While the vast majority of media and marketing attention is focused on top-specification four-wheel-drive utes, the most pragmatic and best-value purchases can often be found lower down the ladder.
In the case of Isuzu’s new D-Max, some drive-away deals and demand outstripping supply have muddied waters somewhat.
The top-spec D-Max X-Terrain and entry-level two-wheel-drive single-cab-chassis SX are the only two models with deals, at $59,990 and $29,990 respectively, drive-away.
The rest of the range are left with before-on-roads prices. And because of the current waiting lists, there is little room for buyers to negotiate.
For example, our test 2021 Isuzu D-Max LS-M, which is one step up from the base SX, attracts a $53,000 asking price as a four-wheel drive, automatic dual-cab in Cobalt Blue Mica.
Throw in some common options and accessories: hard tonneau cover ($3199), tow bar ($950), wiring harness ($249), brake controller ($850) and tub liner ($670), and you’re looking at well over $60,000 before driving one like this off the showroom floor.
|2021 Isuzu D-Max LS-M|
|Engine||3.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder|
|Power and torque||140kW at 3600rpm, 450Nm at 1600–2600rpm|
|Drive type||Part-time 4x4, low-range transfer case, locking rear differential|
|Fuel consumption (claimed)||8.0L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||9.1L/100km|
|Tray dimensions||1570mm x 1530mm|
|ANCAP safety rating (year)||Five-star (2020)|
|Warranty (years/km)||Six years/150,000 kilometres|
|Main competitors||Ford Ranger, Toyota HiLux, Mitsubishi Triton|
|Price as tested (including on-road costs, accessories)||$64,356.40|
When compared to the top specification for only a thousand bucks more (without the towing gear), this specification is inevitably left feeling expensive.
While bi-LED headlights and 17-inch alloy wheels are welcome improvements over the SX, it still lacks niceties such as a larger infotainment display, premium interior, and multiple exterior embellishments of an X-Terrain.
However, at the same time, Isuzu should be applauded for including a strong suite of safety equipment across the range. There's autonomous emergency braking (with intersection detection), lane-keep assist and lane-departure warning, all running through twin cameras mounted high in the windscreen.
There are eight airbags inside, including a centre airbag up front and curtain airbags for the second row. This all adds into a five-star ANCAP safety rating from September 2020.
Under the bonnet is the new generation of Isuzu's beloved '4J' diesel engine series, with three litres across four cylinders making 140kW at 3600rpm and 450Nm at 1600–2600rpm. It's not the fastest ute on the block, nor does it want to be.
The engine behaves in an unhurried manner, preferring to lug solidly through the middle rev range rather than revving hard. Matched with a six-speed automatic gearbox (although a six-speed manual is also available), it's a classic take on diesel power delivery.
While other utes have attempted to upset the status quo with exotica like rear disc brakes and coil springs, Isuzu has stuck fast to a time-honoured recipe with its new platform: leaf springs and drum brakes up back, followed by an independent front suspension using coil springs.
It yields character and performance familiar to the rest of the segment. Although, this D-Max does have as good an unladen ride as others.
Higher-specification D-Max models have taken a swerve towards ride comfort and compliance, with a softer tune for the leaf pack and dampers. It’s business time at the lower end of the spec ladder, however, and this LS-M grade has the more heavy-duty set-up.
It’s worth noting here that payloads and GVMs don’t necessarily change between suspension tunes. Rather, it just alters when the D-Max will be riding in its sweet spot.
Isuzu is taking a punt here that most high-specced models will be spending a majority of their time unladen, while lower-specced models will be towing and/or loaded regularly.
Naturally, the LS-M does feel more jittery and firm from the rear end when unladen and cruising around town. However, even just a light load in the tub did manage to smooth things out slightly.
If you’re aiming to drive this D-Max straight from the showroom into a life of heavy loads, then this suspension tune is the one you’d prefer.
Load testing was hampered by the optional EGR hard lid that we had fitted to the back of our D-Max – something that wouldn’t suit those looking for a load-lugging workhorse. However, having the ability to secure the tub against weather and nefarious hands alike would work for some buyers.
The hard lid is sealed and works on central locking via the key fob, but sealing doesn’t extend to the tailgate like other (more expensive) model and grade utes.
Inside, the D-Max impresses as a base-specification model. Ergonomically, it’s a solid offering with an adjustable tilt and reach steering column combining well for comfort behind the wheel. To call it an improvement over the previous generation would be quite the understatement.
The 7.0-inch infotainment display, bordered by dead black space that is utilised as a screen in higher specifications, offers the same usability and functionality through the operating system. Good, but not great.
Some rural users might bemoan the lack of native navigation in this system, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto do cover a wide gamut of functionality for most users.
In the second row, air vents and a USB point serve as amenities, along with good leg room and head room. The middle seat is tight and much better used as an armrest and cupholders.
Another praiseworthy addition of the D-Max is a locking rear differential across the range. It’s something the old D-Max really needed to be more proficient off-road, especially that the off-road traction control left a lot to be desired.
The new traction-control system, although we’re told it has been improved by Isuzu, still lacks the finesse and ability of the best in the segment. But at least the locking rear differential does a lot to keep this Isuzu moving over rough terrain.
The rear suspension articulates reasonably well when unladen, and the unfussed engine/gearbox combination works well as it lugs slowly at low revs.
And when you do bottom out, thin steel bash plates do a decent job of protecting your important oily bits. They might not stand up to long-term abuse, but are a good starting point.
And like every other four-wheel drive out there, the capability can be improved through aftermarket modifications: suspension, bash plates, wheels, tyres and protection. Although, the new D-Max is certainly a better prospect than the old model.
Which is kind of the crux of this D-Max overall. The improvements over the previous generation are marked, and put this Isuzu right up at the pointy end of the segment.
Unfortunately, the numbers don’t currently stack up for this specification of D-Max, especially if you throw a couple of accessories on top of the asking price. Because of Isuzu's pricing structure, the X-Terrain is the clear value choice of the range. However, that spec in particular has a long wait time.
Buyers will have to be patient and form an orderly line, or compete for the limited stock on showroom floors. Or, be very shrewd with their negotiations. Otherwise, if supply is an issue, another option to consider is the very closely related Mazda BT-50.
Editor's note - please be aware that some of the interior photos are of a D-Max SX that uses slightly different trim and equipment. The LS-M interior shots had some problems and we can't display them. The SX interior measurements are the same.