Isuzu D-Max VS GWM UTE
- Class-leading safety tech
- Much more likable to drive
- Broad range
- Engine could be gruntier
- Still a bit noisy
- Prices are up a bit
- Great standard equipment list
- So much better than any Great Wall that has come before it
- Engine hits harder than outputs suggest
- Still lacking a bit of low-speed refinement
- Steering reach adjust only on top spec
- No capped price servicing
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.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
The Great Wall brand in Australia has a mixed reputation. But one thing has always stayed the same - it plays on value and affordability above all else.
This new 2021 GWM Ute - which may also be known as the 2021 Great Wall Cannon - might change that. Because not only is the new dual-cab 4x4 pick-up a value-focused offering, it’s also really quite good.
It takes the brand to a new level. In fact, it takes it to another world compared to the old models; the world of the big-name players.
That’s because you could easily consider this as a closely priced competitor to an LDV T60 and SsangYong Musso - but likewise you might see it as a real budget alternative to the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, Nissan Navara, Isuzu D-Max and Mazda BT-50. It even has some attributes that are more likeable than most of those utes, too.
Read on, we’ll give you the lowdown on the new 2021 GWM Ute.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
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.
The all-new GWM Ute, or Great Wall Cannon, is a very big improvement over any Great Wall ute that has come before it.
It’s good enough to worry the LDV T60 and SsangYong Musso, and with a long warranty backing it up, could also cause some customers considering mainstream, big-name utes to take a look at the reborn and renamed Great Wall Cannon. Talk about bang for your buck! Geddit? Cannon? Bang?
Anyway. Depending on your intended use, you probably don’t ‘need’ anything more than the entry-level Cannon model, though if I was after that more loveable ute experience - not just a work truck - I’d be tempted by the Cannon X, the interior of which is a marked step up in terms of desirability.
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:
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.
Extra cab ute
Dual cab ute
Cargo floor length
Width between wheel arches
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:
Extra cab ute
Dual cab ute
Gross vehicle mass (GVM)
3000kg (4x2) / 3100kg (4x4)
Gross combination mass (GCM)
5850kg (4x2) / 5950kg (4x4)
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:
Extra cab ute
Dual cab ute
Ground clearance mm
235mm (LS-M), 240mm (LS-U / X Terrain)
30.0 (LS-M), 30.5 (LS-U / X Terrain)
Break over/ramp over angle
23.3 (SX / LS-M), 23.8 (LS-U / X Terrain)
23.9 (SX / LS-M), 24.2 (LS-U / X Terrain)
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.
The all-new GWM Ute is a big unit. It has that truck-like stance thanks in part to its huge, high grille, and you have to love that all GWM Ute models come with LED headlights, LED daytime running lights and LED tail-lights, and the front lighting is automatic, too.
To my eye, it appears to have drawn some inspiration from the likes of the Toyota Tacoma and Tundra models and it’s even reminiscent of the current-look HiLux, with that front-end design offering a bold appeal. And if you are wondering what that big symbol on the grill stands for, it’s the Chinese model branding for this vehicle - in its home market the Ute goes by the model name “Poer”, while other markets name it “P Series”.
The profile view is dominated by the eye-catching 18-inch alloy wheels, which are clad in Cooper tyres - nice. And it’s a pretty attractive side-on view - not too curvy, not too busy, just a conventional pick-up truck look.
The rear has a neat and tidy look, though some might not be fans of the clear-look tail-light treatment.
My favourite features are at the back end, including the spray-in tub liner / tray lining, which is so much better than a rubber or plastic-shell lining - it offers better durability, protects the paint, and never looks shonkily fitted as some plastic liners do.
Plus the Cannon L and Cannon X models also get the excellent tailgate step, which pops out of the top of the strut-equipped tailgate and means you don’t have to do your yoga stretches before trying to get up in the tray.
Now, it is large, this new ute. It measures 5410mm long on a 3230mm wheelbase, and also spans 1934mm tall and 1886mm wide, meaning it’s about the same size as a Ford Ranger, if you’re wondering.
There is no off-road review as part of this early launch-loan test, but if you want to know the important angles, here they are: approach angle - 27 degrees; departure angle - 25 degrees; ramp / breakover angle - 21.1 degrees (unladen); ground clearance mm - 194mm (laden). Want to know how it goes off-road? Stay tuned, we’ll do an Adventure review soon.
The interior design has come leaps and bounds beyond what we’ve seen from the Great Wall models of the past. This is a contemporary cabin design, with a big 9.0-inch media screen dominating the design, and much better quality materials than before. The finishes aren’t as fetching in the low- and mid-grade models, but the top-spec Cannon X’s leather trim with quilting hits the nail on the head for those who want a bit of luxury for little money.
Read the next section to see how the interior stacks up from a practical standpoint, and check out our interior images below.
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.
Big outside, spacious inside. That’s a good way to describe the GWM Ute.
In fact, if we start from the back seat, it’s fair to say the new Cannon range is among the roomiest in the class, with plenty of space for someone my size - 182cm or 6’0” - to have ample space. With the driver’s seat set for me, I had good toe, knee and head room in the back row, and there’s good width to the cabin as well - plus there’s no huge transmission tunnel intrusion, so three adults won’t be an issue.
If you’re going to use the ute for child transport, there are dual ISOFIX child seat anchors and two top-tether points as well. They’re not the fabric loop type, either - they’re a fixed steel anchor in the rear wall of the cabin. The Cannon X’s smart 60:40 rear-seat layout is something that could win some buyers over, especially those with kids.
Nice touches for rear-seaters include directional air vents, a USB charge port and 220-volt powerpoint to keep devices charged up, while there are map pockets and bottle holders in the doors, but no fold-down armrest in the lower two grades, and no rear cup holders in any grade.
Up front there is okay adjustment for the driver’s seat but, again, the lack of reach adjustment for the steering wheel on the Cannon and Cannon L models seems like crude cost-cutting, as it should be standard if you can get it.
I found myself not being able to get my ideal driving position because of the lack of reach adjust on the Cannon L, and there are a few other ergonomic quirks, too. Things like the buttons for the driver info display - the OK button on the wheel requires a three-second-press to show the menus - and the actual usability of it is a bit hit and miss, with it seemingly impossible to get the digital speed readout to stay on screen when you have lane keeping active.
You also have to go through the screen to adjust those settings, and the lane keep system will be on as default every time you start the car. Plus a digital display for the set air-con temperature - rather than through the screen - would be nice, and the seat heating is activated by a button on the console but you have to adjust the level through the screen. Not excellent.
That said, the screen is mostly excellent - quick to react, clear in its display, and pretty easy to get to grips with, but it is especially good if you plan to use it primarily as a mirror for your smartphone. I had no issues with the Apple CarPlay connectivity across multiple drives, and that’s more than I can say for some rival utes. The sound system is only okay, too.
There is reasonable storage, with a pair of cupholders between the seats, bottle holders and trenches in the doors, and a small storage section in front of the gear shifter and a covered centre console with an armrest cover. That armrest is annoying in the Cannon and Cannon L models, as it moves forward too easily, meaning the lightest lean can jolt it forward. In the Cannon X, there’s a better, more sturdy console design.
The glovebox is reasonable, there’s a sunglass holder for the driver, and overall it is fine for interior practicality but doesn’t set any new benchmarks.
The materials are where things feel a bit cut-price, especially in the Cannon and Cannon L. The fake leather seat trim isn’t very convincing, while the leather trim on the steering wheel (Cannon L up) isn’t terrific either. I do like the design of the wheel, though - it looks kind of like an old Jeep or even the PT Cruiser. Not sure if that was intentional or not.
Price and features
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
Extra cab ute
Crew cab ute
Dual cab ute
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
Dual cab ute
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
Dual cab ute
Extra cab ute
Dual cab ute
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
Dual cab ute
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.
You used to be able to get a Great Wall ute for as little as twenty grand - drive-away! That’s not the case anymore, though… well, not with the GWM Ute, which has taken a big step up in price, but still remains one of the most affordable dual-cab 4WD utes on the market.
The three-tier GWM Ute range kicks off with the entry-level Cannon variant, which lists at $33,990 drive-away.
That price scores you 18-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured bumpers, LED headlights with LED DRLs and active fog lamps, side steps, powered mirrors, keyless entry, push-button start, and a shark-fin antenna.
Inside it comes with fake ‘Eco Leather' seats, manual air-conditioning, carpet flooring, and a polyurethane steering wheel with paddle shifters for the automatic gearbox. Even at this grade you get a 9.0-inch touchscreen media system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the stereo has four speakers as well as AM/FM radio. A second 3.5-inch screen lives in the driver's binnacle, and it includes a digital speedometer and trip computer.
The base model Cannon also has a USB power outlet for a dash camera, three USB ports and a 12-volt power outlet in the rear, and rear-seat directional air vents as well.
Step up to the Cannon L, which costs $37,990 drive-away, and you net a few desirable extras for your additional dough. The Cannon L is the vehicle you see in the video review.
The Cannon L can be picked from the outside thanks to its "premium" 18-inch alloy wheels (which it shares with the model above it), while at the back you get a spray-in tub liner, a sports bar, and easy-down-up tailgate, a deployable cargo ladder and roof rails.
Inside, the front seats are heated, the driver's seat has power adjustment, there's a leather steering wheel, as well as climate control air conditioning (single zone), an auto-dimming rearview mirror, tinted rear glass, and the sound system jumps to a six-speaker unit.
The top-of-the-range GWM Ute Cannon X model overshoots the psychological barrier of forty grand, with a drive-away price of $40,990.
The top-spec model gets a pretty upmarket treatment, though, with quilted real leather seat trim, quilted leather door trims, power adjustment for both front seats, a wireless phone charger, voice recognition, and a 7.0-inch digital driver screen. The front also sees a redesigned centre console layout, which is cleverer than the lower grades.
Plus the back seat adds a 60:40 split fold setup, as well as a fold-down armrest. The cabin further gains reach adjustment for the steering (which really should be standard on all grades - instead, the lower specs had tilt adjust only), and the driver has selectable steering modes, too.
So, what about standard safety technology? It used to be that Great Wall models largely went without the sort of safety gear you found in mainstream utes. That’s no longer the case - see the safety section for the breakdown.
Colours available for the GWM Ute range include Pure White at no cost, while the Crystal Black (as seen in our video), Blue Saphire, Scarlet Red and Pittsburgh Silver add $595 to the price.
Engine & trans
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.
Under the bonnet of the GWM Ute is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. We know, that sounds small, and the power outputs aren’t enormous either.
GWM says the diesel mill pumps out 120kW of power (at 3600rpm) and 400Nm of torque (from 1500-2500rpm). Those figures are below most rivals in the mainstream ute scene, but in practice the ute offers pretty strong response.
The GWM Ute is fitted only with an eight-speed automatic transmission, and all grades have paddle shifters. It has an on-demand four-wheel drive system (4WD or 4x4), with the drive mode selector essentially dictating proceedings. In Eco mode the ute will essentially run in 4x2 / RWD, while in Std/Normal mode and Sport mode it powers all four wheels. There is a low-range transfer case and a rear differential lock in all grades, too.
The gross vehicle mass (GVM) for the ute is 3150kg, and the gross combination mass (GCM) is 5555kg, according to the brand.
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.
The official combined cycle fuel consumption figure for the Great Wall Cannon model range is 9.4 litres per 100 kilometres, which is decent considering this is a two-tonne-plus truck.
In our testing, which comprised urban, highway, back road and country driving, we saw an at-the-pump real-world fuel economy figure of 9.9L/100km.
The GWM Ute has a 78-litre fuel tank capacity. There is no long-range fuel tank option and the engine doesn’t have fuel-saving start-stop technology as some of its rivals do.
The GWM Ute runs at Euro 5 emissions standards, with a diesel particulate filter (DPF) fitted. Its emissions are stated at 246g/km CO2.
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.
The engine is a huge highlight here. In the old Great Wall Steed, the engine and transmission were its biggest negative. Now, though, the GWM Ute’s powertrain is a really strong offering.
It isn’t the most refined engine in the world, but it is punchier than its outputs suggest it probably should be. There’s strong pulling power across a broad spectrum of the rev-range, and in rolling acceleration it has enough torque to push you back in your seat.
It’s just that when you take off from a standing start, there’s plenty of turbo lag to contend with. It’s hard to get away from a traffic light or stop sign without having to think ahead about the lag you’re going to encounter, so that’s something that could be better - most of the mainstream utes have less turbo lag from a standing start.
The engine teams well with the eight-speed automatic transmission, which is pretty smart in the way it behaves, and mostly does what you’d expect of it. There is some tendency to rely on the engine torque and labour gears, to the point that there’s excessive vibration noticeable (you can even see the rearview mirror shaking), but I’d prefer that than an overactive transmission that didn’t rely on the grunt available to keep things moving.
There are paddleshifters if you want to take matters into your own hands, though I wish the actual gear selector had a manual mode, which would make it easier to manipulate the ratios when cornering, as the turning action is pretty laborious and you can get caught mid-bend wanting to change up or down a gear.
Note - our drive loop for this launch test was primarily on paved roads, and we didn’t do a load test as part of this early preview drive. Stay tuned to see how the GWM Ute copes with a Tradie test where we push it to its GVM limits, and how it handles itself in the rough stuff when we do an Adventure review.
I did, however, drive on some unsealed gravel roads, and was largely impressed by the handling, control and comfort on offer, aside from an overactive stability and traction control system that tends to chew away at your power when you’re accelerating out of a slippery corner, causing it to feel a tad bogged down at times.
But in other ways, the GWM Ute was great to drive on-road, with a comfortable and mostly composed ride, especially at higher speeds. It can still feel like a ladder-frame chassis ute with leaf-spring suspension and oversized wheels when you’re encountering lumps and bumps at low speeds, but it certainly felt better to drive and more comfy in that situation than a HiLux without weight on board.
The steering is hefty and fine to operate, with nice light weighting at lower speeds and, when the lane keeping assist system is disabled, there’s decent feel and heft at higher speeds. But that lane-keep system can otherwise be overly assertive, and I found myself wanting to disable the system every time I drove the vehicle (which you have to do by pressing a button, then finding the correct section on the menu on the media screen, then toggling the ‘switch’). I hope GWM can find a way to make this simpler and smarter.
Indeed, that was another criticism - the lane assist system seemingly overrules the ability to have a digital speed readout on the 3.5-inch cluster. I know I prefer to watch my speed as a matter of priority.
All in all the drive experience is a good one, considering the price of the ute. Sure, a five-year old Ranger or Amarok is still going to feel more refined, but you won’t be getting that ‘new car’ feeling, and you might be buying someone else’s problems… for almost the same money as you can buy a brand-new Great Wall Cannon model.
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.
Safety has long been a key consideration for those in the market for budget-focused utes. It used to be that if you bought a cheap ute, you were deciding to forego advanced safety technology.
That’s not the case nowadays, though, with the new GWM Ute offering an extensive range of safety tech that is at the benchmark level for established ute brands.
The range comes as standard with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) that works between 10km/h and 130km/h for vehicle detection, while it can also detect and brake for pedestrians and cyclists from 5km/h to 80km/h.
The ute also features Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keep Assist, the latter of which operates between 60km/h and 140 km/h, and can help keep you in your lane by actively steering.
There’s also blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, as well as speed sign recognition, and the usual array of braking and stability assistance systems. Also of note is the standard-fit four-wheel disc brakes (as opposed to rear drums, like most utes still have) and an electronic park braking with auto-hold system. There is also hill descent control and hill-hold assist.
The GWM Ute Cannon model has a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, as well as front kerbside cameras to help you see ahead. The Cannon L and Cannon X models have a surround view camera system - which is one of the best this tester has used - plus those grades add front parking sensors as well.
The GWM Ute range has seven airbags, with dual front, front side, full-length curtain and front centre airbag protection, the latter of which is designed to prevent head clashes in side-impact crashes.
That said, it hasn’t yet been awarded an ANCAP crash test rating. We’ll have to see if it can max out like the D-Max and BT-50, which this ute almost mirrors for safety tech.
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.
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.
The Great Wall brand - now GWM - has pumped up its warranty cover to be seven years/unlimited kilometres, which makes it one of the best in the ute class for warranty. Better than a Ford, Nissan, Mazda or Isuzu, equal to the SsangYong, but not quite as good as the Triton (10 years).
The brand also offers five years of roadside assistance for free, which should put some potential customers’ minds at ease over potential reliability concerns.
There is, however, no capped price servicing plan. The first service visit is due at six months, before a regular maintenance schedule with intervals set every 12 months/10,000km, which could be a tad annoying for those who do a lot of mileage.
Got questions about Great Wall reliability, quality, issues, problems, faults or recalls? Head to your Great Wall problems page.