Review: Isuzu D-Max 4x2 SX single cab and 4x4 SX dual cab utes

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  • Earthmovers & Excavators

Isuzu D-Max 4x4 The Isuzu D-Max 4x4 dual cab features Isuzu’s Terrain Command system Isuzu D-Max 4x4
Isuzu D-Max 4x4 rear shot The no-frills rear-end of the 4x4 D-Max Isuzu D-Max 4x4 rear shot
Isuzu D-Max cabin Inside the D-Max’s cab you’ll find everything you need … and nothing you don’t. Isuzu D-Max cabin
Isuzu D-Max 4x2 rear shot The Isuzu D-Max 4x2 single cab ute Isuzu D-Max 4x2 rear shot

Isuzu’s D-Max utes are due for an upgrade this year. Matt Wood takes a couple of work-focused models for a drive to see why the range is so popular as a working vehicle.

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At the dawn of the new year I had to have a good hard look at myself, not for too long though or it could get ugly. But, there are plenty of resolutions that I should be able to adhere to….but probably won’t. Not swearing under my breath at other road users for example, or limiting myself to one coffee a day, or drinking light beer.

However there is one that I will resolve to uphold. I will stop using the words "humble" and "modest" when referring to the Isuzu D-Max. It’s just hard when the Isuzu is just so damned unassuming in its demeanor.

Trouble is, that as the equipment ante has been upped in the Australian ute market, the D-Max does seem a little plain Jane these days. But maybe that’s not a bad thing?

Isuzu D-Max 4x2
The Isuzu D-Max 4x2 single cab is an unassuming workhorse

As its competitors have updated and added more creature comforts, stripes and fancy alloy wheels the D-Max has stayed the course of being the choice of those in the know when it comes to a dependable off-road and work ute.

But spend a little time with the humble (oops) hay hauler and it’s hard not to find a little affection for the D-Max. And the latest VFacts sales figures show that there are plenty who agree.

As of December 2016 the D-Max sat at number 3 on the sales charts for 4x2 cab chassis work utes, behind the market leading Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger, and at number 4 in the booming 4x4 dual cab segment. In the flashy 4x4 market the D-Max is still outselling the heavily revised Holden Colorado that shares it’s platform (but not it’s mechanicals).

A Euro 5 update is just about to lob locally, and much of the competition has used the change in emissions laws to update and revise. No doubt the D-Max will be no exception, to a point. But as players like Volkswagen and eventually Mercedes Benz and Renault raise the prestige ute bar you can’t help but wonder if the Isuzu is going to lag a little in customer perceptions.

A new platform is still a way off yet, but it was confirmed in 2016 that the age-old cooperation between Isuzu and GM with the D-Max/Colorado will be at an end. For the future it will be Isuzu and Mazda working together on a light commercial platform for the masses.

But on the eve of its new update we decided to take a couple of more work focused examples of the D-Max for a drive. And hopefully gain an insight as to why the D-Max rates so highly with those who want dependable working wheels.

Isuzu D-Max 4x2 SX single cab

My 4x2 single cab D-Max certainly wasn’t going to stand out in a Bunnings car park. It was plain white with an aluminum tray and steel wheels.

Inside were the same old hard plastic rubber floor mats and dated-looking instrumentation. But that’s exactly what this part of the market wants. Nothing too fiddly, clever or fragile. It just needs to work.

And that’s perhaps why the D-Max has picked up quite a following. Ultimately, it just works.

At 130kW/280Nm it’s not the most powerful ute on the market. The 3-litre turbo-diesel donk is a tad grumbly and feels a bit old-school compared to some of the more sophisticated power plants out there. A 5-speed Aisin auto sat behind the engines of both utes we drove and again, it has a certain comforting simplicity in operation.

Payload for our SX low rider 4x2 comes in at a handy 1265kg for the auto and braked towing is 2,500kg.

Isuzu D-Max 4x2 engine bay
The 3-litre Isuzu turbo diesel engine


Isuzu D-Max 4x4 dual cab

4x4 models get the ute segment’s benchmark 3,500kg braked towing. Again the driveline struggles a bit with that kind of load on the tow bar. But regardless you still feel like it’s having a fair old crack at it. The rear suspension does plummet with that sort of weight on board but it doesn’t resort to bump steering or any other nose up antics. It still inspires confidence that you’ll get the job done, even if it’s a little slow when pushed.  

On jumping into the base dual cab SX auto 4x4 you also greeted with the same work day office. Nice deep rubber mats trap the dirt off your boots and the hard dash plastic and fabric seats feel like they’d handle a scrubbing brush if needed.


In the loose stuff

To get it dirty we headed to the sand tracks of Moreton Island. The D-Max’s Terrain Command 4x4 system is the shift-on-the-fly set up that you find on virtually everything these days. 4x4 high range can be grabbed at speeds of up to 100km/h.

The D-Max is quite stiffly sprung, as you’d expect of a work truck. As a result it can be prone to cocking a leg in really rough country. In the soft sands of Moreton Island however, the Isuzu plugged away gamely in 4x4 low. At times I opted for high range in firmer ground however the D-Max’s electronic traction control can’t be switched off in high range 4x4, unlike low-range where it switched off automatically, this encourages it to bog down in soft, sandy conditions where a bit of wheel spin can help keep the little truck moving.

The lack of a rear diff-lock also hampers the D-Max in off-road conditions. Given the obvious work ready nature of the Isuzu a rear diff-lock across the 4x4 and Hi-Rider 4x2 models would be a handy addition.

The bottom line

After a few weeks of D-Max motoring I was starting to get the attraction of the Isuzu. The D-Max just works, no fuss, no fiddling, it just works. You can throw bags or tools into the cab without fear of breaking or banging knobs, buttons or levers. There aren’t a multitude of settings for the driver’s seat. You can’t accidently turn on the seat heaters. There are none.

It’s just a case of turf your gear in, flick the key and hit the road. The relative simplicity of the D-Max inspires confidence in this day and age. For those that work, the D-Max just works. You’ve got to respect that.


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