Isuzu D-Max VS Toyota Hiace
- Class-leading safety tech
- Much more likable to drive
- Broad range
- Engine could be gruntier
- Still a bit noisy
- Prices are up a bit
- Hugely improved over predecessor
- Class-leading safety
- Better engines than before
- More expensive
- No barn doors available
- Could be too large for some customers now
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 Toyota HiAce has become a staple of Aussie culture. More than 335,000 of them have been sold here since 1979.
But no-one really wants to drive a HiAce, do they? It's a work van. A box on wheels, typically white, and often unwashed. And for the past 15 years the HiAce has barely changed - though that hasn't stopped it from being the go to option for tradies and couriers. It's been number one on the sales charts for pretty much that whole time.
So how does this all-new HiAce stack up? And why does it now have a bonnet? Read on to find out.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
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.
There is no doubt that the new Toyota HiAce has been worth the wait. Owners and drivers of the previous-generation model won't know themselves when they sit inside the new version, the improvements are that big and that plentiful.
It has been the number one seller in the segment for a long for a reason - and now there are even more reasons for it to retain its top spot... provided a compact body isn't one of your priorities, because it's considerably bigger than before.
We can't wait to see how it compares to its rivals - we'll aim to get all of the main names together for a comparison test later this year.
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.
Like all new models that have seen a pretty dramatic front design change, it might take a while for you to come to grips with the new look of the HiAce, which now has a 'semi-bonnet'.
The protuberance at the front not only improves cabin comfort and ease of maintenance, it also helps improve the safety standards in the new Toyota van. There's a better frontal impact zone which this time doesn't include the driver's knees.
Look, I think the previous HiAce looked a bit mean. It was unapologetic in its boxiness, and it aged really well. It isn't often a vehicle lasts a decade and a half without any major changes.
Make what you will of the front design, which has halogen headlights (no LED daytime running lights or LED headlights, which is a bummer) and the choice of either the hard-wearing black bumpers, or colour coded bumpers if you option them.
In a first for the segment, there's a digital camera monitor rearview mirror that is optionally available - it uses a camera on the back of the van with a live link to the switchable rear-vision mirror, which means that if you've got a full load of people or parcels obscuring your view, you can use the live feed from the camera instead. It's brilliant.
The good news for buyers is that there's still plenty of choice when it comes to size and spec. There's the existing 6.2-cubic-metre LWB (long wheelbase) version, or the SLWB (super long wheelbase) with 9.3 cubic metres of cargo space.
The dimensions are dramatically different, though. No longer is this the sort of van that'll slot into a tight city parking space.
In LWB guise it now measures 5265mm long, 1950mm wide and 1990mm tall (compared to 4695mm long, 1695mm wide and 1980mm tall). And the wheelbase has been stretched by a massive amount - up from 2570mm to 3210mm.
The SLWB version is huge, at 5915mm long, 1950mm wide and 2280mm tall (compared to the existing model's 5380mm length, 1880mm width and 2285mm height). Likewise, the wheelbase has jumped from 3110mm to 3860mm.
There is no hiding the size changes, and there has been an impact inside the cabin, too. See the interior photos below to get an idea.
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.
Any mid-sized van has to put practicality at the forefront, with enough storage and cabin smarts to make living with it day to day not just amenable, but enjoyable if possible.
Not only that, it should be easy to get in and out of. The ingress and egress of the existing HiAce was hampered by the fact you sat on top of the engine and had to climb over the wheel arch. That's not the case this time around, and the seat height has been lowered by 50mm, with a much, much better driving position as a result.
The seat itself is comfortable for the driver, with six-way adjustment and a level of support and comfort that the previous model was nowhere close to - trust me, I drove it back-to-back, and the difference is night and day. Plus that lower hip entry point makes for a much easier entry and exit if you happen to do that a lot in your day to day use of the van.
The materials used are all of a decent quality, and Toyota has thought of storage options, too, with a number of cup and bottle holders across the dash and in the doors as well. There's no centre storage area or arm rest unless you buy the Crew van or the Commuter bus.
There are two seats up front in all models sold here, but you can get a Crew Van model with a second row seat setup consisting of three positions (with two ISOFIX child-seat anchor points and even curtain airbag protection).
As for infotainment, there's Toyota's 7.0-inch touch screen media system with FM/AM/DAB digital radio, a CD player, a single USB input, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and voice control. This screen is able to be retrofitted with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which will be offered from the fourth quarter of 2019. Purchasing before then? It'll be free to add those smartphone mirroring apps.
That's the front of the cabin - in the rear there's a bit to talk about, too.
All HiAce van models come with dual sliding doors, including glazing on the passenger side. Lots of rivals ask you to pay extra for a sliding door on the driver's side.
The rear door situation isn't as impressive - at launch, and for the foreseeable future, there won't be barn doors available. That could rule this vehicle out for you, especially if you typically fork loads in - the side door apertures are 990mm wide on the LWB model, but there's a 1250mm door gap on the SLWB, meaning you can side-fork a pallet in.
Here are the cargo dimensions for each of the different versions of the HiAce van - remember, the SLWB model also gets a high roof as standard:
|Cargo length||Cargo width||Width between wheel arches||Cargo height||Cargo volume|
|HiAce LWB Crew||N/A||1760mm||1268mm||1340mm||N/A|
Payload capacity varies depending on the model. Here's a weight table - I promise it's easier than trying to read the figures.
|Kerb weight||Gross vehicle weight||Payload|
|LWB petrol manual||1720kg||3200kg||1080kg|
|LWB petrol auto||1735kg||3200kg||1065kg|
|LWB diesel manual||1835kg||3300kg||965kg|
|LWB diesel auto||1845kg||3300kg||955kg|
|LWB Crew diesel auto||1925kg||3300kg||875kg|
|SLWB petrol auto||1905kg||3200kg||1295kg|
|SLWB diesel auto||2025kg||3200kg||1175kg|
|Commuter diesel auto||2215kg||3250kg||1035kg|
All van models come with six tie-down points, while the Crew model has four tie-downs.
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.
Prices are up on all models in the HiAce range, but as we've covered up above, you're getting more metal for your money.
Here's a price list to make it easier to figure out the model range, and an indication how much the model range has increased in cost this time around.
|Variant||Petrol manual||Petrol auto||Diesel manual||Diesel auto|
|LWB||$38,640 (up $4170)||$40,640 (up $3110)||$42,140 (up $4610)||$44,140 (up $4060)|
|LWB Crew||-||-||-||$47,140 (up $5020)|
|SLWB||-||$48,640 (up $2950)||-||$52,140 (up $2880)|
|Commuter||-||-||-||$67,140 (up $4110)|
|Commuter GL||-||-||-||$70,140 (new)|
All LWB and SLWB van models come with dual rear sliding doors (passenger side glazed), 16-inch steel wheels with a full-size spare, auto headlights (with auto high beam), as well as halogen headlights, tail-lights and daytime running lights.
The interior gear consists of a 4.2-inch multi-info display with digital speedometer and trip meter, a leather-accented steering wheel with reach and rake adjustment, fabric seat trim, sunglass holder, two 12-volt DC sockets, USB and auxiliary ports, a two-speaker stereo system and the aforementioned 7.0-inch media screen with sat nav.
The LWB Crew model adds halogen front fog lamps, body coloured front and rear bumpers with colour-coded door handles, chrome garnishes front and rear, and dual sliding rear doors with opening windows. Of course, this version also gets a second-row three-seat bench with 60:40 folding and two ISOFIX points, along with a rear step light and a centre console tray for extra front cabin storage that also includes rear seat air vents. The Crew model also gets the digital rear view mirror with auto-dimming function as standard.
The Commuter model is a 12-seat bus, a passenger-side sliding door, full-length windows, a roof escape hatch, interior lighting, a four-speaker stereo, air conditioning vents for all positions. It misses out on front side and full-length curtain airbags, though.
There's a GL version of the Commuter which gets LED daytime running lights, halogen fog lights, body coloured bumpers and door handles, chrome finishes, a power side door, increased insulation and acoustic glass, 16-inch alloy wheels, fake leather seat trim, six rear USB ports, eight reading lights, a rear air-con panel, a six-speaker stereo and the digital rear view mirror.
Customers who wish to have colour-coded bumpers can option them for $600, and the digital rear view mirror and front fog lamps can be had for $1000, or the lot can be bundled for a cost of $1600.
Of course there are dozens of accessories for the new HiAce, most of which have been designed and developed in Australia. Items like the internal ladder rack, exterior ladder rack, floor mats, aluminium interior panels, aluminium window protectors, and there's a conduit caddy for the roof rack system, too.
Colours for the new HiAce range are limited by class standards. There are three options for the work van models - French Vanilla (white), Quicksilver Mica (not for the Commuter model) and Goldrush Metallic (champagne - only for SLWB). The Commuter GL versions have Light Blue Armour and Goldrush (champagne) metallic options. For context, you can choose from more than 100 colours if you're buying a Ford Transit Custom.
So for this section the HiAce scores a 6/10, but it makes up for it when you consider the standard safety equipment - see the section below.
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.
Things have changed under the bonnet for the new-generation HiAce - there's a choice of two new engines.
The most popular will be the 2.8-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine, which is familiar from the HiLux, Fortuner and Prado. In this application it has a diesel particulate filter with a manual burn-off switch, and - for the first time for this diesel engine - there's start-stop technology that shuts the engine down in traffic to save fuel.
With the six-speed automatic transmission in the van range the diesel motor produces 130kW of power (3400rpm) and 450Nm of torque (1600-2400rpm). With the six-speed manual the power is still 130kW, but torque is lower, at 420Nm (1400-2600rpm).
The Commuter version of the HiAce has a detuned diesel-auto drivetrain, with 120kW (at 3600rpm) and 420Nm (1600-2200rpm).
The other powertrain is the horsepower hero - a 3.5-litre petrol direct-injection V6 with the choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. It offers up 207kW of power at 6000rpm and 351Nm of torque at 4600rpm.
For context, that puts the petrol engine at an advantage of 75 per cent for power and 44 per cent for torque compared to the existing 2.7-litre four-cylinder... but there is a price to pay in terms of fuel economy. See below for more on that.
Braked towing capacity is rated at 1900kg for the manual diesel van, 1500kg for the diesel-auto and petrol-auto models, and 1400kg for the petrol manual. The unbraked capacity is 750kg on all models.
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.
Diesel vs petrol - you may not even consider weighing up the options, because there's something to be said of diesel fuel economy compared to petrol fuel use.
The diesel manual LWB model uses a claimed 7.5 litres per 100 kilometres (previously 8.1L/100km), and the most popular version - the diesel auto LWB - has claimed combined cycle fuel consumption of 8.2L/100km (previous model: 8.7L).
Choose a LWB Crew or SLWB van - both of which are diesel-auto only - and claimed fuel use is 8.4L/100km (previously 9.2L).
As for petrol consumption, the figure is 12.4L/100km for the manual, and 12.0L/100km for the auto. The existing four-cylinder petrol had consumption of 9.8L (auto) and 10.1L/100km (manual).
Fuel tank capacity is 70 litres, no matter which model you choose. There's no long range fuel tank available.
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.
It's so, so different to the previous model. And so it ought to be.
You sit in a much more comfortable position, and the ease of getting in and out is going to make for fewer sore backs.
And when you turn the key, there's less rumble, vibration and clatter from the engine... partly because you're not sitting on top of it, but partly because of the inherent refinement that the new diesel (and petrol) engine offers.
I got to drive the petrol manual, the diesel auto and the previous-generation version over the same test track at Toyota's Centre of Excellence in Melbourne, and it gave a great indication of how the new model performs.
If you're the kind of driver who is always in a hurry, the petrol could be perfect for you. It gathers pace with ease, easily out-accelerating the diesel. The auto will be even better than the manual, which has a rev-matching system and offers truly compelling range-opening model.
The diesel auto - which is the one about 90 per cent of customers will buy - is markedly better than its predecessor. It revs more smoothly, the transmission is smarter (six gears vs four will help!), and it's so, so much quieter in the cabin, too.
From the driver's seat you feel the extra width of the new model - not just because of how planted it feels on the road, but just the general airiness of its roomier cabin makes you feel like you've got room to move.
There's less thinking required when it comes to driving it, too. There's still hydraulic power steering, but its a bit lighter and more direct than before, meaning less arm work - a welcome change, as the existing version was a tiring thing to drive.
The turning circle has been increased - it was 10.0m for LWB models and is now 11.0m, while the SLWB versions were 12.4m and are now 12.8m - that's just physics, though, because the wheelbase has been stretch by roughly half a metre!
But it is very easy to manoeuvre, and no longer is there that odd “sitting in front of the turning wheels” feeling that the existing cab-forward version had. The visibility from the driver's seat is great, and on test, the safety systems worked a treat.
In terms of ride comfort, we might have to reserve judgment to a degree. Almost every model on test had a ballast over the rear axle of between 200 and 300 kilograms. The real test might come when its running around town with nothing in the cargo zone - but all indications suggested that the level of comfort and compliance is a great improvement over the previous model, and even up there with the best riders in the segment.
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.
That's right - it gets 10 out of 10 for safety, because this model clearly sets the benchmark in the van segment.
The new-generation HiAce range has been awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP crash test rating - and it's the only van to have been tested under the safety watchdog's strictest criteria ever.
Standard on all models is forward collision alert with full-speed auto emergency braking (AEB) including day and night pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection. Plus there's lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, road sign detection and alert, auto high beam headlights, and a reversing camera with front and rear parking sensors.
This thing is absolutely loaded - about the only thing it's missing is adaptive cruise control, which is arguably a convenience feature more than a safety nanny.
The airbag count is seven - dual front, front side, curtain and driver's knee protection included. The Commuter and Crew models also get curtain airbag protection.
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.
Toyota is now offering a five-year/160,000km warranty plan on all HiAce models used for commercial purposes, while private buyers enjoy five years/unlimited kilometres. That's good, but not great for the segment.
What gives it a bit of an advantage is that the drivetrain is covered for up to seven years if you have evidence of logbook servicing.
On that topic, the HiAce retains its shorter-than-expected six-month/10,000km maintenance intervals, which could mean a few days out of action if you cover a lot of kays in a year.
But the service costs are competitive: the petrol versions cost $180 per service, and diesel models are $240 per visit. That is for the duration of the three-year/60,000km capped price service plan, and Toyota has a widget on its website that allows you to calculate what the costs will be once that period is over.
If you have resale concerns, you really ought to forget them - the previous version had the best resale in its segment, according to Glass's Guide, with 68 per cent of retained value after four years.
Got questions over general faults, problems, concerns, reliability, durability, engine problems, transmission problems, clutch issues? Check out our Toyota HiAce problems page.