing.
However, the higher kerb weight and lower payloads of the new model do reduce your available weights when you start to really load up.
However, as it stands, both new and old D-Max utes are trusty and predictable tow rigs. This is down to the torquey engines and steadfast gearboxes, whose relatively slow-changing characteristics suit being under a heavy load.
Worth noting, however, we did experience a vagueness through the electric steering system in the new D-Max when towing at highway speeds.
Both Isuzu utes are covered by a six-year, 150,000km warranty, which also includes seven years' worth of roadside assistance.
There’s also a seven-year capped-price service program through Isuzu dealerships, but the new model’s updated drivetrain has managed to trim a handy $470 from the seven-year total. See below.
|New D-Max||Old D-Max|
There’s a clear verdict in this comparison, which is probably plainly apparent before you’ve even finished the first paragraph. While my soft spot for the old D-Max hasn’t completely gone away, I am a big fan of this new model.
What’s critically important for a new 4x4 ute these days, which is often operating as a family car, mobile office and weekend warrior all rolled into one, the D-Max doesn’t just catch up to the pack in terms of safety, but even manages to edge the game forward.
While we have the top specification in this comparison, it’s worth noting that Isuzu has graciously included the full gamut of safety technology right across the range.
While things like autonomous emergency braking and a centre airbag are things you never want to really utilise, the improved ride, performance, ergonomics and technology are all things that you’ll truly appreciate every day in the new D-Max.
After spending more time with Isuzu’s new ute for this comparison, I’m sure we picked the right (joint) winner of our recent dual-cab ute mega test.