Flagship utes have a bit of a habit of hogging the limelight. It’s not too hard to see why either: fully kitted, and often with some bold styling additions, top-spec models look pretty good.
Glossy brochures and mud-slinging marketing shots aside, do you actually need the top spec model? Probably not.
With that in mind, the 2021 Isuzu D-Max LS-U 4x4 still comes comprehensively loaded with equipment, sitting one rung below the X-Terrain hero, which tends to hog all those action and adventure brochure shots.
The differences are clear enough, but nothing vital goes missing – depending on what you consider essential, of course.
The key under-bonnet specs remain the same. The engine is a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, with 140kW and 450Nm to its name, and the transmission is a six-speed auto.
Power is sent to a part-time 4x4 system, there’s a rear diff lock and leaf-sprung suspension at the back.
All the same as the X-Terrain – except the LS-U also unlocks the option of a 4x2 model, or a 4x4 manual version. Options that aren’t offered on the range-topper.
Pricing for the car you see here, a 4x4 LS-U dual-cab auto, starts from $56,900 plus on-road costs. Not off the mark compared to similarly equipped utes from rivals like Toyota and Ford, but at $62–$63K on the road (depending where you live), a little shaky on value compared to the better equipped range-topper and its current $59,990 drive-away deal.
|2021 Isuzu D-Max LS-U 4x4 crew cab|
|Engine||3.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder|
|Power and torque||140kW at 3600rpm, 450Nm at 1600–2800rpm|
|Drive type||Part-time 4x4|
|Fuel claim, combined (ADR)||8.0L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.6L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating (year tested)||Five stars (2020)|
|Main competitors||Ford Ranger XLT, Toyota HiLux SR5, Mazda BT-50 GT|
|Price as tested (excl. on-road costs)||$56,490|
The reality is, you’ll either be able to talk your way into the LS-U at a price that reflects its position, or take the ‘free’ upgrade to the X-Terrain. Isuzu warns customers that a shortage of X-Terrains means delayed delivery, so the LS-U could be a suitable stopgap.
In terms of equipment, there’s plenty included. Some of the LS-U’s equipment highlights include 9.0-inch infotainment, eight-speaker ‘Sky Sound’ audio, integrated satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control, leather steering wheel, carpet flooring, and driver’s seat lumbar support.
The infotainment system supports wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto, and AM/FM/DAB+ radio, but the native interface just doesn’t feel as logical or polished as it should. The Ford Ranger’s slick SYNC 3 infotainment leads the way here, while Isuzu’s feels a bit aftermarket and unfortunately underdone.
On the outside there are power-folding mirrors, an exterior chrome pack, aluminium side steps, and 18-inch alloy wheels with a machined face. All upgrades over the lower LS-M and SX grades that come before it in the range.
Some of the things available on the top model, which aren’t fitted one rung down, include tray dress-ups like a tub liner and roller lid, front park sensors, leather seat trim, powered driver’s seat, keyless entry and push-button start, plus the bodykit bits and grey external highlights that give the X-Terrain its distinct looks.
Fundamentally, though, the D-Max LS-U is every bit a D-Max, and for the new-generation car launched in 2020, that’s good news.
As one of the newest utes in the class, the D-Max jumps to the head of the pack in many ways.
Whereas the old model lacked tech and refinement, the new model has plenty of both. The ride is smoother and calmer than before. It’s still a little choppy with an empty tub, but doesn’t hop and skip over corrugations. Drop a little bit of weight over the rear axle and everything settles nicely.
The refinement is decent. Engine noise is low, though you can pick the diesel soundtrack at part throttle.
Wind noise can get a bit rustley over the mirrors, and back seat passengers complained that the rear sports bar in the tub (from the accessory range) generated some turbulence at freeway speeds.
For owners of the previous D-Max, the differences will be night and day.
Engine performance is solid, and still skewed more towards lazy torque than outright urgency. The 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel is happy enough to lope along on the freeway ticking over smoothly and quietly, but doesn’t quite have the stomp-and-go urgency of engines like the Ranger’s 3.2 and Amarok’s 3.0 V6.
Auto transmission calibration seems happiest around town, but at a steady 100km/h cruise the six-speed auto tended to flick from fifth to sixth on a rapid cycle, with the slightest change of incline triggering it over and over.
While not rough or disruptive, there’s a little pause and quiver each time that can be grating. Step up to 110km/h as the speed limit allows and the problem goes away.
With the D-Max employed as a long-distance cruiser, it was easy to set the adaptive cruise control and settle back as the hours and kilometres rolled by. Comfortable with four adults on board, and economical without the need to ever ask too much of it.
That also helped with fuel consumption of just 8.6 litres per 100km, just a touch above the 8.0L/100km combined claim. While highway miles played a big part, there was still plenty of slower work in and around town to balance things out – around two-thirds of the distance was out on the open road.
|2021 Isuzu D-Max LS-U 4x4 crew cab|
|Length / width / height||5265mm / 1870mm / 1790mm|
|Tow rating / payload||3500kg braked, 750kg unbraked / 1055kg|
|Approach / departure / rampover (degrees)||30.5 / 24.2 / 23.8|
|Tub dimensions, length / width||1570mm / 1530mm (1122mm between arches)|
Moving inside, like the mechanical package, the interior has been brought up to speed in one big leap. No longer are there the hard plastics with variable gaps and cartoonish climate controls that made the old D-Max so, err, iconic.
The fit and finish are much more inviting; the cloth seats aren’t working-class-tough fibres, but something more contemporary. Front seats are big, broad and comfy, and the driver gets adjustable lumbar support, but personally I’d have still liked it to be a bit more supportive.
The console packs in a pair of cupholders, with another driver and passenger cup/carton holder that slides out of the dash, meaning no can of coke or iced coffee goes unsupported.
The glovebox and centre console don’t set any new benchmarks for space, but the bin on top of the dash keeps small items close to hand yet out of view from prying eyes.
Rear seats strike a good balance of leg and head room, but knee space can be tight for the long-legged, and there’s not quite enough space under the front seats to park your feet.
Rear passengers do get face-level vents in the back of the console and a USB charge point. There’s also a fold-down centre armrest and two child seat mounts (for the outboard seats), with both ISOFIX and top-tether anchorages.
Speaking of safety items, the D-Max packs a long list, with forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking and intersection AEB for the first time. There’s also adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and speed sign recognition.
Back to the LS-U as a package, though, does it hit or miss?
Well, with new-found on-road confidence, more safety tech, and none of its key capabilities diminished (actually, thanks to the addition of a rear diff lock for this generation, off-road ability moves forward), the D-Max goes from being bare and basic to much more appealing to a wide scope of buyers.
One step down from the hero model delivers a slightly more traditional ute aesthetic with plenty of chrome. On the inside, though, it feels like Isuzu might have left a few too many spec boxes unchecked.
While none of the missing items are essentials, keyless entry would be handy to have, leather trim feels like something that should be at least available (if not standard) when pushing $60K, and key rivals include either a tow bar, tub liner or tonneau (or a combination of), which the D-Max LS-U lacks.
It’s no worse for the omissions, but value looks a bit off kilter, especially next to the X-Terrain. Of course, Isuzu knows its craft, and it knows that buyers stepping up from the previous-generation ute are getting a massive leap in tech, features, refinement, and safety.
The LS-U’s positioning and presentation do strike a balance of flash ute visuals and workhorse practicality. What it lacks out back makes it easily more customisable – there’s no point paying for equipment you’ll remove to fit a canopy or the rear lid of your choice, after all.
You’ll find the same from the revamped interior. Tidier and more modern than before, but not quite as opulent or plush as something like the shared-origins Mazda BT-50 GT – a touch dearer at $59,990, yet loaded with the same mechanical and safety gear.
So, if dressed-up utes keep getting showier, the D-Max LS-U is something of a sensible middle ground. Not too basic, not too overdone, somewhere in the just-right range.