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Isuzu D-Max 2020 review: SX Space Cab

Isuzu's D-Max is tough, but has it been technologically left behind?
EXPERT RATING
6.6
In a world where utes have to be more than just tools, does Isuzu's D-Max keep up?

The D-Max range tends to be spartan in more ways than one.

Much like the ancient Spartans, who had a way of forgoing life’s comforts in order to create a warrior society, the D-Max leaves no doubt, even in the way it looks, that it’s all about the work.

Isuzu’s unending commitment to its truck’s sturdy drivetrain has wrapped the D-Max in an ‘unbreakable’ aura, strong enough to challenge the HiLux.

Trouble is, today’s utes are generally expected to do more than just chores. They are multi-purpose, called on to cope with regular commuting , and a lot of us demand they feature today’s essential conveniences (that are more than just garnish).

So, can the D-Max SX Space Cab escape its Spartan guise, or would you be better off looking at its many rivals that have had significant updates more recently?

Read on to find out.

Isuzu D-Max 2020: SX (4X4)
Safety rating
Engine Type3.0L turbo
Fuel TypeDiesel
Fuel Efficiency7.7L/100km
Seating2 seats
Price from$40,300

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   5/10

Our D-Max comes in budget-focused base SX trim level, as a 'Space Cab' in a fittingly fuss-free shade of  ‘Splash White.’

It’s also a 4x2 'Hi-Ride' automatic, bringing the MSRP to $36,300, and our test example featured several of the numerous accessory options available, including alloy side steps ($684), a roller tonneau cover ($2818), and a rubber mat for the tub ($190).

The price places it quite a bit lower than the equivalent HiLux (SR Extra Cab $41,865) but roughly on par with the Ranger (XL Hi-Rider Super Cab $36,790), although when it comes to spec there are some significant let-downs.

Sure, unlike that particular (2.2-litre) Ranger you aren’t short-changed in the engine department, with Isuzu only offering a single 3.0-litre turbo-diesel option, but elsewhere you’re left wanting.

Inside, some boxes are ticked, but on closer inspection the features they're connected to aren’t so swish. Touchscreen? Got that, but I’m not really sure why. There’s no sat-nav, no phone sync (with the exception of a music-only “iPod” mode… ), and some dead ordinary software to work with.

The 7.0-inch touchscreen misses out on sat-nav, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 7.0-inch touchscreen misses out on sat-nav, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

After living with the SX for a week, I kind of wish it just had old-school buttons and a dot-matrix display. It would be easier to use.

At least you get a half-way decent reversing camera, which is the only serious justification for the screen.

Other features? It has the bare minimum. Let’s go through some equipment it doesn’t have. LED headlights – nope (they aren’t even automatic). DRLs or fog lights – nope. Auto wipers – nope. Alloy wheels – nope (you’ll have to make do with steelies). Climate control – nope (it’s old-school air-con). Telescopic steering adjust – forget it.

The D-Max SX misses out on LED headlights. The D-Max SX misses out on LED headlights.

The dot matrix display in the centre of the instrument cluster shows your estimated range, so I suppose that’s neat.

This Isuzu’s spec list reminds me of watching car commercials in the 1990s, and makes you feel lucky that you’ve managed to wrangle air conditioning and cruise control free-of-charge.

The argument could be made that this is clearly a work-spec truck, and all you need are the basics, but at a time when you can get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on an off-the-shelf eBay head unit for around $350 – wouldn’t you rather have a truck you can find your next work site more easily in?

I mean, at least auto headlights… What year is it?

Is there anything interesting about its design?   6/10

The D-Max SX has the visual flair of any other truck in this class – an anonymous aura that says “my driver is wearing hi-vis” or “Yes! I am allowed to park on this side of the traffic cones."

It has dated though over the nine years since this generation first appeared, and even as a Hi-Ride perhaps doesn't have the same presence as the fresher HiLux or Ranger in similar trim.

It’s not overtly ugly and should blend in easily on a work site. Suffice to say, a few inevitable bumps and scratches won’t be noticed as much as they would be on something glitzier.

The D-Max SX has the visual flair of any other truck in this class. The D-Max SX has the visual flair of any other truck in this class.

Inside is basic. Perhaps too basic, with an abundance of thin, cheap plastic panel work, distinct lack of padding anywhere, and just two colours – soft silver and grey.

The 7.0-inch touchscreen doesn’t add much to the equation, with the only available USB port awkwardly sticking out the front of it, and is even difficult to operate with no dials, just buttons that require jabbing.

Blank inserts in the door cards and centre console (where switches for higher grade equipment would go) confirm that you’re in the entry-level model.

Inside is basic. Perhaps too basic. Inside is basic. Perhaps too basic.

It’s rugged though, and far from the premium territory some rivals are getting into with interiors so nice you’d feel bad about putting the truck to work.

The rear-hinged, clamshell rear doors which provide access to the rear part of the cabin are neatly hidden, open to a wide angle, and are easy to operate. So, points for that.

If you’re a fan of doing things the old, hard, and uncomfortable way. You’ll love it then. Spartan sums it up.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

The SX's stripped-back interior design means practicality is somewhat lacking.

It does have fold-away cupholders on either side of the dash, which are actually rare now because they limit the size of the cup they'll swallow.

There are decent cupholders in the centre console though, and a small trench which can fit a phone in front of the gearshift.

There’s a large armrest box and dual glove boxes on the passenger side, but just a small bottle holder and no storage bins in the door that you tend to get with more recent designs.

The front seats appear basic, but proved comfortable, even on a four-hour freeway drive. The front seats appear basic, but proved comfortable, even on a four-hour freeway drive.

The front seats appear basic, but proved comfortable, even on a four-hour freeway drive.

Then there’s the back seat. Like any of the Space Cab's current rivals, it’s a fold-up bench design which only has modest padding, and interesting ergonomics. I wouldn’t want to put anyone I liked back there for longer then about 10 minutes. Then again, who says you have to like your co-workers.

At 182cm tall, sitting behind my driving position, my knees were up against the front seatback, and I had to assume a rather uncomfortable angle when seated back there. You wouldn’t want to be any taller.

The SX's stripped-back interior design means practicality is somewhat lacking. The SX's stripped-back interior design means practicality is somewhat lacking.

Fold the rear seat up and you're looking at pure, unadorned bodywork, but I suppose you could store a few small objects under there.

The rear windows pop open to allow for some airflow, but there are no adjustable air vents for rear passengers.

The Space Cab allows for a healthy tub tray length (1825mm versus the dual-cab’s 1625mm), and the optional roller cover proved handy during a rainy week.

The tray measures in at 1825mm long. The tray measures in at 1825mm long.

If I was going to go full-on with the factory accessories (realizing that many of these SXs will have aftermarket trays) I’d be picking the full under rail tubliner ($716) rather than just a rubber mat.

A tow bar kit ($1098), electronic brake controller ($731), and 12-volt power outlets in the tray ($304 for one, $446 for two) are optionally available, but were not fitted to our test car.

Figures you’ll want to be aware of: The D-Max SX has a useful payload of 1084kg, unbraked towing capacity of 750kg, and 3500kg braked towing capacity (with corresponding 350kg towball download).

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

No matter which D-Max you choose, you’re getting just the one engine, the latest version of the brand’s hallowed (4JJ1) 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel.

It produces nice power figures of 130kW/430Nm, and in High-Rider variants is only available with a six-speed torque converter automatic.

The 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel produces 130kW/430Nm. The 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel produces 130kW/430Nm.

The SX does not get a low-range transfer case and is 4x2 (rear-wheel drive) in the configuration we tested.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

The official combined fuel figure is a surprisingly low  7.5L/100km for this configuration, and over a week of genuinely mixed conditions I recorded a figure of 10.9L/100km at the pump.

The D-Max is diesel only and has a 76-litre fuel tank.

What's it like to drive?   7/10

For all its workhorse brutality, I quite enjoyed driving the D-Max every time I got behind the wheel.

There’s a raw honesty about it, and while there are higher-tech engines out there, none quite compare to toughness this light truck powerplant exudes.

Power is plentiful, helped by the fact you’re only driving the rear wheels, and the six-speed transmission gets by without any major complains from this reviewer.

The steering is heavy, requiring some genuine muscle to turn-in. The steering is heavy, requiring some genuine muscle to turn-in.

In some ways, simplicity is a better solution for work purposes than Ford’s high-tech and busy 10-speed that comes with in high-spec 2.0-litre Rangers.

It’s smart too, quickly (occasionally clunkily) shifting down when descending. A useful attribute for saving brake pads when you’re carrying things.

That said, this truck is hardly refined. The engine, with its huge cylinders, is unavoidably noisy, and for some reason High-Riders come with all-terrain tyres. I would swap these out for highway terrains if only commuting on tarmac. They’ll be quieter, save you a bit of wear, and might even reduce that fuel consumption figure.

Power is plentiful, helped by the fact you’re only driving the rear wheels. Power is plentiful, helped by the fact you’re only driving the rear wheels.

The steering is heavy, requiring some genuine muscle to turn-in and the suspension proved to be a bit of a mixed bag.

It wasn’t as jarring around the rear as the HiLux can be unladen, but seemed to be quite firm, sometimes making for a jiggly, jolting ride on potholed roads.

What might get to you the most is the lack of padded interior surfaces. Would it hurt to give passengers a soft strip of polyurethane or padded synthetic for your elbows on either side? It’s a bit like riding inside a Lego brick on long journeys.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

6 years / 150,000 km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   5/10

The D-Max has none of today’s expected active safety features. Simple as that. Even more basic versions of the Ranger and HiLux now have auto emergency braking as a minimum, with the Toyota getting the full 'Safety Sense' suite across the range with such luxuries as adaptive cruise control, road sign assist, and lane departure warning.

The D-Max gets dual front, side and curtain airbags that cover the front and back seats, traction control, trailer sway control, hill descent control, as well as electronic stability and brake controls.

Despite being behind the times on the safety front, the D-Max Space Cab retains a four-star ANCAP safety rating, dating back to 2012.

If you love the idea of a D-Max, but want up-to-date safety, the upcoming replacement model promises all of these enhancements, and is aiming for a five-star rating under the current, more demanding ANCAP assessment criteria.

Long range and rural buyers will be happy to know that even the SX comes with a full-size steel spare stored under the tray.

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

Isuzu improved its ownership program last year, and now has an impressive six years of warranty coverage, unfortunately limited to just 150,000km – which commercial buyers might find easy to exceed.

It also includes six years of roadside assist with unlimited kilometre coverage, and a seven-year capped-price service schedule (which has a 105,000km, whichever-occurs-first, limit hidden in the fine-print).

Prices for each service vary from $369 in the first year to a painful $1179 at the six-year mark. They average out to $549 per year for the life of the program.

That’s a bit more expensive than a HiLux, although the D-Max requires servicing less frequently, once a year or 15,000km, compared to the Toyota's six-month/10,000km intervals.

Verdict

For those Spartans looking for a rugged, no-nonsense workhorse, the D-Max SX will do exactly what it says on the tin. Those people will love its breadth of capability.

For modern folk looking for a workhorse they can also live with in relative comfort (as is demanded of many of today’s trucks), there are better equipped, safer options out there. Technology and safety have simply moved on since this truck represented the status quo.

Pricing guides

$41,795
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$28,600
Highest Price
$54,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
LS-M (4X4) 3.0L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN $46,900 2020 Isuzu D-Max 2020 LS-M (4X4) Pricing and Specs
LS-T (4X4) 3.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $54,800 2020 Isuzu D-Max 2020 LS-T (4X4) Pricing and Specs
LS-T High-Ride (4X2) 3.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $47,500 2020 Isuzu D-Max 2020 LS-T High-Ride (4X2) Pricing and Specs
LS-U (4X4) 3.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $48,700 2020 Isuzu D-Max 2020 LS-U (4X4) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
6.6
Price and features5
Design6
Practicality7
Engine & trans8
Fuel consumption7
Driving7
Safety5
Ownership8
Tom White
Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$40,300

Lowest price, based on new car retail price

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