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Isuzu D-Max


Great Wall Steed

Summary

Isuzu D-Max

This has been a long time coming - an all-new Isuzu D-Max. It’s here, and it has changed the game in the ute segment forever. 

Seem like an overstatement? Really, it isn’t. There are elements of the Isuzu D-Max 2021 model which set the pace for the dual cab ute segment. No other pick-up or cab-chassis ute offers as much safety tech, but that’s just the beginning.

In this review we’ll cover off all the important parts of the all-new D-Max, including the cabin space and presentation, safety tech, pricing and specs for the model range, ownership credentials and of course, how it drives - on-road, and off-road. There’s a lot to get through, so let’s get to it.

Safety rating
Engine Type3.0L
Fuel TypeDiesel
Fuel Efficiency8L/100km
Seating5 seats

Great Wall Steed

Great Wall has been China’s best-selling ute brand for nearly two decades, so it’s not surprising to see the company spreading its global footprint into Australia’s hotly contested dual-cab 4x4 ute market. 

What its diesel-powered Steed may lack in performance and overall refinement compared to mainstream rivals, it balances with a huge saving in purchase price. And therein lies the choice of going Chinese - price vs quality.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypeDiesel
Fuel Efficiency9L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

Isuzu D-Max8.3/10

The all-new Isuzu D-Max appears to be a massive step forward for the brand - but perhaps more importantly, it also pushes the entire ute segment ahead, with new safety technologies that are often reserved for luxury brands.

The fact Isuzu has democratised safety across its range is worthy of applause, and it therefore makes it a bit hard to choose a sweet spot in the range. But based on the fact that there are drive-away deals being done, and the D-Max X-Terrain - at less than $60k drive-away - undercuts similar offerings from Ford and Toyota by thousands of bucks, makes it our pick of the range.

That may change once we spend some time in the broad-ranging SX trim line, but for now, the X-Terrain seems hard to pass up. Tell us what you think in the comments below.


Great Wall Steed6.5/10

On face value the Great Wall Steed 4x4 looks like a bargain, with its eye-poppingly low price, one-tonne payload rating and long list of standard features, particularly when compared to entry-level dual cabs offered by the segment leaders. However, those competitors more than make up for that lack of bling with superior all-round safety, performance, comfort, refinement and resale value. So for buyers more concerned about purchase price and creature comforts than any of its shortcomings – and there are quite a few - the Steed 4x4's value for money equation is about right. In other words, it needs to be this cheap to get buyers in.

Is the Great Wall Steed a bargain or is the low price just what it's really worth?

Design

Isuzu D-Max8/10

Say what you will about the vampire grille, there are lots of major changes around the body of the D-Max. It is all-new, and that means it was treated to a clean sheet design that is more modern, more aggressive, more sleek and yet still entirely recognisable as an Isuzu.

It still has smallish headlights, a broad grille, and a recognisable ute silhouette. I think it looks good as a single cab, extra cab or dual cab, and Isuzu has managed to make the D-Max a little bit shorter than it used to be (30mm), but all D-Max models get a longer wheelbase to help settle things down and make it more stable.

Just a word of warning - this part of the review gets heavy on dimensions.

First, here’s a table of the body dimensions:

 

Single cab

Extra cab

Dual cab

Length

5325mm

5265mm-5285mm

5265mm-5280mm

Wheelbase

3125mm

3125mm

3125mm

Width

1870mm

1870mm

1870mm-1880mm

Height

1790mm

1785mm-1800mm

1785mm-1810mm

The dimensions vary depending on the variant and the tray body fitted if it’s a cab chassis. But there’s nothing really out of the ordinary here.

When it comes to load space dimensions, things are also dependent on the tray for cab chassis bodies, but the following figures are for a factory-offered tray. 

 

Single cab-chassis

Extra cab-chassis

Extra cab ute

Dual cab-chassis

Dual cab ute

Cargo floor length

2550mm

2100mm

1835mm

1800mm

1570mm

Width

1777mm

1777mm

1530mm

1777mm

1530mm

Width between wheel arches

-

-

1122mm

-

1122mm

Depth

-

-

490mm

-

490mm

The D-Max isn’t unusual in not offering enough space between the wheel-arches for an Aussie pallet (1165mm by 1165mm), so don’t go buying a pick-up and expect to be able to do the delivery run if it involves pallets.

Okay, so what about payload capacity for the different body styles in the range? Only one dips below the one-tonne expectation, as you’ll seen below - and remember, cab-chassis models will be affected by the weight of the tray body fitted, and these figures are:

 

Single cab-chassis

Extra cab-chassis

Extra cab ute

Dual cab-chassis

Dual cab ute

Payload capacity

1300-1320kg

1240-1250kg

1090-1100kg

1175kg-1200kg

970kg-1080kg

Gross vehicle mass (GVM)

3000kg (4x2) / 3100kg (4x4)

Gross combination mass (GCM)

5850kg (4x2) / 5950kg (4x4)

Towing capacity

750kg unbraked / 3500kg braked

 

You will no doubt want to know the off road dimensions and angles, too. And because there’s no low-riding model any more, even the 4x2 versions - which have the High-Ride chassis - are more accommodating to drivers who wish to jump gutters or need to deal with gravel tracks and potholes.

But to keep it within the realms of use, we’re just covering off the 4x4 models in terms of off-road specs below:

 

Single cab-chassis

Extra cab-chassis

Extra cab ute

Dual cab-chassis

Dual cab ute

Ground clearance mm

235mm

235mm

240mm

235mm

235mm (LS-M),  240mm (LS-U / X Terrain)

Approach angle 

29.6

30.0

30.5

30.0

30.0 (LS-M), 30.5 (LS-U / X Terrain)

Break over/ramp over angle

23.9

23.9

23.8

23.9

23.3 (SX / LS-M), 23.8 (LS-U / X Terrain)

Departure angle

28.9

27.0

24.2

27.0

23.9 (SX / LS-M), 24.2 (LS-U / X Terrain)

Wading depth

800mm

That’s a lot of numerical data to take in. But rest assured, we’ll cover off how the D-Max’s off-road dimensions translate to its ability when we get to the driving section. 


Great Wall Steed6/10

The Steed is deceptively large. Compared to the Ford Ranger dual cab 4x4, it's 235mm longer, 50mm narrower, 40mm lower and its ladder-frame chassis rides on a 3200mm wheelbase, which is only 20mm shorter. Like the Ranger, it has double-wishbone front suspension and a leaf-spring live rear axle, but runs rear disc brakes where the Ford has drums. 

Off-road credentials include 171mm of ground clearance, an approach angle of 25 degrees, departure angle of 21 degrees and ramp-over angle of 18 degrees, all figures which are far from class-leading. Plus there's a large 14.5-metre turning circle (compared to Ranger at 12.7m and Hilux at 11.8m).

It has a relatively slim body profile when viewed from the side, which translates to a relatively short floor-to-roof height, reminiscent of utes past. This means shallower foot wells and higher knee/upper thigh angles that concentrate more weight on the base of the spine, reducing comfort on longer journeys. 

The rear outer seating positions are tight, particularly for tall adults, with limited head and leg room. For those sitting in the centre rear position, headroom is even less. And because the front doors are considerably longer than the rears (like the Amarok), the B pillar’s more rearward location impedes the ‘pathway’ to the rear seat, particularly for those with larger shoes.

Overall panel fit is acceptable, but some areas of trim, like the crooked stitched seam across the dash-pad directly in front of the driver, affect perceptions of quality. 

Practicality

Isuzu D-Max8/10

The first impression you get in higher grade D-Max models is that it has made more than a stride in the right direction - it has looked over its shoulder at the existing interior, and run for the hills to start a new life.

That’s because the cabin has been completely overhauled. The LS-U and X-Terrain versions adopt a class-leading 9.0-inch media screen, while in the lower grades there’s a 7.0-inch screen - which, yes, does look a little too small for the surrounding bezel, but still offers wireless Apple CarPlay and USB-connect Android Auto

The screen is let down somewhat by a lack of volume and channel dials/knobs - instead it has buttons underneath, which are slower and more fidgety, especially when you’re driving. Oh, and the D-Max’s default noises that accompanies every button press is certainly not to Aussie tastes - but you can turn it off, thankfully. 

The LS-U and X-Terrain both get inbuilt GPS sat nav, and the media system’s controls and menus are colourful but perhaps a little confusing. You get used to it - I mean, if you could live with the media screen in the old D-Max, this is going to be like finding a bunch of presents under the tree on Christmas morning.

The materials are of a high perceived quality, including soft-touch plastics on the doors and dashtop - plus the LS-U and X-Terrain models get a really pleasant leather-trimmed steering wheel. To get yourself comfy there is height adjustment for the driver’s seat, reach and rake adjustment for the steering wheel, steering wheel audio and cruise control buttons, and conventional stalks for lights and wipers. And for what it’s worth, our team reckon the seats are more comfy in the D-Max than plenty of the other utes in the class.

There’s a digital driver info screen with digital speedometer, but - like the main screen - it takes a bit of learning. 

The D-Max’s dashboard design is eye-catching, but still packs in all the smarts you’d expect. There’s still a pair of pop-out cup holders on the edges, there’s still a pop-up opening on top of the dash (which works properly, this time around!), and a double glovebox, too. Plus there are big cupholders between the seats, a decent centre console bin, and bottle holders in the front door pockets.

In the back there is a pair of cup holders in a flip-down armrest in the LS-U and X-Terrain, plus all dual cabs get door pockets with bottle holders, and there are rear seat directional airvents, too. 

Space in the second row is good - with the driver’s seat set for my position (I’m 182cm / 6’0” tall)  there was enough space for me to move my knees and toes, and I had a good amount of headroom, too. 

Three adults will be able to fit across the back, but if you have children, keep in mind there are outboard ISOFIX child seat anchor points and a centre-mount top tether point for two top-tether attachments. You have to loop the restraints through behind the outboard headrests. That means you legally can’t fit three baby seats across the back… but that’s normal for this class of vehicle.


Great Wall Steed6/10

The Steed’s 1900kg kerb weight is relatively light for its size and with a 2920kg GVM it’s a genuine ‘one tonner’ with a maximum payload of 1020kg. It’s also rated to tow only 2000kg of braked trailer, but with a GCM of 4920kg it can carry its maximum payload while doing it, which is a practical compromise.

The fully lined cargo bed is 1545mm long, 1460mm wide and 480mm deep. Like most dual-cab utes there’s not enough width between the wheel arches to carry a standard Aussie pallet, but it has four sturdy and well-positioned anchorage points for securing loads.

Cabin-storage options include a bottle holder and upper/lower storage pockets in each front door, a single glovebox, centre console with open storage cubby at the front, two cup holders in the centre and a box with padded lid at the rear that doubles as an armrest. To the right of the driver’s head there’s also a roof-mounted sunglasses holder with a spring-loaded lid, but it’s too shallow to be able to close the lid with a pair of Oakleys inside.

Back-seat passengers get overlooked when it comes to storage, as there are only slim pockets on the rear of each front seat and no bottle holders or storage pockets in the doors. And there’s no fold-down centre armrest either, which would be a useful place to offer at least two cup holders when the rear seat only has two occupants.

Price and features

Isuzu D-Max8/10

A lot of pundits out there have claimed the all-new 2021 D-Max range is too expensive. The counter argument goes that you get what you pay for, and nothing comes for free.

I subscribe to the latter school of thought, and while it has to be stated that Isuzu Australia admits it has been seen as a cheap and cheerful brand in years gone by, the new-generation D-Max will see the company push customers into higher price points than they might otherwise have been willing to pay.

But there’s good reason for the increased cost. The price list starts at $32,200 (MSRP/RRP) before on-road costs, and spans through to the flagship model at $62,900 (MSRP/RRP).

Those are the list prices, but Isuzu Australia has already said that it has drive-away deals running on multiple models in the line-up - the entry level SX cab chassis 2WD, for instance, will be available for $29,990 drive-away, while the flagship X-Terrain has promo pricing of $58,990 on the road - essentially a $10,000 discount straight off the bat!

Okay, let’s break it down in terms of the model grades.

The SX is the broadest reaching badge in the D-Max line-up. You can have it in single-cab, extra-cab and dual-cab body styles, as well as in 2WD/RWD/4x2 (but there is no low-ride model anymore) or 4WD/4x4. All D-Max models come with the same engine, but there’s a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. Here’s a table to make it easier to understand the SX line-up.

ISUZU D-MAX SX RANGE

Drivetrain

Body type

Transmission

RRP



 

4x2

 

Single cab-chassis

Manual

$32,200

Automatic

$34,200

Extra cab ute

Automatic

$38,900

Dual cab-chassis

Automatic

$40,700

Crew cab ute

Automatic

$41,900







 

4x4

 

Single cab-chassis

Manual

$40,200

Automatic

$42,200

 

Extra cab-chassis

Manual

$43,700

Automatic

$45,700

 

Dual cab-chassis 

Manual

$46,700

Automatic

$48,700

 

Dual cab ute

Manual

$47,900

Automatic

$49,900

In terms of standard equipment for the SX, the list comprises: manual air-conditioning, power windows, power mirrors, automatic wipers, a 4.2-inch customisable driver display, a 7.0-inch multimedia screen with wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto, a four-speaker sound system and voice commands, cloth interior trim, rubber flooring, tilt and telescoping multi-function steering wheel, 17-inch steel wheels and a matte grey front grille. Dual cab models have rear seat directional air vents, too.

How many seats in the D-Max? Single cab and space cab/extra cab models have two seats only, while dual cab variants have five seats.

The second tier up the D-Max range is the LS-M. Here are the parameters of this variant: 

ISUZU D-MAX LS-M RANGE

Drivetrain

Body type

Transmission

RRP

 

4x4

 

Dual cab ute

Manual

$51,000

Automatic

$53,000

Considering the step up from the SX to the LS-M? For the extra outlay you’ll score 17-inch alloy wheels, body colour door handles and mirror caps, as well as LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED front fog lights, and inside the sound system gains two additional speakers (for a total of six) while the rear seat occupants get a USB port. 

Above the LS-M sits the LS-U variant, which is more easily differentiated due to a number of exterior changes. First, here are the LS-U options available:

ISUZU D-MAX LS-U RANGE

Drivetrain

Body type

Transmission

RRP

4x2

Dual cab ute

Automatic

$48,900

 

4x4

Extra cab ute

Automatic

$53,900

 

Dual cab ute

Manual

$54,900

Automatic

$56,900

That’s right, you can get a high-grade 4x2 LS-U, or the 4x4 in a few different configurations. As for standard equipment, there’s a decent jump up in terms of spec: 18-inch alloys, a chrome grille, chrome mirror caps and door handles, blacked-out B-pillars, dual-zone climate control, electronic lumbar adjust for the driver’s seat, carpet flooring, a 9.0-inch multimedia screen with satellite navigation, and leather steering wheel. The LS-U dual cab gets an eight-speaker stereo, while the two-seat Space Cab has six speakers - yep, only two seats for the extra cab models this time around.

And the new range topping model is the X-Terrain, and boy do you get some kit for your cash here.

ISUZU D-MAX X-TERRAIN RANGE

Drivetrain

Body type

Transmission

RRP

4x4

Dual cab ute

Automatic

$62,900

The X-Terrain has been to the same finishing school as the Ford Ranger Wildtrak, that’s for sure - so it’s no surprise that there are a bunch of additional sporty extras fitted to this model, including: dark-grey-coloured aero sports bar, side steps, front grille, door and tailgate handles, and side mirrors, dark grey 18-inch wheels, a roller tonneau cover, an under rail tub liner, front and rear underbody spoilers.

Plus the spec list adds keyless entry, push-button start, a leather-accented interior, driver’s electric seat adjustment, and remote engine start over all the LS-U gear.

What’s missing from the entire D-Max range? There is no auto dimming rearview mirror, no seat heating or seat cooling, and no passenger seat electric adjustment. 

And if you’re wondering about accessories, there are more than 50 genuine items in the Isuzu D-Max accessories catalog, including: bull bar and nudge bar options, roof rack, roof box, canopy, tub liner, window tint, headlight protector, bonnet protector, snorkel, side steps, and - of course - floor mats. 

Trying to figure out which colour you’ll choose? There are eight options, but 'Marble White pearl' and 'Magnetic Red mica' are exclusive to LS-U and X-Terrain grades, while the X-Terrain grade has exclusive access to 'Volcanic Amber metallic'. The others are: Mineral White, Cobalt Blue mica, Basalt Black mica, Mercury Silver metallic, and Obsidian Grey mica. All the metallic paint choices add $500.


Great Wall Steed8/10

Available only as a dual-cab ute with five-speed or six-speed manual transmissions and a choice of petrol 4x2, diesel 4x2 and diesel 4x4 drivetrains. It’s also only available in one well-equipped model grade, so every Steed buyer gets a burger with the lot. Albeit a Chinese burger.

Our test vehicle was the diesel 4x4 six-speed manual, which, at only $30,990, presents a compelling value-for-money comparison for those wanting a brand new ute who don’t have big dollars to spend. For example, the cheapest Ford Ranger dual cab 4x4 is the XL with 2.2 litre diesel and six-speed manual at $45,090, and the cheapest Toyota Hilux equivalent is the hose-me-out Workmate 2.4 diesel with six-speed manual at $43,990. 

The Steed’s single model specification also includes numerous features and creature comforts you won’t find on rival entry-level utes costing 30 per cent more. There are lots of chrome body highlights, including roof racks, stainless-steel sports bar and door scuff plates, side steps, cargo bed liner, 16-inch alloy wheels with 235/70R16 tyres and a full-size spare, leather-appointed trim including steering wheel and gear-knob, heated front seats with six-way adjustable powered driver’s seat, electric-folding door mirrors with demisters and indicators, tyre-pressure monitoring and six-speaker sound system with touchscreen, steering-wheel controls and multiple connectivity including Bluetooth, to name a few. A tow bar, tonneau cover and sat-nav with reversing camera are optional.

Engine & trans

Isuzu D-Max7/10

For an all-new engine with a bigger capacity than most other motors offered in this part of the market, it is a little disappointing to see the horsepower figure for the new 4JJ3-TCX unit isn’t a bit higher.

With the power output pegged at 140kW (at 3600rpm) and a torque rating of 450Nm (from 1600-2600rpm), the 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine is aiming for a less strained approach than some of its more highly strung four-pot rivals (with up to 157kW and 500Nm).

In practice the engine is a willing thing - more on that in the driving section below.

The motor is paired to the choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, and there’s the choice of rear-wheel drive (RWD/2WD), or selectable four-wheel drive (4WD/4x4) with high range (2H and 4H) and low range (4L). 

All D-Max models come with the highest possible towing capacity. The towing rating is 750kg for an unbraked trailer and up to 3500kg for a braked trailer. Tow ball down load - when fitted with the genuine Isuzu towing kit - is 350kg across all variants.


Great Wall Steed6/10

The GW4D20B is a Euro 5-compliant 2.0-litre turbocharged common-rail four-cylinder diesel that delivers 110kW at 4000rpm and a relatively small 310Nm serving of torque between 1800-2800rpm.

There’s only a six-speed manual available, so an automatic option would broaden the Steed’s showroom appeal enormously. The 4x4 drivetrain uses a Borg Warner part-time dual-range transfer case with electronic dashboard control, and there’s no locking rear differential.

Fuel consumption

Isuzu D-Max8/10

The official combined cycle fuel consumption figure varies depending on the transmission - but there’s not much in it.

The variance is between 7.7 litres and 8.0 litres per 100 kilometres, across the entire range of engine, transmission, body style and drivetrain configurations.

On test - in a pair of 4x4 automatic utes - we saw a real world consumption figure of 8.9L/100km, which is better than acceptable considering that included urban, highway, country road, gravel track and serious off-road driving.

Fuel tank capacity is 76 litres for all models. There is no long range fuel tank option.

The D-Max range is specced to Euro 5 emissions levels, with between 200g/km and 207g/km CO2 emissions. There is a diesel particulate filter as part of the powertrain, but no Adblue after treatment.

Wondering about a petrol, LPG, hybrid, plug-in hybrid or electric version of the D-Max? There’s not much on the radar just yet, but the brand has stated it wants to offer a hybrid and/or a downsized engine, if the market demands it. 


Great Wall Steed8/10

Great Wall claims a combined figure of 9.0L/100km and at the end of our test the instrument read-out was showing 9.5. That was close to our own figures, based on ‘real world’ trip-meter and fuel-bowser readings, which came in at 10.34, or about average for this segment.  

Based on those numbers, its 70-litre fuel tank should deliver a driving range of around 680km.

Driving

Isuzu D-Max8/10

When a ute is a ute, it's hard to hide its ute-ness. That was evident in the previous generation version of the D-Max, and - truth be told - still is to a degree in the MU-X SUV.

But the new-generation D-Max is a big step up. It is not only more refined, it’s also easier to drive, more comfortable, and gutsier, too.

In our previous reviews of the D-Max the driving portion - on-road or off - has reflected that the company specialises in trucks. Big trucks. Ones that are more agricultural than amazing. But the new D-Max changes that.

During my time driving the new D-Max (and I had a palate cleansing experience in the existing MU-X between loans!), the thing I noticed most was the improved steering.

The old hydraulic system has been ditched in favour of an electric steering setup, which makes the action considerably lighter and more driver-friendly than it was before. No longer does it feel tractor-like - instead, you get an arm-friendly ease of twirling similar to the Ford Ranger, but still with plenty of feel and feedback through the wheel. 

The turning circle is still large at 12.5 metres, but it takes very little effort to perform three- or five-point turns in narrow streets, because the steering is so pliable.

The suspension in the two dual cab models I tested - the LS-U and X-Terrain - is set to be subtle and well sorted in most situations, but there are still some telltale signs of its hard-working origins. There are some jitters from the rear end without a load on board, but it’s not nearly as thumpy as the last model, and indeed is among the best utes in the segment for unladen ride comfort.

With its revised ladder frame chassis, three-leaf rear suspension and independent front suspension, the way the Isuzu team has chosen to tune the new D-Max is a big step forward. At the time of publication we haven’t had a chance to drive one of the D-Max models with the heavy duty suspension - that’s fitted to SX and LS-M models, and is no doubt stiffer for better load carrying ability - but you can rest assured we will cover that off in future reviews.

The engine isn’t as zesty or quiet as you might hope - the Ranger Bi-turbo and even the facelifted HiLux have sizeable advantages in four-cylinder-ute-land, but it still pulls with enough gusto to get away from a line with ease. There’s a fair bit of diesel engine noise, but it’s not nearly as loud as in the previous generation models.

The revised six-speed automatic offers smart, quick and mostly smooth shifts, though it can be a little eager to shift a lot at higher speed. The logic is trying to step between the higher gears to stay in its torque sweet spot - it’s just a bit more eager to use the gearbox than rely on rumbling along in a higher gear. No doubt that’s partly to help save fuel, too. 

The new Isuzu ute has driver aid like active lane keeping assistance, as it uses a camera system to monitor the road to ensure you keep in your lane and adjust the steering if you’re swaying. Plus the blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert systems work really well, and proved handy both at open road speed and when pulling out of parking spots. 

Okay, that’s the on-road part taken care of. What about the off road review? We’ll dive deeper in an Adventure Guide review coming from Crafty soon, but here’s a quick rundown.

Previously, the traction control system could get in the way when you were dipping in and out of ruts, while the lack of a locking rear differential meant the D-Max could be left at a big disadvantage when things got serious. But now the traction control system is much more adaptable, and - in low range - you can engage the standard-on-4WD-models rear diff lock to help you climb treacherous hills.

Compared to before, the D-Max feels more confident off-road. Perhaps not quite as dialled in to the terrain as a HiLux as the steering is a little light in low speed crawling - but that’s a similar criticism of the Ranger, so really, it’s not a huge issue. On test we did note a bit more belly scraping than we expected with 240mm of claimed ground clearance, but that could come down to the extra wheelbase length, and different design elements, too. 


Great Wall Steed6/10

There’s a pleasant whiff of leather when you open the door, but the driving position is compromised by the high floor height and relatively shallow foot-well. For taller drivers this positions the knees  close to the steering wheel, even in its highest position, which can hamper turning, and comfort, at times. Ergonomically wonderful it is not.

The left footrest is well positioned but the vertical section of console right next to it has an uncomfortable sharp-radius edge where the upper shin and knee rest against it. And on the right-hand side, the window control panel at the front of the door-pull also has quite a hard edge where the right leg rests against it. Softer, larger radius edges on both sides would greatly increase driver comfort.

The power steering is too lightly weighted and remains vaguely linear in feel regardless of road speed. The gearing is also too low and requires excessive wheel-twirling relative to steering response, which is required often given its large turning circle and the number of multi-point turns needed as a result.

The 2.0-litre turbo-diesel’s lack of low-down torque is really noticeable below 1500rpm, as it falls off a cliff with what feels like zero turbo boost. The gearshift feel is also a bit notchy and the gear-stick itself has an annoying vibration in fifth and sixth gears.

The ride quality when empty is acceptable if a bit harsh in the rear over bumps, which is not uncommon with leaf-spring live rear axles designed to carry more than a tonne. We loaded 830kg into the cargo bed, which, with a 100kg driver equalled a payload of 930kg, or about 90kg short of its 1020kg maximum rating. 

The rear springs compressed 51mm and the nose rose 17mm under this load, leaving adequate springing capacity. The ride quality also improved noticeably, with minimal decline in steering control and braking response. By keeping the revs up (and therefore turbo boost) it coped reasonably well with stop-start traffic. 

The Steed definitely felt more at home at highway speeds, however. In top gear with the cruise control engaged, it rumbled comfortably within the engine’s peak torque band, showing just 2000rpm at 100km/h and 2100rpm at 110km/h. Engine, wind and tyre noise were unexpectedly low, allowing conversations to take place at normal levels. 

The tyre-pressure monitor displayed in the driver’s information scroll works well (mandatory in the USA and EU) and adds considerable peace of mind, but the info menu should also include a digital speed read-out. A permanent display of the cruise control’s speed setting would be handy, too.

Given its small torque figure and the fact it had close to a tonne on its back, the Steed coped pretty well with our set climb (albeit with the right foot flat to the floor) powering up the 13 per cent 2.0-kilometre gradient at 60km/h in third gear at 2400rpm.

Safety

Isuzu D-Max10/10

Updated 17/09/2020: The Isuzu D-Max has scored the maximum five-star ANCAP crash test safety rating - and it's the first commercial vehicle to achieve that accolade under the stricter criteria from the safety watchdog for 2020.

And we've given the D-Max five stars in terms of its tech inclusions - that translates to a 10 out of 10 for this part of the test.

Why so high? Well, it comes comprehensively kitted out, and even offers a few segment firsts.

Standard on all models is a reversing camera, auto emergency braking (AEB) that works at speeds over 10km/h, but there’s also mis-acceleration control to lessen the likelihood of lower speed bingles. There is all-speed pedestrian detection and cyclist detection as part of the AEB system, and forward collision warning, too.

The D-Max also gets lane departure warning, active lane keeping assistance (between 60km/h and 130km/h), a turn assist system that can stop you from turning in front of oncoming traffic (operational between 5km/h and 18km/h), blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and all automatic models get adaptive cruise control (manuals get regular cruise).

Every D-Max also has auto high-beam lights as well as auto lights and wipers, not to mention speed sign recognition and warning, and driver fatigue detection. Rear parking sensors are on LS-U and above, and the X-Terrain gets front sensors, too.

Perhaps one of the most interesting inclusions is a front-centre airbag - to protect those in the front seats in the event of a side impact. That is required for a five-star ANCAP rating under 2020 criteria, but the D-Max is the first ute to get it. And all D-Max models also have driver’s knee, dual front, front side and full-length curtain airbags, for a total of eight.

As with most other utes, there are dual ISOFIX child seat anchor points and two loop-style top-tether attachments for baby seats, which hook to a centre mounted brace. This is only applicable to dual cab models.


Great Wall Steed6/10

There is no ANCAP rating for this Great Wall so far but the 4x2 variant tested in 2016 achieved only two stars out of five, which is terrible. Still, this one is equipped with dual front airbags, front-side and full-length side-curtain airbags, a three-point seatbelt for the centre rear passenger (but no head rest), ISOFIX child seat anchorage points on the two outer rear seating positions and a top tether for the centre seat position. 

Active-safety features include Bosch electronic stability control with traction control, brake assist and hill start assist, but no AEB. There are also rear parking sensors, but rear view camera is optional (and should be standard).

Ownership

Isuzu D-Max9/10

Whether you’re spending $30,000 or $70,000 on your new ute, there’s a good chance you want it to be reliable.

Well, while we can’t vouch for reliability per se, if there’s a brand with a good reputation for ownership in the ute segment, Isuzu would be it.

The company backs its products with a six-year/150,000km warranty plan, which is among the best of the best. SsangYong has seven years, and Mitsubishi is constantly dabbling there, too.

But Isuzu offers a seven-year capped price servicing plan, with service intervals set every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. The costs are reasonable, considering you don’t have to take it in twice a year (as you do with a HiLux).

The average cost over seven years/105,000km works out at $481.85 per visit. But if you want a rundown on the interval cost, here you go: 15,000km - $389; 30,000km - $409; 45,000km - $609; 60,000km - $509; 75,000km - $299; 90,000km - $749; 105,000km - $409.

For those that are curious, the previous model had an average service cost of $549 over the seven year plan ($3843).

And Isuzu still gives owners seven years of roadside assistance cover at no cost, too.


Great Wall Steed6/10

Three-year/100,000km warranty and three-year roadside assistance. Service intervals and recommended (not capped price) servicing costs start at six months/5,000km ($395) then 12 months/15,000km ($563), 24 months/30,000km ($731) and 36 months/45,000km ($765).