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Isuzu D-Max 2019 review: SX 4x2 single-cab high ride

This is one of the best 4x2 high-riding light commercials on the market.

Daily driver score

4/5

Tradie score

4.5/5

Australia’s 4x2 ute market is dominated by the Toyota HiLux. It’s a favourite for many tradies, small business operators and government/private fleets due to its brand familiarity, load-carrying ability, reliability, variety of body configurations and resale value. And, no doubt, Toyota’s proven success in maintaining and growing fleet business.

In 2019 the HiLux commands more than 36 per cent of the local 4x2 ute segment. However, unlike the battle to be top dog in 4x4 ute sales, Toyota’s closest 4x2 competitor is not Ford’s Ranger but Isuzu’s venerable D-Max, which currently attracts more than 13 per cent of sales. We recently trialled a one tonner from the D-Max 4x2 range to find out why it’s such a strong performer in this workhorse-focused market.

Price and Features – Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Our test vehicle is the D-Max SX 4x2 High-Ride in two-seater single-cab cab-chassis form. The vinyl-floored base model SX is available in a variety of variants but all are powered by the same 3.0 litre turbo-diesel engine and all (except for the six-speed manual low-rider) come with the same six-speed automatic.

Our Splash White test vehicle is usually $37,817 drive-away, but currently available for only $29,990. Our Splash White test vehicle is usually $37,817 drive-away, but currently available for only $29,990.

When fitted with Isuzu’s economy alloy tray, our Splash White test vehicle is usually $37,817 drive-away, but currently available for only $29,990. This razor-sharp pricing is tailored to entice business purchases, given the ATO’s $30,000 instant asset write-off threshold. And that’s a big chunk of change to lop off your company’s annual tax bill.

Our test vehicle is fitted with several items from Isuzu’s genuine accessory range, including the heavy-duty aluminium tray ($2779), towing kit ($903.10) and electronic brake controller ($688). These extras would obviously push pricing beyond $30K. Even so, it still represents excellent value for money for such a high-quality vehicle.

The no-frills SX has all the basics needed, starting with a leather-bound steering wheel with cruise control, audio and phone controls. There’s also manual air-con, power windows, central locking with keyless entry and a four-speaker infotainment system with 7.0-inch touchscreen and multiple connectivity including Bluetooth. It rolls on 16-inch steel wheels with beefy Bridgestone 245/70 R16 all-terrain tyres and matching spare.

It rolls on 16-inch steel wheels with beefy Bridgestone 245/70 R16 all-terrain tyres. It rolls on 16-inch steel wheels with beefy Bridgestone 245/70 R16 all-terrain tyres.

Design – is there anything interesting about its design?

The SX 4x2 is built on a steel ladder-frame chassis with 3095mm wheelbase and 12.6 metre turning circle. Its high-ride suspension results in the same 1780mm roof height and 225mm of ground clearance as its 4x4 equivalent, which can be handy when traversing rocky creek crossings or rugged worksites. Coil spring twin wishbone front suspension and a leaf-spring live rear axle are combined with speed sensitive power-assisted rack and pinion steering, front disc brakes and rear drums.

The SX 4x2 is built on a steel ladder-frame chassis with 3095mm wheelbase. The SX 4x2 is built on a steel ladder-frame chassis with 3095mm wheelbase.

It may be designed primarily for hard work, but Isuzu has managed to give its base model a more upmarket look with a body-coloured front bumper in place of the ugly ‘black beard’ usually found at this level, along with body-coloured door mirrors.

By stark contrast, it still has a cigarette lighter (remember those?) and even an old school telescopic metal radio aerial mounted on the driver’s side roof, which needs to be extended and retracted by hand.

Our only gripes are that there’s no dial control for volume on the infotainment system, just buttons. And because it’s too easy to forget that the aerial is extended, it can easily get snapped off by a low-hanging branch when reversing, just like the good old days (where it belongs).

Engine and transmission – What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

Isuzu’s trusty 4JJ1-TC Euro 5-compliant 3.0 litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel is a proven performer and well suited to this work-focused application. Isuzu has (thankfully) resisted the swing to smaller  capacity engines among its competitors, which makes it increasingly attractive to those who need to carry and tow stuff. It produces 130kW at 3600rpm and 430Nm of torque at 2000-2200rpm.

Isuzu’s trusty 4JJ1-TC Euro 5-compliant 3.0 litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel is a proven performer. Isuzu’s trusty 4JJ1-TC Euro 5-compliant 3.0 litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel is a proven performer.

The Aisin six-speed torque converter automatic transmission is also well suited to this role, with its optional sequential manual shifting, adaptive logic control and fuel-saving lock-up on all but first and second gears. It’s particularly responsive and decisive in hilly terrain. There’s no electronic diff locker like Ford’s Ranger 4x2 Hi-Rider, but it does have electronic traction control.

Fuel consumption – How much fuel does it consume?

Isuzu claims a combined figure of only 7.5 litres/100km. However, the dash display was showing 9.8 at the end of our 436km test, which included a lengthy run with maximum payload. This was still shy of our own figure, calculated from actual fuel bowser and trip meter readings, of 11.2.

This is not best in class, given the 10L and sub-10L figures achieved by rival Mercedes-Benz X Class and VW Amarok 3.0 litre diesels (with two more cylinders) hauling maximum payloads. Eevn so, based on our test figures, you could expect a realistic driving range of around 670km from its standard 76-litre tank.

Practicality – How practical is the space inside?

Deducting our test vehicle’s 1656kg kerb weight from its 2950kg GVM results in a 1294kg payload rating. However, fitting the heavy-duty aluminium tray (174kg) and towing kit (45kg) increases the kerb weight by 219kg to 1875kg, with a corresponding reduction in payload to 1075kg. Even so, that still makes this a genuine one tonner.

It’s also rated to tow up to the class-benchmark 3500kg of braked trailer, but you would have to reduce the maximum payload by a whopping 600kg to avoid exceeding the 5850kg GCM (or how much you can legal carry and tow at the same time). And that would leave just 475kg of payload capacity, half of which could be used up by just two big workers without any tools and equipment.

A safer and more practical approach is to base the maximum braked trailer weight on the D-Max’s 2950kg GVM. Sure, that will drop the trailer weight by 600kg to 2900kg, but most people don’t need to tow more than 3000kg anyway and you’ll get to keep your full 1075kg payload. The other benefit is, of course, that the tow vehicle will be slightly heavier than its trailer, which is a good way to avoid the tail wagging the dog!

The heavy-duty aluminium (HDA) tray, which looks remarkably similar to Toyota’s version, is one of several tray options in Isuzu’s genuine accessories range. It’s squeak and rattle-free, with 18 internal load anchorage points plus three rope rails beneath the load floor along each side.

The HDA tray’s expansive 2550mm internal length and 1777mm width could easily take two standard 1165mm-square Aussie pallets. Height from the load floor to the top of the drop sides is 270mm and the unladen load floor height from the ground is a relatively high 980mm.

The large diameter tubular headboard has pre-drilled holes on each side to insert load retaining spikes if required (for securing long lengths of timber, PVC and copper pipe etc) and there’s stout rear window and tail light protection.

Storage options include a bottle holder and small bin in the base of each door. There’s a pull-out drawer to the right of the steering wheel for small items like glasses or chewy, plus an open storage shelf below the steering column ideal for storing wallets, phones, keys etc. There’s also a shallow storage tray in the centre of the dash-pad, upper and lower gloveboxes (with 12-volt accessory plug up top) and pull-out cup holders on either side of the dash.

Storage options include a bottle holder and small bin in the base of each door. Storage options include a bottle holder and small bin in the base of each door.

The centre console has a small storage nook in front of the gearshift, two cup/bottle holders in the centre and a lidded box at the back. There’s also some open storage space behind each seatback for stowing away soft items like jackets, groundsheets, tarpaulins etc.

What’s it like as a daily driver?

For a one-tonne ute this is a pleasantly civilised vehicle to drive when empty or with light loads. And there’s a surprising amount of room and comfort given the space restrictions of a single cab. Even tall drivers can find a comfortable driving position. There’s also a big left footrest which is ideally positioned for big Blundstones and there’s good rear vision through the door and centre mirrors.

There’s a surprising amount of room and comfort given the space restrictions of a single cab. There’s a surprising amount of room and comfort given the space restrictions of a single cab.

It’s easy to live with in busy city and suburban traffic, with ample performance on tap between 2000-3000rpm and typical 60-80km/h limits. At highway speeds there’s noticeable wind buffeting around the headboard and some tyre roar on coarse bitumen surfaces, but it’s never intrusive enough to require raised voices. At full lock-up in sixth gear, it happily lopes along with only 1500rpm at 100km/h and 1600rpm at 110km/h.

What’s it like for tradie use?

It’s a tireless worker that can handle maximum GVM loadings without complaint. We forklifted 975kg onto the tray, which with our 100kg driver was bang on its 1075kg payload limit and 2950kg GVM. The rear leaf springs compressed 60mm yet maintained ample bump-stop clearance. With most of this payload ahead of the rear axle, the front suspension only dropped 12mm.

We forklifted 975kg onto the tray. We forklifted 975kg onto the tray.

Performance was sure-footed and competent, floating over larger bumps and remaining rock-steady in gusty side-winds at highway speeds. It also easily cleared our 13 per cent gradient 2.0km set climb, with the auto resolutely holding third gear at 2400rpm all the way up with only light throttle.

Engine braking was equally impressive on the way down. In a manually-selected second gear, it confidently restrained this payload by reaching no more than 3600rpm on overrun, which was a long way from its 4400rpm redline and did not require use of the brake pedal to avoid exceeding the 60km/h speed limit. Robust engine braking is one of many reasons we like turbo-diesels of at least 3.0 litres in capacity, as smaller rivals can’t match this level of retardation.

Safety – What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

Maximum five-star ANCAP rating for 4x2 high-ride dual cabs - but not cab-chassis - when last tested in 2013. The lack of AEB would ensure a maximum of four stars if tested today. Even so, there’s six airbags (dual front, side and curtain) and an electronic stability menu which includes traction control, emergency brake assist, hill start assist, hill descent control and trailer sway control. A reversing camera is available as an option.

Ownership – What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Six years/150,000km warranty includes six years roadside assist. Scheduled servicing every 12 months/15,000km whichever occurs first. Capped price servicing applies to first seven scheduled services up to seven years/105,000km, with prices ranging between $350 and $1110.

This is one of the best 4x2 high-riding light commercials on the market, with Isuzu’s truck-building DNA evident in every detail. Even with the heavy-duty aluminium tray, tow kit and brake controller as fitted to our test vehicle, you could still drive it away for less than $40K. The fact that you can snap one up for less than $30K (with economy tray and no tow kit or controller) not only represents outstanding value for money, but also an instant asset write-off for your business. In other words, a win-win.

Is the D-Max a HiLux alternative? Tell us in the comments below.

$31,900

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

4/5

Tradie score

4.5/5
Price Guide

$31,900

Based on new car retail price