At the tradesmen’s entrance to Australia’s booming light commercial vehicle market, you’ll find utes that are primarily designed for work. With minimal standard equipment to keep a lid on costs, they are characterised by steel wheels, vinyl floors, hardy interiors and fridge white paint.
Cab-chassis are popular here, as they allow buyers flexibility in their choice of trays or purpose-built service bodies. 4x2 drivetrains are also favoured, as many work utes are road-based and do not require the added complexity and expense of 4x4.
So, this workhorse market maintains a sharp focus on minimising costs, from purchase price to fuel economy to servicing. That’s because buyers are typically fleets, tradies, couriers and other business owners for which a ute must earn its keep, like any other tool-of-trade.
Toyota has long dominated this segment with its 4x2 Hilux variants, with robust sales that play a pivotal role in the HiLux’s endless reign as Australia’s best-selling motor vehicle.
Its closest 4x2 ute competitor is Isuzu Ute Australia’s D-Max SX model range, which in 2023 has expanded to include new variants powered by its RZ4E-TC 1.9-litre turbo-diesel.
This engine was initially offered in SX single cab-chassis 4x2 form in 2022, but is now available in SX dual cab-chassis automatic and SX dual cab pick-up automatic 4x2 variants.
So, given TradieGuide’s commercial vehicle focus, IUA offered us the keys to one of these new models for a three-month loan, to assess its workhorse capabilities and how effectively it meets this cost-cutting criteria.
Built for work
Our test vehicle is the SX dual cab-chassis with the 1.9-litre engine and a six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission, which has a list price of $40,700 plus on-road costs. So, that’s an upfront saving of $2000 over the same model equipped with the larger 3.0-litre turbo-diesel.
The 1.9 is also claimed to offer a 14 per cent reduction in fuel consumption, with an official combined average of 7.0L/100km compared to the 3.0-litre’s 8.0L/100km figure.
And the 1.9 is also cheaper to maintain, with the total cost of capped-price scheduled servicing across seven years resulting in savings of almost 9.0 per cent.
Our test vehicle is the SX dual cab-chassis with the 1.9-litre engine and a six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission. (Image: Mark Oastler)
So, in terms of list price, fuel economy and servicing, the 1.9-litre SX dual cab-chassis costs less than its 3.0-litre equivalent. And being smaller, it produces less emissions (184 vs 207g/km), which can be of particular importance to fleet buyers with a ‘green’ focus.
Our example is equipped with optional extras including a tow-bar kit ($1,132.25), a 12-pin plug ($393.25), an electronic brake controller ($896.05), rubber mats ($208.67) and a General Purpose aluminium tray ($3113), which with on-road costs adds up to a drive-away price of $50,453.73.
With its 17-inch steel wheels and 255/65 R17 all-terrain tyres plus full-size spare, the 4x2’s high-ride suspension matches that of 4x4 D-Max variants. (Image: Mark Oastler)
So, what else is new? The latest SX range also brings a redesigned grille finished in two-tone black (although most would struggle to pick it), a USB port for rear passengers, tailgate assist (for utes) and a handy auto-off function for the blind-spot monitoring (BSM) and rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA) when towing. Otherwise, it’s the same basic SX workhorse familiar to many Aussie hi-vis wearers.
With its 17-inch steel wheels and 255/65 R17 all-terrain tyres plus full-size spare, the 4x2’s high-ride suspension matches that of 4x4 D-Max variants. So, this provides the same ground clearance and approach/departure angles, which can be useful for tradies accessing rugged worksites or farmers tackling rocky creek crossings. There’s no remote-controlled locking diff as found on some rival 4x2 high-riders, but it does come with electronic traction control.
There’s also an info display and four-speaker infotainment with a 7.0-inch touchscreen and multiple connectivity including Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. (Image: Mark Oastler)
The XS’s body-coloured front bumper has a more upmarket look than the dark grey plastic bumpers often seen at this model grade. But when you step inside, it’s a chrome-free zone that’s pure workhorse; fabric-covered seats, wipe-clean vinyl flooring and large handles on the A and B pillars to help crews of up to five to pile aboard.
Total of eight drink-holders throughout the cabin. (Image: Mark Oastler)
The driver gets a big left footrest and a hard-wearing urethane-rimmed steering wheel, with height/reach adjustment and cruise/audio controls. There’s also an info display and four-speaker infotainment with a 7.0-inch touchscreen (which could be 9.0 inches but Isuzu keeps it smaller to remind SX buyers they’re travelling base grade) and multiple connectivity including Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
There’s also benchmark ANCAP five-star safety (achieved in 2022), with numerous active features included as standard equipment that are not usually available in cab-chassis form, like a reversing camera and the BSM/RCTA functions mentioned earlier. The aluminium tray is 1800mm long by 1770mm wide, with a sturdy headframe, rear window protection and numerous internal and external load-anchorage points.
The aluminium tray is 1800mm long by 1770mm wide, with a sturdy headframe, rear window protection and numerous internal and external load-anchorage points. (Image: Mark Oastler)
Despite its working focus, this vehicle can also cater for families, if required to perform the dual roles of weekday worker and weekend escaper. My petite wife has no trouble climbing aboard and finds it easy to drive and park. It also has centre console air-vents for rear seat passengers plus provision for two child seats with ISOFIX mounts in the outer-rear positions. There’s also USB ports front and rear, numerous storage bins and a total of eight drink-holders throughout the cabin.
Driving the SX 1.9
The 1.9-litre Euro 5-compliant turbo-diesel produces 110kW at 3600rpm and 350Nm between 1800-2600rpm, which is 30kW and 100Nm less than the 3.0-litre unit.
These outputs represent 21 per cent less power and 22 per cent less torque, along with 37 per cent less cubic displacement. However, Isuzu has partly balanced the scales with a significant 80kg drop in kerb weight due to the lighter 1.9 drivetrain.
The latest SX range also brings a redesigned grille finished in two-tone black. (Image: Mark Oastler)
That results in power-to-weight ratios (in cab-chassis form without trays) that are comparatively close, with the 3.0-litre carrying 13kg per kW compared to just under 16kg per kW for the 1.9-litre.
The 1.9’s diff ratio is also slightly shorter than the 3.0’s to compensate for the lower power and torque outputs of the smaller engine.
Isuzu has partly balanced the scales with a significant 80kg drop in kerb weight due to the lighter 1.9 drivetrain. (Image: Mark Oastler)
As a result, the 1.9’s performance doesn’t feel as different as you might expect. It matches the 3.0 for refinement and the shorter diff-gearing allows it to operate at the slightly higher rpm it needs to stay within its sweet spot, with ample response when accelerating, particularly from standing starts.
It also has 300Nm of its maximum 350Nm of torque on tap from 1550rpm to 3700rpm; that’s more than 85 per cent of its total torque output available across an expansive 2150rpm-wide torque band, which showcases its excellent flexibility.
Its shorter diff-gearing delivers slightly higher but still relaxed engine rpm at highway speeds, with less than 2000rpm required to maintain 110km/h using the adaptive cruise control.
It’s relatively quiet, has good steering feel, handling and braking performance and it’s not hard for drivers of most heights and shapes to find a comfortable position. (Image: Mark Oastler)
The sweet-shifting Aisin six-speed automatic has fuel-saving torque-converter lock-up on third, fourth, fifth and sixth gears, plus ‘intelligent’ electronic control that minimises gear-hunting on climbs and automatically downshifts on steep descents to assist with engine-braking. It also offers sequential manual-shifting if required.
The rear suspension, which is rated ‘heavy duty’ on cab-chassis models, is undeniably firm when driven unladen, which is typically of any ute with a leaf-sprung live axle designed primarily for heavy load-hauling. However, it is thankfully more compliant than a 4x2 HiLux equivalent.
Rear seat comfort also gets a tick from us, with adequate knee and headroom even for tall people. (Image: Mark Oastler)
It’s also relatively quiet, has good steering feel, handling and braking performance and it’s not hard for drivers of most heights and shapes to find a comfortable position. Rear seat comfort also gets a tick from us, with adequate knee and headroom even for tall people. Shoulder room is a squeeze for three adults, but that’s typical of any dual cab’s rear seating short of a full-size US pickup.
Weights and measures
Given that our test vehicle’s 1745kg kerb weight (not including tray) is 80kg lighter than the 3.0-litre version, that translates to an 80kg higher payload rating of 1255kg versus 1175kg.
So, even when we deduct the combined weight of its tow-bar kit (47kg), rubber mats (5kg) and GP alloy tray (119kg), that still leaves 1084kg of payload capacity. So, with its sleeves rolled up and ready for work, the 1.9 is a genuine one-tonner.
It’s also rated to tow up to 3000kg of braked trailer (500kg less than the 3.0-litre) and with its 5500kg GCM, or how much it can legally carry and tow at the same time, that leaves a payload rating of 755kg, or 584kg when you deduct the additional weight of our add-ons.
So, on paper at least, this is a capable and versatile workhorse, which belies its smaller engine’s output through competent design and engineering.
The odometer was showing 6376km when we collected our test vehicle from Isuzu Ute Australia in early August and have since added 635km this month. This has comprised mostly city and suburban driving with a little highway work, mostly unladen with a crew of two but at times with up to five adults onboard.
The odometer was showing 6376km when we collected our test vehicle from Isuzu Ute Australia in early August and have since added 635km this month. (Image: Mark Oastler)
When we stopped to refuel the 76-litre tank, the dash display was claiming average consumption of 10.6L/100km which was considerably higher than Isuzu’s official figure of 7.0/100km. This compares to our own figure, calculated from fuel bowser and tripmeter readings, of 9.7, which is good single-digit economy for a vehicle weighing nearly two tonnes driven in stop-start urban environments. And we expect that average figure to drop further when we tackle some more highway driving.
We need to throw a harness around the neck of this workhorse and put in some hard yards, with some heavy load-hauling and towing to see if the 1.9 is up to these tasks, so stay tuned.
Acquired: August 2023
Distance travelled this month: 635km
Average energy consumption this month: 9.7L/100km
Based on new car retail price
This price is subject to change closer to release data
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