Isuzu D-Max VS Mercedes-Benz X-Class
- Class-leading safety tech
- Much more likable to drive
- Broad range
- Engine could be gruntier
- Still a bit noisy
- Prices are up a bit
- Decent range to choose from
- Standard AEB deserves applause
- High-spec model cabins feel plush
- No reversing camera on cab chassis models
- Tighter in the back than some
- No RWD auto
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|
Forget everything you thought you knew about Mercedes-Benz, because the 2018 Mercedes X-Class is the most important thing to happen to the German brand in decades.
I’d go as far as to say that this is up there with the original ML SUV for the Three-Pointed Star – because the X-Class will change the way people think about the company. And, quite literally, the way they see it.
Obviously there’s a history with Mercedes-Benz vans, one that has been successful in Europe, and Australia to a degree.
And while the X-Class will fall under the vans banner by way of the company hierarchy, local sales and distribution will happen in the commercial vehicle dealerships and passenger-car showrooms, too.
|Engine Type||2.3L 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.
Does the Mercedes-Benz X-Class ute move the game on? No, it doesn’t. But what it does do is offer yet another quality vehicle in the highly competitive dual cab ute segment, one that could be very compelling to existing Benz owners looking to get rid of a different brand of ute on their driveway.
And as when the ML came out, the X-Class does some things that should make the competitors sit up and take notice - particularly on the safety front. It mightn’t see the same sales success as an SUV, but there is no doubting it will help change perceptions about the brand. I can't wait to drive it against some competitors in the real world to see how it shapes up.
Still, if it were my money, I'd be holding out for the V6, and I'd probably be having it in the top-spec Power guise.
Is the Mercedes-Benz X-Class the sort of ute that you'd consider? Let us know in the comments section below.
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.
It doesn’t look much like a Nissan Navara, does it? Well, if you read our Facebook comments you might disagree with me, but Benz has hidden the skeleton of its first ute very well under a wider body, despite sharing the same ladder-frame chassis donated by the Japanese company’s ute under a collaboration between Mercedes-Benz and Renault-Nissan.
But, as a company rep said at the launch, “this is no badge-engineered model like the Renault Alaskan” - because it is wider at the front, at the rear, and in the middle. Yep, the entire body has been broadened, not just the guards.
It really does have a more substantial look to it than many of the other utes in the segment; the wide tray and wider track than most combine for a fair bit of road presence, and that’s before you even see the big, proud Benz badge at the front.
When the Concept X-Class models came out, everyone was hoping that’s what we’d see in terms of design. But even though the production model is undeniably more sedate than the show-cars were, it looks good in the metal.
The rear-end’s long, the slim tail-lights are very attractive, and I even like the look of the entry-level Pure model, with its black plastic front bar and halogen headlights… but the high-end Power spec I was primarily driving at the launch - with its LED headlights and chrome exterior highlights - is probably the one I’d want. Shame there’s no AMG body kit, or even a hardtop for the tray as standard on the high spec.
The actual body of the ute is 50mm wider, which should mean more space on offer in the interior, and while it mightn’t sound like much, I’ll tell you more about that in the next section.
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.
It’s simple - the cabin of the X-Class is better if you spend more money. The high-spec models get a nicer cabin trim, and the entry-grade version is, frankly, quite cheap feeling.
The Pure version has a plastic steering wheel, rubber floors, and a plastic gear selector, and while the cloth seats were fine, the centre console in the test vehicle I briefly drove had no lid - just two exposed USB ports. It looks unfinished.
Of course there are a lot of hard plastics, but it’s a work ute first and foremost. But in the Progressive and Power models, you get a leather-lined steering wheel and gear selector and carpet on the floors. These models feel more premium, instantly.
Even better is the Power model, which sees the addition of (fake) leather and microfibre seat trim, plus keyless entry (even if it does have a Nissan key fob rather than a Benz one) and dual-zone climate control (again, from the Nissan parts bin). The bigger media screen adds to the ambience, too - it’s an 8.4-inch infotainment unit, which Benz claims is the biggest in the class… obviously they don’t consider the LDV T60 a class competitor, as that affordable Chinese ute has a 10.0-inch screen with Apple CarPlay (which isn’t available on any X-Class).
If you want, you can get a black roof-liner rather than the ‘cappuccino’ beige finish fitted standard (that’ll cost you $400), plus you can change the look of the dashboard by specifying aluminium ($170) or wood trim ($420), and there’s also the choice of full leather seat trim in black or brown ($1750).
I’ve gotta say, the brown leather seats with the beige headliner and the wood trimming looks very good.
Now to the space: the front seat offers good room and comfort for occupants, and there are bottle holders in the doors, plus a small covered console bin between the seats (in the Progressive and Power models). The cupholders between the front seats are small and shallow - not really suitable for the Large Soy Caramel Latte Takeaway crowd, and there’s bugger-all loose item storage in front of the shifter, either. There is a sunglass holder in the higher-spec models, however.
In the rear there’s not much going on - door pockets that’ll hold a bottle each, but no cupholders to speak of. Map pockets feature, but there’s no centre armrest. All models get a 12-volt outlet in the back, plus two up front (and a fourth in the tub if you choose a pick-up).
Back-seat space is okay, but not terrific. Those who stand around six-foot (183cm) like myself will find it cramped in the rear, with limited headroom, knee room and toe room. It’s not a knees-hard-up-against-the-seat-in-front position, but it’s not far off.
The seat base is quite high, so I found myself stooping a little to see out the window - but kids will be very well catered to. There are dual ISOFIX baby seat attachment points, and three top-tether loops for child-seat fitment, too.
And yes, the extra width that Benz has built into the body does make a very small difference if you want to squeeze three people across the back. But it still doesn’t feel as spacious as an Amarok for width.
At the time of writing, Mercedes-Benz has stated that it is only going to sell the dual-cab version of the X-Class, but a single cab is available in other markets, and could be sold here at a later date. There is no extra-cab/space-cab model.
As for the tray, the internal measurements are 1581mm long (the lengthiest in the class), 1560mm wide (with a 1215mm gap between the wheel arches - wide enough for an Australian pallet). The tray depth is 475mm.
Mercedes-Benz claims every X-Class has a payload of more than one tonne/1000kg, and here’s how they stack up (without options boxes ticked): the X220d manual model is rated at 1067kg; the X250d manual is rated at 1037kg; and the X250d auto is rated at 1016kg.
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 wouldn’t be looking at a Mercedes-Benz if you wanted a bargain offering in any other segment, so why would expect to see such a thing in the ute market?
So, how much does it cost? Here’s a guide of specifications and a price list for each of the different models across the price range - and be prepared, because like most pick-up models, the X-Class range has a lot of variants on offer.
The range is opened by the Pure variant, which is pretty sparsely equipped, but aimed at workers on farms and tradies (and don't they love a Benz badge).
It is visually defined by black-grained bumpers and 17-inch steel wheels, but it still gets power-adjustable side mirrors. You get halogen headlights and tail-lights in this spec.
On the inside there’s piano black vent surrounds, black 'Tunja' fabric trim, plastic floor covering, air-conditioning, cruise control, a plastic steering wheel and gear selector, tyre pressure monitoring, and a 7.0-inch Audio 20 CD multimedia system with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB connectivity and four speakers. It has a reversing camera for the pick-up only - the cab-chassis doesn’t have one.
You can get the Pure model with the choice of two drivetrains at launch, the X220d and the X250d - more on those below.
The entry point to the range is the Pure cab-chassis rear-wheel drive manual, at $45,450 (all prices plus on-road costs). You can have it as a RWD manual pick-up at $46,400, or as a manual with 4Matic four-wheel drive for $50,400.
The X250d Pure 4Matic starts off at $51,450 for the manual cab-chassis and you’ll need to add $2900 for the auto ($54,350). The X250d Pure 4Matic pick-up manual is $52,400, with the auto costing $55,300.
There are a bunch of different optional packs available depending on the trim level - read the Mercedes-Benz X-Class 2018 pricing and specs story for more info.
The next model up is the Progressive, which is visually determined by its body-coloured bumpers with black trim at the front and 17-inch alloy wheels.
It also gets heated side mirrors, a heat-insulated windscreen, rain-sensing wipers, carpet on the floor, a black-grained instrument panel, silver air vent trims, black 'Posadas' fabric upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, gear shifter and handbrake lever, aluminium sill protectors, an eight-speaker sound system with DAB digital radio, a 7.0-inch media screen with Garmin satellite navigation, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The Progressive model is only sold with the X250d drivetrain, but can be had as a cab-chassis in manual ($53,950) or auto ($56,850) guise. If you prefer the pick-up body style, you’ll be spending $54,900 for the manual or $57,800 for the auto.
The flagship model in the range is the Power, which scores chrome-accented bumpers and 18-inch alloy wheels to set it apart from the pack, plus LED headlights and tail-lights.
Other Power goodies include... er... power-folding side mirrors, 'Artico' (fake leather)-trimmed instrument panel with contrast stitching, Artico and 'Dinamica' (microsuede) seat trim, an 8.4-inch 'Comand Online' multimedia system, power front seats with lumbar support, a 360-degree camera system, semi-automated park assist, dual-zone climate control and keyless entry/start.
The Power model can only be had as a pick-up, and the manual will set you back $61,600, while the auto is listed at $64,500.
So it isn’t absolutely loaded with the luxuries you’d find in some of the brand’s passenger cars, but there is some really good news in the safety equipment section below.
Before we get to that, let’s talk accessories for these models, because it’s worth considering that no model comes as standard with a bed liner/cargo liner to protect the tray (you can option one for $899), nor does any model have a soft tonneau cover ($1040) or a hard lid cover ($3020). A roller cover, which the Ford Ranger Wildtrak gets standard, will set you back $3295.
Mercedes also offers not one, but three different types of canopy - the Sports Canopy with roof rails ($5609) or without ($5071), or a less streamlined Touring Canopy with opening windows ($4945). Prices include GST, factory colour-coded painting and fitment.
As for choices of colours, there’s more than black and white. Just expect to pay extra if you want something from the rainbow.
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.
Let’s talk about specs - engine specs, to be precise.
At launch the X-Class comes with a pair of engines you can get in the Navara – both of them have a 2.3-litre four-cylinder diesel engine as the basis.
The entry-level X220d model is offered in Pure spec only, and it uses a single turbocharger to produce 120kW of power and 403Nm of torque. You can get it with a six-speed manual gearbox only, but in rear or 4Matic four-wheel drive.
The next model up the horsepower scale is the X250d, which uses a twin-turbo version of the 2.3-litre engine and has 140kW and 450Nm. It is available in 4Matic four-wheel drive with the choice of a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic.
There’ll be a 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel known as the X350d, which will land here with 190kW/550Nm - this time with 4Matic permanent all-wheel drive, but with a low-range transfer case to separate it from the Volkswagen Amarok (which has permanent AWD but no low-range). It gets here towards the end of 2018, and we’re sure it’ll have a lot of appeal with cashed-up buyers… because it’s going to be expensive. But it’ll have things like paddleshifters and a drive-mode-selection system to help justify the cost.
And while we know the X350d will be the fastest in terms of 0-100km/h acceleration (no exact performance figures are available yet for it), the X250d 4WD claims 11.8 seconds from 0-100km/h. The X220d 4WD claims 12.9sec, and the X220d RWD is a little faster, at 12.5sec.
There is no petrol X Class model available.
While there was no chance to test the towing capability of the X-Class at the launch, Benz claims towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes for a braked trailer for the 4x4 model. The 4x2 is weight rated at 3.2 tonnes, while both have an un-braked trailer limit of 750kg.
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 X220d has claimed fuel use rated at 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres, and as far as we can tell, that’s for both the rear and four-wheel drive models. It’s one of the more efficient vehicles in the class.
The X250d has claimed fuel consumption of 7.9L/100km whether you choose manual or auto, which - again - is good for the class.
We don’t know the exact figure for the X350d V6 model, but expect it to be around the 9.0L/100km mark.
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 X-Class certainly forges its own character in terms of the way it drives, with a fairly impressive experience offered up at the wheel.
Is it as good as I was expecting? Not quite.
But is it better than most of the other utes in the segment? Certainly, it has probably two-thirds of the dual-cab pack shaded.
Where does it fall short? Steering is the first point. There’s a certain slowness when you start to turn the wheel as you’re entering a corner that doesn’t quite live up to what we know from other Benz products - even the Sprinter and Vito vans - and the turning circle is huge, at 13.4m (that's what happens when you widen the track!).
The company has quickened the steering rack compared to the Navara, but it needs to be quicker again to live up to the handling that it’s capable of.
I say that because it holds a great line through twisty stuff: you mightn’t plan to exploit that in day-to-day driving, but it’s nice to know that if the right stretch of road comes up, you won’t be left floundering with a wobbly, truck-like ute experience.
No, the X-Class - with its double wishbone front suspension and five-link coil spring rear suspension setup, offers road manners better than some of the ute-based SUVs out there.
However, on the 19-inch wheels that come as part of the 'Style Package' ($2490 - includes a power rear window, tinted back glass, side steps and roof rails), the ride was more unsettled than expected. Over country back roads it was somewhat jittery, picking up bumps the eye couldn’t see.
So, if you’re expecting an S-Class ride, you might need to reconsider your parameters a little bit. But on first impression it certainly seems less choppy than some of the more affordable utes it fights against… and remember, it is a ute.
The four-cylinder engine in our test car was of the twin-turbo X250d variety, and combined with the seven-speed automatic transmission it did a commendable job. This drivetrain is the pick in the Navara range, and it is in the X-Class line-up … for now. With the X350d coming late in 2018, I’d be tempted to hold out.
I’m not saying the X250d is bad - not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a great drivetrain: smooth and refined at low speeds, with enough grunt to get things moving a little faster if that’s what’s called for. The seven-speed auto has been worked a little by Benz, too, and it offers a crisper shift feel without as much flaring between ratios.
While our video doesn’t show it, we did manage to get a little bit of time in the X-Class off-road, with a stint crossing a bunch of paddocks of Tasmanian farmland.
It wasn’t rock-hopping stuff, but we did get to test out the approach angle (30 degrees) up a steep slippery incline, plus the departure angle (25 degrees) seemed adequate, especially given the tray of the X-Class is the longest in the class.
Another number to throw at you is the ground clearance in millimetres - 221 of them, in fact - which isn’t the best in class, and we touched down once or twice off-road.
But the biggest factor limiting the progress of the X-Class during this very short muddy tour of Tassie was the tyres - our test vehicle was riding on 19-inch alloys with Bridgestone Dueler 255/55 highway rubber, and we found the limit of the tyres well before the limits of the chassis itself.
It employs the same switch-on-the-fly 4WD system as the Navara with a 4x2 (2H) mode being the default setting you’ll run around in day to day, a 4x4 (4H) high-range setting for gravel roads and rougher high-speed tracks, and a 4L low-range setting for slower crawling.
If you’re in 4H, the hill-descent control will work at 8km/h, while 4L will lower that speed to 5km/h. It’s a relatively refined system, but it needs grip to work best - at one stage we descended a slope and the system didn’t reign the ute in as quickly as we would have liked due to a lack of traction.
If the going gets really tough - as it did for us at one point, as we attempted to squirrel our way up a hill at too slow a pace - the rear diff lock, which is standard on all 4WD models, definitely comes in handy. I also learnt at that stage that the hill-descent system also works in reverse, at the same speeds mentioned above, and the surround-view camera (also known as a 360 degree camera) was invaluable in that instance.
What was a bit annoying was the fact the front and rear parking sensors (standard on Power, optional on all other variants) couldn’t be properly disabled. You turn them off, and they only stay disabled for about 10 seconds.
Of course, if off-roading doesn't matter to you, then perhaps consider the Pure model, which is available with the base engine tune and manual transmission in rear-wheel drive. There is no RWD auto available.
There was no towing at launch, but there was a chance to see what it was like with a load on board. In the back of a Pure X250d auto was 650 kilograms of pre-mix concrete bags… a pallet’s worth, in fact, because the X-Class can fit a standard Aussie pallet between its arches, unlike pretty much all the other utes in the segment (except the Amarok).
It drove quite well with the weight in the tray, dealing better with the fidgety bumps that upset the back-end when empty. And while there was some droop to the rear coil spring suspension, it wasn’t bouncy or wobbly, with the extra thick stabiliser bar Benz has used in the back adding a level of surety to the way it changed direction when working with weight.
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.
The X-Class has received the highest accolade in terms of a crash-test rating - it scored the maximum five-star rating when it was tested in 2017, and as Benz was at pains to remind us, that makes it the only ute under the current, stricter criteria to have managed such a score.
What has it got, then? Well, every X-Class has seven airbags, including dual front, driver’s knee, front side and full-length curtain airbags - something the other German-badged ute in the segment can’t claim.
Plus the X-Class has something that no other ute brand can brag about - auto emergency braking (AEB) is standard across all models in the range. The next best offer in the ute segment in that regard is the Ford Ranger, which has a tech pack only fitted standard on the flagship Wildtrak (optional on FX4 and XLT models) with forward-collision warning but no auto braking.
The Benz system also includes lane-keeping assist, a system that buzzes the steering wheel to warn you if you’re colouring outside the lines.
The Ford does, however, have adaptive cruise control included as part of the tech pack, where the Mercedes doesn’t have that on any model, even as an option. But cruise control its standard on all variants.
One thing to consider if you want a cab-chassis model is that there is no standard-fit reversing camera, and Benz doesn’t offer one as an accessory, either. Plus, only the Power has standard parking sensors all around, so you’ll need to option them on the Pure or Progressive grades if you want them.
Where is the X-Class built? Barcelona, Spain, where the Navara is also built for European markets.
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 new X-Class ute will launch with a three-year service deal known as 'ServiceCare Promise. Maintenance' is due every 12 months or 20,000km - whichever occurs soonest - and buyers will also get included roadside assist and a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.
As for the cost? Benz says ServiceCare Promise will see the first visit to the workshop set at $585, while the second will be $930, and the third $835. That total - $2350 over three years/60,000km - may seem steep, but Benz reckons it’s “only $162 per service more than the Navara”.
But it’s still expensive when you consider it against competitor utes. If you don’t do big kilometres, then it’ll be more affordable to own an Amarok, Ranger, HiLux, Triton or Colorado, to name a few.
However, if you pre-purchase the ServiceCare Promise plan, you get a $500 discount - making it $1850 for three years/60,000km of servicing.