Isuzu D-Max test drive

It was a brave move by Isuzu Ute to launch the newest motor vehicle brand in October last year.

But it has competitively priced the D-Max range, undercutting almost all of its competition by thousands of dollars except for the SsangYong and Mahindra variants.

Sales are trickling in as buyers slowly become aware of the brand.

As of the end of March, Isuzu had sold 576 D-Maxs for the year for a 1.5 per cent share of the market. The company says sales have grown each month since the launch with March sales up 47 per cent on February.

The test vehicle was the $38,700 D-Max LS-M 4x4 crew-cab, which improves on the Toyota HiLux SR dual-cab diesel's standard equipment list with ABS, air, cruise control, one-inch-wider wheels, four extra speakers, projector-lens headlights, a roof console and a three-tonne towing capacity.

Other goodies include cruise control, wheel arch flares, alloy wheels, leather steering wheel rim and shift knob, electro-luminescent instrument cluster, trip computer and projector headlights and front fog lights.

Both the five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions are special low-friction designs to help save fuel and run quietly.

Shifting between 2WD to 4WD High Range is done on the fly at speeds of up to 100 km/h with the simple in-dash push button Drive Mode Selection panel.

There’s no doubt the D-Max is a workhorse, no flash filly or showjumping stallion.

It’s been designed to do the hard yards, whether it’s on a building site or out on the farm.

It’s powered by the much-trusted 3.0-litre, turbocharged diesel and the test vehicle was the sensible four-wheel drive dual cab ute.

It is practical and offers a variety of functions from family wagon to workhorse to plaything.

It rides comfortably and handles reasonably too.

The design, inside and out, is clean and tidy. The cabin does not offer quite as much elbow room, nor as many clever storage spots, as more modern Toyota HiLux, Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton models, yet the D-Max has a good driving position with clear instruments and decent ergonomics.

There is airconditioning, a six-speaker stereo system and cruise control. Back seat leg and headroom are acceptable but best for smaller people, such as children, on longer trips.

Isuzu's diesel does not rev as high as some rivals. Peak power of 120kW comes at 3600rpm and peak torque between 1800rpm and 2800rpm.

Highway cruising should realise 8 litres per 100km, stop-and-start work around the town will see that lift to just below 10.

Driving

The Isuzu is not super-refined but is comfortable and competent as a town and country machine.

It comes into its own by carrying fridges and the like, weekend runs to the rubbish tip or highway transport capable of dealing with all types of road conditions.

The ride is firm and when unladen the rear end can crash and skip through potholes.

It adequately tackled mountains roads, although the steering is a bit ponderous and needed a lot of turning through the twisty bits.

My off-road testing was across Black Mountain Rd between Kuranda and Julatten in North Queensland, but I was disappointed.

After all the recent rain I was expecting some wet and slippery conditions but apart from some big puddles the journey was uneventful.

Not once did I have to engage 4WD with the gutsy turbo-diesel easily climbing up and over a couple of steeper sections of the track.

The D-Max was a tidy and clean handler on the gravel sections and even the corrugations failed to upset its progress.

The Isuzu is an easy machine to live with around town too and relatively straight forward to park and manoeuvre around city streets.

The Isuzu D-max LS-M is a good-value proposition.

It might not have as much cabin space or the extra refinement of newer-designed rivals, but the Isuzu is competent, robust and a no-bullshit working light truck.

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