Isuzu Ute has made steady if unspectacular progress since it debuted in this market a year ago, recently recording its 2000th local sale. But you can't help thinking it has a long way to go to establish the strong presence in this country it wants.
As a one-model brand it is likely struggle to attract customers to its showrooms, particularly when its only model isn't terribly new. The Isuzu D-Max ute is quite a decent vehicle, but there's nothing about it that screams ‘buy me’ if the recent drive of an LS-M four- wheel drive dual-cab is anything to go by.
For starters the D-Max is in essence the Rodeo once sold by Holden under that badge, so there's nothing really new to get ute buyers all worked up. In a corporate divorce Holden quit the Rodeo and took up the Colorado, a very similar vehicle also made in Thailand.
The LS-M D-Max carries a sticker price of $40,600 and has a three- year/100,000 km warranty. But only those who particularly liked the Rodeo and knew the D-Max was the same vehicle might choose to seek out an Isuzu Ute dealer. Based on the test drive Isuzu Ute needs a new model to get noticed, the current D-Max, while competent, feels a little dated by comparison to other four-wheel drive utes on the market.
Fit-out and equipment
We spent a week in an LS-M, which is the same as the range- topping LS-U but without the bling that comes with the 'U'. Painted silver-grey with plain black bumpers, guard flares, mirrors and door handles it looked dull and dreary. The feeling carried through to the interior, which was awash with grey plastics and fabrics that created a rather sombre feeling even though there were also some silver highlights.
In general the build quality seemed of a decent standard, but at the same time the interior fit and finish was a little off the mark expected of a Japanese-designed, Thai-produced ute in this market. Exposed screws had surface rust; some of the dash fittings simply didn't fit very well.
It had plenty of standard features, like air, cruise, leather wheel and shift knob, trip computer, CD/MP3 sound, power windows and mirrors, but they were all contained in a rather dull package.
Isuzu offers just the one engine, a surprisingly economical 3.0-litre double overhead camshaft common rail injection turbo diesel four that peaks with 120 kW at 3600 revs and 360 Nm from 1800-2800 revs when hooked to a manual gearbox. That manual is a five-speed unit with a relatively long throw shift and long clutch travel.
The test ute had four-wheel drive, which offered the choice of two- wheel drive for regular driving, and high and low-range four-wheel drive. Selecting the wanted drive was simply done by pressing the appropriate button on the dash.
On the road it was smooth and steady, nothing to write home about, but it got the job done.
Isuzu Ute claims the LS four-wheel drive dual-cab manual would do a combined 8.4 L/100 km and that impressive figure was backed up by Big Wheels when the test ute got 8.5 L/100 km on test.
Like all Japanese-designed Thai-built utes of its type the Isuzu Ute rides on a separate ladder chassis, with torsion bar independent front suspension and leaf spring rear. Steering is power-assisted rack-and-pinion and brakes are a combination of front disc and rear drum, with the assistance of ABS antilock and EBD brakeforce distribution electronics. More safety is delivered through the dual-front airbags.
Tradies most often tow a trailer behind their work utes, and the D- Max, with its three-tonne towing capacity will handle their trailers with ease.
Isuzu D-Max LS-M
Price: from $40,600
Engine: 3.0-litre four-cylinder common-rail injection turbodiesel
Power: 120kW at 3600rpm
Torque: 360Nm at 1800-2800 revs (manual)
Transmission: five-speed manual, all-wheel drive