Isuzu D-Max VS Toyota HiLux
- Class-leading safety tech
- Much more likable to drive
- Broad range
- Engine could be gruntier
- Still a bit noisy
- Prices are up a bit
- Solid safety spec offer
- Decent ownership prospects
- Good range of variants
- Harsh ride unladen
- Cab chassis models have no reversing camera
- Lacking some polish against newer rivals
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|
There’s plenty to be said for the new-generation Toyota HiLux, and while a lot of customers will be shopping for the top-of-the-range variants, there’s plenty of value to be found in the work-focused Workmate models.
And that’s what we’re looking at here - a Workmate dual cab, which, while it may look like a 4WD, is actually a high-riding rear-wheel drive dual cab. Or, to be precise, the Workmate 4x2 Double Cab pick-up Hi-Rider.
We spent a bit of time with this updated version of the HiLux ute, and even chucked a bit of load in the back thanks to our mates in the mountains. More on that - and everything else you need to know about the Workmate range - below.
Read More: Toyota HiLux 2021 review
|Engine Type||2.4L 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.
It isn’t as polished as some of its rivals, and doesn’t have as much tech or flair to its offering either. But as a workhorse offering with a solid ownership promise and unquestionable resale value, the Toyota HiLux Workmate - no matter the derivative you choose - remains a compelling option for those who use their ute for work more than play.
Thanks to our mates at Lower Mountains Landscape Supplies for the sandbag load in the Workmate 4x2 Hi-Rider pick-up.
Thanks to our mates at IWP Training for putting 1000kg in the tray of the Workmate 4x2 cab-chassis low-rider.
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 most interesting thing about some versions of the Workmate in terms of design is that they haven’t been changed at all.
For the exterior, the Workmate single-cab variants and the low-riding 4x2 dual-cab pick-up don’t see the visual changes of the 4x2 Hi-Rider and 4x4 extra- and dual-cab variants, which score a slightly more aggressive front fascia.
Toyota Australia says it was more important to address the higher grade models with the new look, and that keeping the same front end on the “narrow body” models would help keep costs lower.
That’s all well and good, but it does seem a little weird to do a “major overhaul” of the ute and keep it looking the same. I guess owners of early examples will be happy, as their utes won’t look as outdated?
But the important thing is that HiLux Workmate buyers have so many body styles available to them, and that’s arguably going to matter more than what the ute looks like for a Workmate customer.
We’ll run through some of the important elements here, like dimensions and payloads. First up, let’s size up the versions of the HiLux Workmate (note - your dimensions may vary, depending on the tray body fitted).
If you’re buying a pick-up over a cab-chassis, you’ll know that comes with limitations. The flat bed of a tray back cab-chassis model is always going to offer more practicality - and if you buy a 4x2 or 4x4 single cab, or the 4x4 extra cab, you’re getting a tray back. But we’ve covered off the load space dimensions for the dual cab ute/pick-up below - the figures are the same for the 4x2 and 4x4 models.
Dual cab ute
Cargo floor length
Width between wheel arches
As mentioned, the tub models will always suffer compromises that table-top models won’t, and that includes the inability to fit an Aussie pallet (1165mm x 1165mm) between the wheel arches.
Space is one thing, but payload capacity for the different body styles is another matter altogether. Don’t forget, payload will be affected by the tray body fitted if you’re choosing a cab-chassis.
Dual cab ute
Gross vehicle mass (GVM)
2700-3100kg, depending on model, engine, drivetrain
Gross combination mass (GCM)
4x2 low rider: 5200-5250kg
4x2 Hi-Rider: 5650kg
All models: 750kg unbraked
4x2 petrol: 2500kg braked
4x4 diesel: 3500kg braked
Not everyone goes off-road. Both our test vehicles in Workmate spec were 4x2 rear-wheel drive (RWD) models, but that doesn’t mean you won’t consider things like ground clearance - especially if you’re weighing up between a low-riding version and Hi-Rider 2WD.
Here are the dimensions and figures for 4x2 and 4x4 models.
Ground clearance mm
4x2 petrol: 174mm
All other variants: 216mm
4x2 petrol: 23 degrees
All other variants: 29 degrees
Break over/ramp over angle
Not listed by Toyota
4x2 dual cab petrol: 20 degrees
4x4 single cab diesel: 25 degrees
4x4 dual cab diesel, extra cab-chassis, dual cab-chassis: 26 degrees
4x2 Hi-Rider, Workmate 4x4 manual dual cab ute: 27 degrees
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.
The practicality you get depends on the body style you choose. That’s an obvious statement, sure, but you might be wondering how many seats are in the HiLux Workmate? Single cab models have two seats, extra cab models have four seats, and dual cab variants have five seats.
And the practicality of the respective body styles is unchanged up front, whether you choose the two-, four- or five-seater. Everything forward of the B-pillar is the same.
That means that all HiLux Workmate models get the same dash treatment, including a newly redesigned cluster for the driver with a new digital display that incorporates a digital speedometer, which is a huge helper if your licence has seen better days.
Then there’s the new 8.0-inch touchscreen media system, with buttons and volume/tuning knobs that have been designed to work with heavy gloves, according to Toyota. The old screen - with touch-sensitive controls and no knobs - was lambasted by tradies, so it’s great to see Toyota has listened.
Plus the new screen includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so you can plug your USB cable in and mirror your phone onto the media screen. It really is a big step forward, and because no Workmate model comes with sat nav GPS, even as an option, this is the way to go if you’re frequently 'lost on the way to the job.' But there is only one USB port - many rivals offer two.
The materials and design are otherwise unchanged, meaning hard-wearing vinyl floors and hard plastic finishes everywhere, but excellent practicality - two cup holders between the seats, two pop-out ones in the sides of the dashboard, bottle holders in the doors (single and dual cab), and a dual glove box with other loose item storage caddies, too.
If you get an extra cab you could consider it a two seater with additional secure storage, and many of the newer utes coming out have actually deleted the seats due to apparent safety concerns. But the Toyota still has two extra seats in the back.
The dual cab Workmate models don’t get the 60/40 split-fold rear seat base, but you can still fold up the entire seat base to allow additional storage - you don’t want to wreck the fabric on the rear seats with dirty tools, or grimy hardware.
If you do happen to have people in the back, the space isn’t as good as some other double cab models out there. Knee room is tight, headroom could be better, and there are those fixed grab handles that eat into the space. You might need to keep your hardhat on, too, as they’re certainly heatbuttable.
The dual cab’s back seat has twin map pockets and bottle holders in the doors, but no fold down armrest, no cup holders and no air vents.
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 will find the Workmate badge on the most bodystyles of any HiLux in the line-up. You can get it in single cab-chassis, extra cab-chassis, extra cab ute, and dual cab-chassis and dual cab ute body styles.
And then there’s the choice of petrol or diesel, manual or automatic, and whether you want it in low-riding or high-riding (Hi-Rider, as Toyota calls it) 2WD/4x2/rear-wheel drive versions, or in a more hardcore 4WD (or 4x4).
The model mix for Workmate versions is as complex as it sounds, so here’s a neat table to make it a bit simpler! Just note, the price list you see below represents the cost of the ute before on-roads costs - that’s known as the MSRP or the RRP, and it’s not a drive-away price.
|Drivetrain||Body type||Engine and Transmission||List pricing (Before on-road costs)|
|4x2||Single cab-chassis- low rider||2.7L petrol, five-speed manual||$23,590|
|2.7L petrol, six-speed auto||$25,590|
|Single cab shassis Hi-Rider||2.4L turbo diesel, six-speed manual||$28,830|
|Dual cab ute low-rider||2.7L petrol, five-speed manual||$33,070|
|2.7L petrol, six-speed auto||$35,070|
|Dual cab ute Hi-Rider||2.4L turbo diesel six-speed manual||$40,160|
|2.4L turbo diesel six-speed auto||$42,160|
|4x4||Single cab-chassis||2.4L turbo diesel six-speed auto||$39,520|
|Extra cab-chassis||2.4L turbo diesel six-speed auto||$45,220|
|Dual cab-chassis||2.4L turbo diesel six-speed auto||$47,290|
|Dual cab ute||2.4L turbo diesel six-speed manual||$46,790|
|2.4L turbo diesel six-speed auto||$48,790|
You get the same general level of specification on all the Workmate models, with standard equipment incorporating standard steel wheels - black 16-inch diameter for 4x2 models, while 4x4 single cab versions get silver 17-inch rims, and there are black 17-inch wheels with all-terrain tyres on 4x4 extra cab and dual cab variants.
All Workmate models have standard auto halogen headlights, vinyl flooring and all-weather floor mats, cloth seat trim, a 4.2-inch digital display with digital speedo readout, and a new 8.0-inch touchscreen display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring.
And while you get the choice of petrol or diesel, the latter models - across all trim lines - score a new variable-flow control power-steering pump. More on that in the driving section.
There are other accessories available from the Toyota parts catalogue as you’d expect, including: bull bar, tow bar, nudge bar, ladder rack, side steps, bonnet protector, tub liner, canopy, and more.
You might be curious about safety technology - and it's great to see Toyota doesn’t pick and choose between the variants as to which model gets what. There’s a decent array of safety technology fitted for the most part, and we’ll cover that off in the safety section below.
What about colours? Workmate models can be had in white (no cost), while the premium paint choices are silver, grey, black or blue (all $600).
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.
While there has been a lot of noise around the HiLux finally getting a big power bump - that up-spec 2.8-litre engine isn’t available in the Workmate models.
Instead, Workmate variants get a choice of a petrol motor or a smaller capacity diesel unit.
The engine in the range-opening Workmate 4x2 models is the 2.7-litre petrol four-cylinder, known as the 2TR-FE. It has outputs of 122kW of power (at 5200rpm) and 245Nm of torque (at 4000rpm), and is available with a five-speed manual gearbox or six-speed automatic transmission.
The diesel option in the Workmate 4x2 and 4x4 models is a 2.4-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine known as 2GD-FTV. Power is rated at 110kW (at 3400rpm) and torque is 400Nm (from 1600-2000rpm).
There is the choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox in 4x2 and 4x4 applications in the Workmate range.
So, no 2.8L, no hybrid, no electric… no nonsense, I guess?
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.
Fuel consumption varies depending on the powertrain you choose.
The fuel economy king isn’t the petrol, which has claimed fuel consumption of: 11.1L/100km (4x2 cab-chassis manual); 10.9L/100km (4x2 cab-chassis auto); 10.7L/100km (4x2 dual cab manual); and 10.4L/100km (4x2 dual cab auto).
On test in the 4x2 manual single cab-chassis, with a load, and without, we averaged 11.4L/100km. And it was only a short loaded drive test.
The diesel versions of the Workmate offer better promise of lower fuel consumption, with fuel use in the 4x2 diesel Workmate models pegged at 7.8L/100km for the single cab-chassis manual, while the 4x2 dual cab pick-up claims 6.9L/100km and 7.5L/100km for the manual and auto respectively.
The 4x4 Workmate models claim: 7.4L/100km (single cab-chassis manual); 8.0L/100km (extra cab-chassis and dual cab-chassis auto); 7.1L/100km (dual cab pick-up manual) and 7.8L/100km (dual cab pick-up auto).
When we tested the diesel auto 4x2 Hi-Rider dual cab, we saw a return of 8.4L/100km across loaded (600kg of sand bags) and unloaded testing.
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.
I first sampled the 4x2 Workmate Hi-Rider 2.4-litre diesel auto, and it came across as a really solid proposition for those who don’t need the bells and whistles or a 4x4 system.
In fact, I bet that this sort of ute would be as well suited to the majority of buyers who spend up big on an SR5 dual cab 4x4 but never actually go off-road.
Indeed, that’s the great thing about the HiLux Workmate range - if you know you don’t need 4x4, there are plenty of 4x2 options available.
And the Hi-Rider diesel model has the advantage that it is rated to tow the maximum 3500kg capacity, but the disadvantage for hard-working tradies - especially those shorter in stature - is that it’s a step up into the cab (no side steps), and a running jump into the tub - unless you option the new rear Tub Step accessory, which is mounted to the rear corner of the chassis and allows easier tub access.
And while this isn’t strictly a driving impression, the strangest thing about the HiLux is that you’re getting some really advanced features for a work ready ute.
It’s becoming the norm, but it does seem weird when you sit inside and see your digital speedometer, with the knowledge that there’s autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and a lane departure system - yet you’re gripping a polyurethane steering wheel, sitting on cloth seats and your feet are placed on rubber floors - there’s not even height adjustment for the driver’s seat, and the sound system only has four speakers.
Anyway, the diesel dual cab is pretty impressive. There’s nothing wrong with the 2.4-litre’s engine tune, and in some instances it actually feels almost as peppy as the 2.8L I sampled in the SR5+.
But it does have some noticeable engine noise, and just like the other powertrain there is some noticeable shuffling between gears - the six-speed auto seems to aim to keep things in the best torque band, which is no bad thing, but you can hear it doing so. It gets along pretty well, and I had no trouble keeping pace with traffic.
The transmission doesn’t seem to exhibit the same grade logic downhill downshifting as the SR5 does. And there's some turbo lag noticeable with 600kg of weight on board (from our mates at Lower Mountains Landscape Supplies).
With that weight on board the brakes have a slightly soft feel to them, but they are progressive and easy to predict whether loaded or not.
The steering is light but still has a bit of feel to it at lower pace, while at speeds above 80km/h there is a level of vagueness, which is exacerbated when there's weight over the rear axle.
The suspension is reasonable without a load on board. Not as good as Ranger or Amarok, but better than the last HiLux. And while you can still feel small inconsistencies and it gets the jitters at low speeds, the ride becomes spongier with weight on board. In fact it's very comfortable at higher speed with that much mass in the back.
Next up we drove the petrol cab-chassis, and it offered up a few surprises.
First, let’s consider the loaded up driving impressions - thanks to a load of 1000kg in the tray courtesy of our mates at IWP Training.
The engine pulls harder than expected, and while it has a torque deficit compared to the diesels, there’s a decent drivability and rev-happiness that the petrol offers.
The smooth and short gearshift is a nice surprise, too (we also had a D-Max SX on site, and it had a longer, notchier throw). The gearing is pretty well suited to this type of hard work driving.
It's surprising how urgent the engine response is. It's super easy to drive with that much weight on board, but I did keep going for a sixth gear that doesn’t exist in the manual Workmate petrol.
It sounds like it’s working harder than it is - the engine is quite audible, and at times it can sound more asthmatic than its actual response.
In fact, if you were gonna be running around with this much weight in the back of your work ute you could be doing a lot worse than a 4x2 petrol Workmate cab chassis. It offers enough poke, and also has good quality – both in terms of ride and comfort and control and general drivability. It is well and truly made for this job.
The lower centre of gravity assists in making the HiLux feel more planted and deal with the weight better than a high riding two-wheel drive, with less pitching fore and aft and nice feel on the road.
The steering - which hasn’t seen the addition of that new variable control system, as it’s only fitted to diesel models - is quite good, and even the breaking performance is commendable with that much mass in the tray.
But without weight in the back it’s still punishingly firm in terms of the suspension. The rear-end bucks and jumps over bumps, never feeling as though it’s as surefooted as it could be.
The D-Max we had with us showed up the HiLux hugely in that respect. If you don’t hit any bumpy sections, it’s smooth to drive in. But as soon as you hit a sharp edge or any sort of inconsistency in the surface below it can be quite violent in its response.
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.
Toyota was at the front of the pack for safety tech in utes - for a couple of months. But it’s still impressive that the entire HiLux line-up has the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating as per 2019 criteria. And there’s a good reason for that.
All HiLux models come with standard fit auto emergency braking (AEB) that works at speeds from 50km/h-180km/h, as well as pedestrian and cyclist detection operational from 10km/h-80km/h.
The HiLux gets a lane departure warning system with lane keeping assist that works by braking the wheels it needs to, in order to pull you into line - but it still runs hydraulic steering, so it can’t do full-scale lane keeping assistance.
Also standard is speed sign recognition and warning, and adaptive cruise control on manual and auto models. You can even just hit ‘set’ on the cruise control to raise or lower your speed to whatever the speed sign says.
While the spec is pretty good, there’s no blind spot monitoring or rear cross traffic alert, and - in a very disappointing continuation of the theme - Toyota still doesn’t offer a reversing camera on cab-chassis models. You get a rear-view camera standard on all pick-up models, though.
There are dual front, front side, driver’s knee and full-length curtain, for a total of seven airbags no matter the body style.
The dual cab versions have two ISOFIX outboard attachments and two loop-style top-tethers for baby seats.
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 has one of the strongest reputations in the Australian new car market when it comes to ownership and reliability.
However, with the HiLux, there have been a few issues over its head, specifically around the diesel particulate filter (DPF). You can read more about it at our Toyota HiLux problems page, as well as any other Toyota HiLux complaints, concerns, reliability issues or recalls.
Suffice it to say, the brand says it has your back no matter what. And it has a strong ownership promise on paper, too.
All models have a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which can carry on to seven years/unlimited km if you maintain logbook servicing - it doesn’t even need to have been at a Toyota dealer, either. So long as you maintain it on schedule, the brand will back it for that extended period.
The bad news is that you need to service the HiLux more regularly than most of its competitors. The brand says it has no plans to increase service intervals to meet the current standard of 12 months/15,000km.
Instead, HiLux owners have to take their ute in to get serviced twice a year, with maintenance intervals set every six months or 10,000km, whichever happens soonest.
Diesel services are $250 a pop. That means you’ve got an annual $500 bill for maintenance for diesel models, which is higher than many rivals (Triton: $299/year). Petrol versions cost $220 per visit, so $440 a year.
Further, Toyota doesn’t include no-cost roadside assistance, either. You’ll have to sign up for it, at about $100 a year.
Strong on warranty cover, yes, but you may have to pay over the odds in order to sustain it.