Isuzu D-MAX space-cab LS-U review

22 November 2012
 by 
, CarsGuide
Isuzu D-MAX space-cab LS-U review
It's beefy off the mark and especially torquey around 2500rpm. PIC: NEIL DOWLING

You're dreaming if you think the latest crop of utes are good enough to replace a passenger car or an SUV as your family's drive.

After a year of being bounced around in all the "new'' utes, of trying to park in tight shopping centre bays, grinding with freeway commuter traffic, going to off-road places no-one else has visited (and realising just why no-one had previously bothered), I have become disillusioned with the purported "dual-purpose'' role of a ute.

Forgive me, my family is too valuable. But if you're a tradie or farmer, enthusiastic four-wheeler or need a rugged go-anywhere machine with decent load-carrying ability, these are your toys.

The Isuzu D-Max here is made in Thailand and uses many similar parts to rival Holden Colorado and though drivetrains are different, there are enough common concepts to make buyers aggressively shop these against each other.

VALUE

Call me harsh but a ladder frame, a simple diesel engine and some bulging body panels isn't worth nearly $50,000 - especially when tens of thousands are made each year. These are a license to print money for some ute makers.

The Isuzu presents as a long-awaited, all-new ute in three body styles and with a more powerful engine. But it's not really all new. The LS-U Space-Cab model seats up to two adults and has (very) occasional seating for two people in the back via a set of small, rear-hinged doors.

It has reasonable equipment - Bluetooth, fold-in mirrors, cruise control and a trip computer - but its strength is in its durability. The problem is it has a voracious list of rivals, though the Isuzu is generally the cheapest.

DESIGN

It's a more muscular version of the old model and for 2012, presents in its Space-Cab version that has an extended cabin with a couple of floor cushions for the reluctant passengers. These two rear "seats'' contain storage bins beneath and the cushions fold up against the rear wall.

The reverse opening rear doors make it a snap to load humans and other valuables. There are not as many changes over the 2011 model as you may think.

Mostly its tweaking and honing which is an excellent strategy to attract buyers to a ute that has a brilliant history for reliability. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Changes of note include a 45mm longer wheelbase, a lower and wider tray, bigger cabin and redesigned dash.

TECHNOLOGY

Rival Holden has a new(ish) 132kW/440Nm 2.8-litre VM-Motori turbo-diesel while Isuzu has upgraded last year's 120kW/360Nm 3-litre turbo-diesel to 130kW/380Nm. It's a strong, broad-power engine that is a bit more agricultural than rivals. But it's smart. Changes are made to improve longevity and things like the camshaft's chain drive, instead of some rivals' belt drive, will be appreciated by owners.

Oil changes are out to 20,000km. The five-speed manual gearbox is made by Eaton. The front suspension is double wishbones and coils while the rear are traditional leaf springs that are unusually mounted on top of the rigid axle. Most of this is carried over from the old model. A 3000kg tow rating and 1050kg payload are good. No prize for the rear drum brakes, though.

SAFETY

This is a four-star rated vehicle and, as I said at the beginning, you shouldn't put your family in a four-star car where you have a choice. The Hilux is also a four-star. But the D-Max has electronic stability and traction control, six airbags, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, plus occupant safety measures including a high-strength welded passenger cell. Only the top-line LS-Terrain has a reversing camera.

DRIVING

On the road the let-down of the D-Max is the rubbery action of its five-speed manual gearbox. Spend the extra $2200 and buy the five-speed auto option. The ride is firm - more jittery than Colorado so prefers a load in the back - though well controlled while the steering is actually quite pleasant with a light action and good control.

The engine is strong throughout the sub-3500rpm range. It's beefy off the mark and especially torquey around 2500rpm with such a broad range of grunt that it will pull from fifth from 1000rpm. Slowly, but it'll do it. The turning circle is typically wide which means it's hard work in city and suburbs.

Brakes are adequate. But now, in the dirt through some long, lonely gravel roads and brutal rocky outcrops near Perth, it's a different machine. Engage 4WD Low via the twist dial on the dash and it'll idle up steep hills and hold pace to a crawl while descending.

The suspension remains firm but reveals its necessary compliance in hard conditions. The seats are reasonable - heaven help those in the back - and visibility is very good. Isuzu claim 8.3 L/100km but a six-hour day in the dirt and a freeway ride home resulted in my average of 9.9 L/100km.

Isuzu D-MAX space-cab LS-U

Price: $43,700
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km, roadside assist
Service intervals: 12 months/20,000km
Safety: 6 airbags, ABS, EBD, EBA, TC
Crash rating: 4-star
Engine: 3-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel, 130kW/380Nm
Transmission: 5-spd manual; part-time 4WD
Thirst: 8.3L/100km; 220g/km CO2
Dimensions: 5.3m (L), 1.9m (W), 1.8m (H)
Weight: 1900kg
Spare: Full size

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