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Isuzu D-Max 2020 review: SX crew cab 4x4 off-road

The Isuzu D-Max is one of the quiet achievers in the Australian Ute market. It sells pretty well – it was top five of the best-selling utes in Australia last year – with 16,892 sold – and it has a stack of fans. 

This is a proper purpose-built ute – and that's refreshing in this day and age. 

But how does the D-Max fare in such a choice-rich market and should you wait until the next generation of the popular ute arrives here later this year before buying one? Read on.

This is a proper purpose-built ute. This is a proper purpose-built ute.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Our test vehicle – the SX crew cab 4x4 – is the entry-level pick-up-style D-Max. As such, it is a basic vehicle but it has everything you need, minus the frippery. Again, that’s refreshing. The list price on this variant is $46,700 MSRP; price as tested was $44,110 MSRP.

It has a 7.0-inch touch-screen with basic functionality, cloth seats, rubber mats on the floor and vinyl flooring under those.

There are rubber mats on the floor and vinyl flooring under those. There are rubber mats on the floor and vinyl flooring under those.

If you want Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, AEB (autonomous emergency braking) in your D-Max, as well as other driver-assist tech, you’ll have to wait until the next-generation range arrives here later in 2020. 

It has 16-inch steel wheels on Bridgestone Dueler A/Ts.

The D-Max has 16-inch steel wheels on Bridgestone Dueler A/Ts. The D-Max has 16-inch steel wheels on Bridgestone Dueler A/Ts.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

It looks like a ute should, with few city-focussed concessions to modern styling, and that’s fine by me.

In terms of dimensions, this D-Max is 5295 millimetres long with a 3095mm wheelbase. It is 1960mm wide, 1785mm high and it has a listed kerb weight of 2016 kilograms. 

This D-Max is 5295 millimetres long. This D-Max is 5295 millimetres long.

The tray is 1552mm long at floor height, 1530mm wide (1105mm between the wheel arches, so not big enough for an Australian-sized pallet), and it's 465mm deep. And back here here you get four tie-down points and a rubber mat. 

The tray is 1552mm long at floor height. The tray is 1552mm long at floor height.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

How practical is the space inside?

The interior is very basic but it suits this ute to a T: big expanses of durable plastic, cloth seats, big chunky rubber match to catch all that dirt and mud that you bring in on your boots, and vinyl flooring to catch all the stuff that the mats didn’t. It's all ready for real life. 

It has a 7.0-inch touch-screen with basic functionality and the screen itself is a bit awkward to use – well, I reckon it is anyway.

The 7.0-inch touch-screen has basic functionality. The 7.0-inch touch-screen has basic functionality.

In terms of comfort, it’s okay – behind my driving position I have adequate headroom and a fair bit of legroom. There is a fold-down arm-rest, flip-down cup holders in the back of the centre console, and minor storage in the door pockets and under the seats.

In terms of comfort, it’s okay. In terms of comfort, it’s okay.

Up front, there’s adequate space, pop-out cup holders under each dash-based air vent and reasonable storage places here and there. 

The D-Max’s interior is not an unpleasant cabin for passengers. The D-Max’s interior is not an unpleasant cabin for passengers.

Despite its overall utilitarian, work-friendly demeanour, the D-Max’s interior is not an unpleasant cabin for driver or passengers.

What's it like as a daily driver?

On-road, there are no real surprises as this is a ute after all. But for an Isuzu ute the D-Max is never anywhere near as ordinary as some people may wrongly assume.

The suspension is pretty firm because it's on load-carrying leaf springs at the rear, but it’s never bone-jarring.

Steering is quite heavy – at times it feels like a truck to turn – and there’s pronounced understeer. 

Steering is quite heavy. Steering is quite heavy.

It has a light-truck engine that is rather noisy and gruff but the engine never feels like it's working beyond its limits, it never seems stressed. You can hear a fair bit of the engine chatter in the cab, but I don't mind any of those things because they’re part of the D-Max’s appeal: it’s a simple, no-nonsense, straightforward ute

And, besides, if you're stepping into a ute expecting a nice smooth ride and awesome handling, then you're in the wrong vehicle. A ute, by its very nature, will always be a compromise between on-road ride and handling, work adaptability and four-wheel drive capability and you're never going to get the best of any of those worlds in a ute. 

A simple, no-nonsense, straightforward ute. A simple, no-nonsense, straightforward ute.

What's it like for touring?

The D-Max’s truck-like characteristics continue when you're off roading, for better or worse – I reckon, better. 

It's very basic, very simple but very effective too. It's a little bit noisy. It's a bit of a rough rider, but that's all part of the fun. 

The D-Max’s traction control system is pretty effective for light-duty off-roading where the road or track surface is a bit slippery. It works by applying braking to the spinning wheel – the one with little to no traction – and transferring power to the wheel, which actually has traction.

But, on terrain where you need sustained engine torque – on a steep rutted hill, for example – it’s better to switch it off. The system will automatically disengage when you switch the D-Max to 4L (4WD low-range) anyway.

A diff-lock will boost the D-Max's off-road capabilities. A diff-lock will boost the D-Max's off-road capabilities.

The D-Max is generally a good off-roader and it has decent ground clearance, good wheel-travel, but when you get on a steep hill with deep ruts and loose gravel, its weakness is exposed. 

You need controlled throttle and momentum for safe, steady progress over difficult off-road terrain and that’s not always possible to achieve in the D-Max. For instance, because it does not have a diff lock, you have to sink the boot in to keep the D-Max moving up a steep hill, and I would certainly not recommend doing that on our particularly steep, rutted gravel-and-dirt test incline.

By driving at the hill faster and harder, I would have been able to get the D-Max a bit further up it, but that’s far from ideal because, by doing that, I would have been risking vehicle damage.

And before all of the armchair experts get fired up, I had several cracks at this hill with traction control on and off, and in high and low range, just to see how the D-Max would perform using different approaches to the problem. The result? A distinct absence of forward progress at similar points on the hill. 

The D-Max does have some sturdy steel underbody protection for inadvertent bumps. The D-Max does have some sturdy steel underbody protection for inadvertent bumps.

That hiccup doesn’t indicate that the D-Max is a weak off-roader – not at all – because an aftermarket diff-lock, at least, would go some of the way to sorting out that strife. Aggressive all terrains and aftermarket suspension should also be on your shopping list if you plan to improve your D-Max as an off-road tourer.

In its favour, the D-Max does have some sturdy steel underbody protection for inadvertent bumps and scrapes while being driven off-road.

The D-Max has a claimed payload of 1034kg, an unbraked towing capacity of 750kg and a braked towing capacity of 3500kg.

How much fuel does it consume?

Fuel consumption is a claimed 7.9L/100km on a combined cycle. It was showing 10.4L/100km on our dash, but we recorded an actual fuel consumption on test of 14.2L/100km, but in the past I’ve recorded 11.6L/100km and 10.7L/100km. That higher fuel figure this time around might have been the result of a concentrated bout of low-range 4WDing.

The D-Max has a 76-litre fuel tank.

Fuel consumption is a claimed 7.9L/100km on a combined cycle. Fuel consumption is a claimed 7.9L/100km on a combined cycle.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

All D-Maxes have six airbags, electronic stability control, reversing camera and more. The D-Max range has a five-star ANCAP rating from testing in 2013.

Fuel consumption is a claimed 7.9L/100km on a combined cycle. Fuel consumption is a claimed 7.9L/100km on a combined cycle.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

The D-Max is a pretty decent all-round ute, but it’s starting to look and feel a bit overwhelmed in a ute market brimming with more better-equipped, feature-packed and refined vehicles. The upcoming arrival of the all-new next-generation D-Max line-up this year is definitely good timing.

If you’re planning to use this current D-Max as an off-road tourer, upgrade the suspension, get more aggressive all-terrain tyres and an aftermarket diff-lock. (Note: the next-gen D-Max will have a rear diff lock, as well as an engine output increase to 140kW at 3600rpm and 450Nm at 1600rpm, and redesigned interior, among other things.)

But the current pricing is too high, though some ute lovers keep buying the D-Max so they obviously don’t see it as I do. I reckon if Isuzu knocked at least $5k off the price, then the D-Max would be even more appealing.

$40,300

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

3.5/5

Adventure score

3.5/5

adventureguide rank

  • Light

    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.

  • Medium

    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.

  • Heavy

    Larger obstacles, steeper climbs and deeper water crossings; plus tracks marked as '4WD only'

Price Guide

$40,300

Based on new car retail price