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Isuzu D-Max 2017 review

EXPERT RATING
7.5
Richard Berry road tests and reviews the updated Isuzu D-Max, with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch in Queensland.

Richard Berry road tests and reviews the updated Isuzu D-Max, with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch in Queensland.

Australia loves its utes. We’re not just saying that either, you know in the same way you’d say Australia loves its pavlova or a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos, or sliding down a piece of wet plastic in the backyard on a hot day (although that’s true, too).

No, it is more official than that because Australians bought 42,104 examples of Toyota's HiLux in 2016, more than any other four-wheeled vehicle. It even beat the Corolla, and the popularity of the ute was further reinforced by the Ford Ranger in third place.

Isuzu’s D-Max ute was further back with 16,359 sold, which sounds piddling but it’s more than the total number of new BMWs and Volvos bought last year, and to put that in a bigger context Australia is the second largest D-Max market in the world.

That surely gives the Isuzu Ute Australia people a bit of clout when they visit head office in Japan and it appears they’ve used that leverage in the new D-Max which has just landed.

Now, when we say new, it is the same generation ute as the one which launched in 2012, but this is the first major update to the D-Max since then. All very simple – some restyling to the front, a better media system in the cabin, a different transmission and manual gearbox, but most importantly – a new diesel engine.

So what does that all mean? How does it change the way it drives? Have they hiked up the price? Oh, and can you see how its look is supposed to resemble a killer whale?

We were able to drive two different variants of the D-Max ute at its recent launch: the 4X2 LS-U crew cab ute with the manual gearbox and the 4X4 LS-M crew cab ute with the auto transmission.

Isuzu D-Max 2017: EX (4x4)
Safety rating
Engine Type3.0L turbo
Fuel TypeDiesel
Fuel Efficiency8.2L/100km
Seating2 seats
Price from$21,450

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

Isuzu says the killer whale (which has now rebranded itself as the orca) inspired the styling for the new D-Max. If you can see it, please let us know what strange plant we have to eat to see it too.

The exterior changes are all to the front end – the bonnet is smoother, the chrome-look grille is chunkier the headlights are more angular and now incorporate LED DRLs, the fog light surrounds are taller and the lower lattice grille is more prominent.

The D-Max doesn’t have the beefy and imposing all-American snout of its Ranger or Holden Colorado rivals. That said, it doesn’t have the HiLux’s goofy overbite, or, as with the Mazda BT-50, a face that looks like it’s melting. No, the D-Max’s soft, rounded nose, with headlights that extend above the grille, is more... orca-like. Although I can’t seem to find the blowhole.  

The styling is tasteful, with a good quality, hard-wearing feel.

In crew-cab form it’s a good looking thing, and despite wearing the same panels since Julia Gillard was PM it hasn’t aged. Some makers can’t help but make those rear doors look awkward, but the Isuzu’s appear properly proportioned and the muscular wheel arches look tough.

The D-Max’s dimensions differ depending on the bodystyle and range from 5020mm to 5295mm in length while height goes from 1685mm to 1855mm, and a width from 1775mm to 1860mm. All have the same wheelbase of 3095mm.

The cabin design is dating now with its large dial air-con control dominating the centre console, but the styling is tasteful, with a good quality, hard-wearing feel.

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

As chunky and basic as that air-con control is it’s pretty much perfect for the job; easy to use and reliable - even wearing gloves. That in a nutshell is the D-Max: easy to use. There are big door handles (also easy to use in gloves), big supportive and comfortable seats up front, and in the crew cabs we tested legroom in the second row is excellent – I can sit behind my own driving position with about 40mm of space between my knees and the seat back.

There are two cup holders in the second row and two more up front, while all doors have space for a small bottle.

Storage throughout the cabin of the LS-M and LS-U is excellent.

Those rear doors are on the small side, but open wide enough to make entry and exit easy. The LS-M crew cab isn’t as tall as the LS-U, although the drop down from both is fine and the standard sturdy side steps on the LS-U aren’t just there for decoration.

Storage throughout the cabin of the LS-M and LS-U is excellent with a top and bottom opening glove box, a deep centre console bin, there are map pockets in the seat backs and there’s tool storage under the rear flip-up seats.

Tray floor lengths range from 1552mm for the crew cab utes to 2550 for the single cab chassis. Tray depth for the utes is 465mm and the width between the wheel houses is 1105mm. The alloy tray is 1778mm wide.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   8/10

The D-Max comes in 23 variations thanks to six grades, 4x2 and 4X4 drive systems, and the many different body and tray styles.

The entry point into the range is the 4X2 single cab chassis SX with a six-speed manual and it lists for $28,500 (an increase of $1000 over the previous model) and heads north to the 4X4 crew cab Ute Hi Ride LS-T for $54,200 (up $2000).

The two utes we drove - 4X2 LS-U crew cab ute with the auto transmission lists for $33,600 and the 4X4 LS-M crew cab ute lists at $46,400.

This update has brought a 7.0-inch screen as standard to all D-Maxs with a DVD and CD player, FM/AM radio, USB port, phone streaming and Bluetooth connectivity. Other standard kit on the LS-M Crew Cab includes air conditioning, power windows all around, eight speaker sound system, a second USB port in the second row, vinyl floors, LED running lights and a double-walled ute tub.

The LS-U gets that list as standard too, but sweeps the vinyl for carpet floors, and the smaller screen for an 8.0-inch display. There's also climate control, built-in sat nav, and LED taillights.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   8/10

Despite there being 23 million (well, 23) variants in the D-Max range there’s just one engine - and luckily it’s a beauty. It’s new, and it’s the biggest change brought about by this update.

The previous engine was a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel and so is this latest one, but it’s different – it’s Euro5 compliant, it makes more torque, but there’s even more to it than that. This one hasn’t just been taken off a shelf and stuffed in the engine bay - it’s been specifically developed for Australian conditions.

Isuzu supplied D-Maxs with the new engine to typical users such as the Queensland police, NRMA, tradies, caravan-pulling grey nomads and four-wheel drive enthusiasts. For two years Isuzu collected the engine data, listened to the drivers’ feedback and built an engine based on that information.

The previous engine suffered from a lack of torque at lower revs. This has been addressed with the new engine.

The pistons, fuel injectors and fuel supply pump were redesigned; a new VGS turbo was fitted along with a larger exhaust gas recirculation cooler and a new bypass valve for it; new ceramic glow plugs and an intelligent battery sensor were installed, and there is now diesel particulate diffuser with automatic regeneration.

Peak power is the same as the previous engine at 130kW. Torque is up by 50Nm to 430Nm. The previous engine suffered from a lack of torque at lower revs. This has been addressed with the new engine and now 380Nm of torque is available 100rpm lower at 1700rpm and extends to 3500rpm – 700rpm more than before.

A six-speed manual and six-speed auto replace the five-cog units in the previous D-Max.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

Isuzu says you should see an average combined fuel figure of 7.8L/100km using the manual gearbox in the 4x4 LS-M crew cab ute. Ours was a bit thirstier. After 300-odd kays of highways, urban streets, off-road excursions and country roads our trip metre was telling us our 4x4 crew cab ute had been drinking at an average of 10.0L/100km. We should mention our ute had less than 1000km on the clock and we weren’t trying to be especially frugal.

What's it like to drive?   8/10

Sixth gear, on a highway at 100km/h in the 4x4 LS-M crew cab and the engine was snoring along at 1600rpm. At 1700rpm it wakes up with 380Nm on tap right where and when you need it for overtaking. The same goes for the other end of the speedo, when we were wriggling through soft sand and had to stay in second and keep the momentum going, but as the revs disappeared the torque stayed to pull us through steadily. Having all that torque arrive lower in the rev band, even though it’s only 100rpm lower, makes a difference.

Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) improvements have been made with the addition of insulation to the firewall and front wheel arches to reduce road and engine noise. You’ll still know you’re driving a diesel as that clatter under a bit of acceleration is still there, but those who are used to diesels will consider it fairly quiet.

Our time in the 4X2 LS-U crew cab ute was spent only on the black top – but that was a good opportunity to get a feel for the new six-speed lock-up torque converter transmission. Frankly it’s excellent. It’s a high torque capacity unit developed by Toyota and transmission specialist Aisin. It has an adaptive learning function that will adjust its shift map according to the driving conditions. I was particularly impressed by the way it shifted down almost instinctively as we approached corners, as I would with a manual.

The brand trades on its tough commercial machinery reputation and the D-Max benefits from this know-how.

The update also added a descent control function to all D-Maxs and we had a chance to test it out. The 4x4 LS-M crew cab ute was used in the off-road section of the launch and while the terrain wasn't too challenging, it provided a good show-and-tell on the ute’s 225mm ground clearance and 22.4 degree ramp-over angle.

The hill descent control worked well – there’s no need to adjust the speed using the cruise control as with some other vehicles, you just set it with the accelerator pedal and pull it back with the brake if you need to. There are very decent approach and departure angles of 30 degrees and 22.7 degrees, respectively, too.

Steering is quick at 3.8 turns lock-to-lock, although the turning circle is large at 12.6m. The wheel is tilt adjustable, but annoyingly can’t be moved for reach.

Isuzu is the only ute maker in Australia that also makes trucks. The brand trades on its tough commercial machinery reputation and the D-Max benefits from this know-how.

The chassis is a full-length heavy duty truck chassis with seven cross members on the low-ride utes and six on the high ride variants.

The on-road ride in the 4x4 and 4x2 utes was excellent for a ladder frame chassis vehicle that was totally empty. Both have independent coil springs and gas shocks, with upper and lower wishbones and a stabiliser bar up front. In the rear both have leaf springs and gas shocks.

Brakes felt good and both utes tested pulled up well with 300mm discs at the front and 295mm drums on the rear.

Our LS-M 4x4 ran on 16-inch wheels with 245/70 R16 all terrain tyres while the 4x2 LS-U wore 17-inch rims with 255/65 17 highway terrain rubber.

The new displays save the cabin from looking ancient. Both the 7.0- and 8.0-inch displays are good, although hard to see at times in strong sunlight. The navigation system in the 4x2 was particularly good – easy to use when we lost our way at one point – I blame my co-driver.

There were no towing components on the launch but the D-Max has a braked towing capacity of 3500kg for all but the two low ride variants.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / 130,000 km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   6/10

All D-Max utes made after November 2016 have the maximum five-star ANCAP rating. While there’s traction and stability control, and hill hold, these features are becoming the minimum level in new vehicle safety. Other brands are bringing in advanced safety equipment like AEB, and considering the kays these ute can travel it would be good to see Isuzu bring in this tech, too.

What is surprising is the lack of reversing camera on all variants except the LS-U and LS-M. The camera can be optioned but it should be standard given more and more of these vehicles are being used as family cars.

Talking of which, there are three top tether points for child seats across the rear row on all variants apart from the single and space cabs.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   8/10

The D-Max is covered by a five-year/130,000km warranty. There’s also five years road side assistance and five-year/50,000km capped price servicing. Servicing is recommended at 12-month/10,000km intervals. Prices are capped at $200 for the first visit, $400 for the second, $260 for the third, $590 for the next and $50 for the 60,000km service - yup $50.

Verdict

The Isuzu D-Max may not be as flash as a Ranger or as advanced as the new HiLux, but its heavy duty new engine developed for Australian conditions, plus tried and tested underpinnings, make it a smart pick. A practical, comfortable piece of equipment.

Could the D-Max ute tempt you away from the usual ute suspects? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Pricing Guides

$37,990
Based on 105 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$17,000
Highest Price
$45,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
EX (4x4) 3.0L, Diesel, 5 SP MAN $21,450 – 27,170 2017 ISUZU D-MAX 2017 EX (4x4) Pricing and Specs
LS-M Hi-Ride (4x4) 3.0L, Diesel, 5 SP MAN $39,990 – 39,995 2017 ISUZU D-MAX 2017 LS-M Hi-Ride (4x4) Pricing and Specs
LS-Terrain Hi-Ride (4x4) 3.0L, Diesel, 5 SP AUTO $39,990 – 41,999 2017 ISUZU D-MAX 2017 LS-Terrain Hi-Ride (4x4) Pricing and Specs
LS-U Hi-Ride (4x2) 3.0L, Diesel, 5 SP AUTO $27,500 – 33,110 2017 ISUZU D-MAX 2017 LS-U Hi-Ride (4x2) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.5
Design7
Practicality8
Price and features8
Engine & trans8
Fuel consumption7
Driving8
Safety6
Ownership8
Richard Berry
Senior Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$20,888

Lowest price, based on 8 car listings in the last 6 months

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