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Isuzu D-Max SX Space Cab Chassis 4x4 2016 review


Daily driver score

3.5/5

Mark Oastler road tests and reviews the Isuzu D-Max SX Space Cab Chassis 4x4 with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

The local 4x4 market is dominated by Ford's Ranger and Toyota's HiLux yet other players like Isuzu's D-Max, which sell far less units per month, have plenty to offer and worthy of consideration.

The current Isuzu D-Max range was launched in 2012, the result of a joint development with GM of a common 4x4 platform from which Holden also derived its current Colorado. Although the D-Max and Colorado share the same heavy-duty truck chassis and cabin/interior architecture, the bodywork apart from perhaps the roof panel is unique to each vehicle. As are their drivetrains, which is where Isuzu's truck-building heritage and well-proven hardware shines.

Price and Features

The typical cab-chassis 4x4 buyer has a working requirement with all-terrain capability (farmers, tradies, forestry etc) and wants to fit either an aluminium/steel drop-side tray or a custom body to suit specific requirements. In this context the Space Cab D-Max in back-to-basics SX trim with auto measures up well. At $41,800 it's price-competitive with XL Ranger and Workmate HiLux, even though Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton pricing in this cab-chassis category starts at much lower mid-$30K levels.

However, apart from the Colorado (and now Ford with its mid-year 2016 Ranger upgrades), the D-Max is the only other model in this 4x4 cab-chassis segment to offer an automatic option. That's a big plus because a good auto can make a hard day's work a lot easier, particularly in daily grinds through heavy traffic.

We reckon the Isuzu is a good looker with its bulbous wheel arch flares and neat integration of grille and headlights.

Beyond its easy-clean vinyl floor lining and basic trim, the D-Max includes useful features like central locking with keyless entry, cruise control, six-speaker CD/MP3/FM/AM/AUX audio with Mini USB, iPod and Bluetooth audio streaming, tilt only-adjustable leather wheel with cruise/audio controls and shift-on-the-fly 4x4 select dial to name a few.

Design

Appearances are subjective of course but we reckon the Isuzu is a good looker with its bulbous wheel arch flares and neat integration of grille and headlights.

It rides on a 3095mm wheelbase which is 10mm longer than HiLux (3085mm) and 125mm shorter than the 'big' Ranger (3220mm). Front suspension is upper and lower wishbones with coil springs, matched with heavy duty 'long-span' leaf springs in the rear. 16 x 7-inch steel wheels are fitted with 245/70 R16 all-terrain tyres.

Engine and Transmission

Isuzu's 4JJ1-TC Hi-Power four cylinder diesel with variable geometry turbo is a D-Max strong point. Its 3.0 litre capacity is exceeded only by the Ranger's five cylinder 3.2 litre unit. The Isuzu produces 130kW at 3600rpm and 380Nm between 1800-2800rpm. Although that torque figure is less than several rivals, it has great flexibility, strong engine braking and excellent load-hauling ability.

It's matched with an Aisin AWTB50-LS five-speed 'intelligent' automatic which until recently was shared with the Toyota Prado. Features include sequential shift mode, Adaptive Logic Control (adjusts to suit different driving styles) and a fuel-saving lock-up torque converter on third, fourth and fifth gears. The software also decisively holds gears on climbs without hunting and selects and holds lower cogs on descents to maintain desired road speeds using engine braking.

The 'Terrain Command' 4x4 control dial allows shift-on-the-fly from 4x2 high to 4x4 high at speeds up to 100km/h, but there's no remote locking diff function.

Practicality

With a GVM of 2950kg, the D-Max with auto has a payload rating of 1200kg (minus tray weight).

The Isuzu genuine accessory aluminium drop-side tray fitted to our test vehicle has internal dimensions of 1905mm length and 1708mm width with 250mm high drop sides. That can easily cope with a standard 1100 x1100mm pallet or retain about one cubic metre of loose stuff. The D-Max is also rated to tow up to the category benchmark of 3500kg (braked).

The D-Max has a reassuringly solid feel.

The Space Cab offers enough room to carry two occasional (emphasis on occasional) passengers in the back, sitting on rudimentary seat cushions which when flipped up allow access to tool storage compartments. The cabin has numerous other storage places, with upper and lower compartments plus power outlet in the glovebox, driver and front passenger cup-holders and deep storage pockets within the front and rear doors.

Fuel consumption

Isuzu claims 8.1L/100km with CO2 emissions of 213 g/km. During our test we achieved 10.6L/100km in a variety of driving conditions, from heavy city traffic to suburban and highway running with and without a load.

Driving

The D-Max has a reassuringly solid feel, from its nicely weighted rack and pinion steering to its well sorted sprung-to-unsprung weight ratio which helps to iron out bumps and corrugations on rough roads.

We craned 650kg into the tray which with a 92kg driver equalled a payload of just under 750kg or three quarters of a tonne. With a full tank of diesel on top of that, the D-Max tipped the weighbridge scales at 2735kg which was still 215kg short of its 2950kg GVM rating.

The five-speed auto allows the 3.0 litre turbo-diesel to optimise its performance.

With a decent load on board you can feel some Isuzu truck-building experience here. The rear leaf springs settle down nicely with only 40mm of spring compression, the nose barely rises (5.0mm) and the front wheels remain firmly planted on the road for good steering response.

It's also pretty quiet for a cab-chassis, with low tyre noise and only a small amount of turbulence evident around the tray sides and rear window protection frame at highway speeds. However, after a long day behind the wheel we did experience a bit of 'numb bum' in seats which are adequate but not the most comfortable we've sampled.

The five-speed auto allows the 3.0 litre turbo-diesel to optimise its performance. On the highway it's an economical cruiser with 1800rpm at 100km/h and 2000rpm at 110km/h. It's also an effortless hill-climber, easily powering up a 2.2km 13 per cent grade on our test route with no lower than fourth gear required.

It also displayed impressive engine braking, with a sequential shift back to second gear comfortably holding the D-Max at the 60km/h speed limit all the way down. This is with 750kg on board and without once touching the brakes. Smaller turbo-diesels, like the Ranger's 2.2 litre, can't match this level of retardation.

Safety

The D-Max is equipped with the usual passive and active safety features, including six airbags (dual front, curtain and side) plus electronic stability control (ESC), traction control system (TCS) and emergency brake assist (EBA). However, it lacks some other desirable features like Trailer Sway Control and sits one star short of a five-star ANCAP safety rating in this configuration.

One potential safety issue we also noted was that the Space Cab's passenger side rear door would not open, no matter how many times we activated the central locking function and internal door handle. A surprising glitch given the good build quality evident elsewhere.

Ownership

The D-Max is backed by a 5 year/130,000km warranty including 5 year Roadside Assist. Isuzu's 3 year Capped Price Servicing Program covers the first six scheduled services in line with the scheduled six month service intervals.

There's not much we didn't like about the D-Max SX Space Cab Cab-Chassis 4x4. With its heavy duty truck-building parentage the current D-Max has proven to be a durable and tireless worker in the LCV segment for several years now, with barely a mention in product recalls and positive feedback from loyal customers with high odometer readings. Look beyond pre-conceived brand perceptions and the D-Max could tick lots of boxes for a 4x4 cab-chassis buyer.

What's your pick for a workhorse ute? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Isuzu D-Max pricing and spec info.

$20,800 - $36,990

Based on 60 car listings in the last 6 months

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

3.5/5
Price Guide

$20,800 - $36,990

Based on 60 car listings in the last 6 months