First drive: 2017 Isuzu D-Max ute

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2017 isuzu D-Max The 2017 Isuzu D-Max ute 2017 isuzu D-Max
2017 Isuzu D-Max dashboard Reverse cameras are still an optional extra in the new D-Max 2017 Isuzu D-Max dashboard
2017 Isuzu D-Max mine spec model The mine-spec dual cab variant of the Isuzu D-Max 2017 Isuzu D-Max mine spec model
Rear of 2017 Isuzu D-Max The new D-Max handles the inclines professionally Rear of 2017 Isuzu D-Max

Isuzu Ute Australia has just launched the 2017 update of its D-Max Ute and MU-X SUV range. Matt Wood takes the revamped range for a spin at the launch.


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If the Isuzu D-Max had a Tinder profile it would most likely be wearing a bomber jacket and high-viz in its photo.

But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing going on underneath the bush-hat image of the Isuzu Ute. This latest Euro 5 update has seen the Isuzu workhorse gain a little more grunt and some extra kit.

2017 Isuzu DMax going downhill
The 2017 Isuzu D-Max is at home in the dirt

The new model

The venerable 3-litre 4JJ1-TC turbo-diesel traditionally found under the bonnet of the D-Max now sports an active regeneration exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system to comply with Euro 5 emission regulations. The new diesel particulate filter (DPF) is located in the engine bay itself and relies on post injection from the fuel system to fire up the burner when it becomes full of soot.

The drive train update comes with some goodies. The 3-litre donk now gets more torque, 430Nm up from 380Nm. And that torque is on hand between 2,000 and 2,300rpm. The power plant also holds 380Nm up to 3,500Nm.  Power output remains at 130kW and peaks at 3,600rpm.

Inside the venerable 4J engine is a new piston design, a revised injection system fuel pump and the addition of a variable geometry (VGS) turbo-charger. The 3-litre also shuns timing belts, retaining a steel timing chain set up.

The use of the 3-litre Euro 5 engine is actually a world first as Isuzu opted to use a twin-turbo 2.5-litre Euro 5 engine for the European market. It now offers a rather punchy yet cleaner twin-turbo 1.9-litre in other markets, including Europe.

2017 Isuzu D-Max interior
The roomy interior of the 2017 Isuzu D-Max

Behind the revised engine sits a new 6-speed Aisin torque converter auto or a 6-speed manual Isuzu ‘box. The auto features a lock up torque converter like many of its competitors.

The result of all that tinkering under the bonnet has led to Isuzu Ute claiming a 5% fuel economy improvement.

The D-Max and its SUV stable mate, the MU-X, have also had a subtle styling freshen-up to make it look a little more aggressive. The styling cues have allegedly been taken from the killer whale, maybe if you kinda squint you may just be able to see the likeness.

Inside, SX and LS-M variants now get a 7-inch touch screen for the multi-media audio system. LS-U and LS-T variants get an 8-inch screen. Unfortunately a reverse camera remains an option across the 15-model ute range, excepting LS-M and LSU where it is standard equipment. SX and LS-M variants now get an 8 speaker sound system and LS models get 3 USB ports.

Towing remains at 3,500kg (braked) across the range except the base SX low –rider 4x2 (2,500kg). Payload ranges from 1249kg for the base SX down to 924kg for the LS-U 4x4 Crew.

On the road

As I’ve noted in the past, the biggest strength of the Isuzu ute is that it just works. So we headed out to sample a cross section of the updated range on and off the beaten track. To see if it still … er … works.

Isuzu Ute is also claiming improved reduced engine noise from behind the wheel. Initial impressions are that it has….a little. The 4J engine still emits a diesel clatter that is at odds with downsized power plants now on offer from its competitors. However, some may find this a comfort rather than an annoyance.

The work put into the D-Max’s drivetrain has paid off. While the new 6-speed auto is not the most sophisticated unit on the market it gives the ute a whole new level of finesse both on and off road.

A fatter torque curve means that the whole ute feels more relaxed when working hard in hilly country and rarely does the tacho needle reach the breathless levels of the past in ordinary on road driving.

The new 6-speed manual is also a nice thing. The shift was a little stiff in the lower gears, between first and second, but I’d also add that these utes were brand spanking new - so you’d expect the shift to free up a little with some more kilometres on the clock.

Isuzu’s Terrain Command selector dial is the standard fare you’ll find on most 4x4 vehicles in this market. Switching from 2H to 4H on the fly is a twist of the dial. 4L requires a dead stop and a shift to neutral.

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On the dirt and in the bush the drivetrain improvements come to the fore. The engine is very flexible off-road and negotiated all obstacles in a very civilized manner. There was rarely any need to get revs up above 2,000rpm as the D-Max picked its way through the scrub.

I also spent quite a bit of time in the mine spec dual cab variant. This thing is a cracker as a work truck. A basic durable interior, cloth seats and a decent steel tray certainly made the ute look the part. The manual ‘box has an excellent spread of ratios for low speed driving which I reckon are perfect for a paddock, a mine site or wombling through traffic.

The final word

This D-Max update hasn’t changed the formula that has proved successful for the brand to date. A factory rear diff-lock across the range would give it more appeal in the work-focused market while still being handy for dual-purpose owners. The 1.9-litre twin-turbo engine launched for overseas markets would also be a nice option for lower spec models and fleet 4x2 models.

Amongst the 3 letter model acronyms and hyphens the guts of what the D-Max has built a reputation on still seems to stand. The gutsy yet understated Isuzu ute remains a good value bread and butter work truck. It’s now got just that little bit more grunt where it’s needed and that can only be a good thing.

 

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