‘HONEST’ describes the Isuzu D-Max. It’s a word that will resonate with the average off-road enthusiast, though families seeking a ute-shaped five-seater might be happier to hear words such as ‘luxury’ and ‘equipment’.
Although it shares its GM-developed body and chassis with the Holden Colorado, Isuzu brought its own engine and gearbox. And the D-Max’s generationsold donk is a big part of its honesty. A commercial engine, it lives up to all the connotations the word ‘truck’ brings, both good and bad.
Similarly, the gearbox is a proven Aisin unit that has seen duty in the Toyota Prado, among others. Not the latest tech, then, and it only has five forward ratios when some rivals have six, seven and even eight.
Climb inside and the fragrance of rubber floor mats assaults the nostrils, while the design is purposeful rather than beautiful. It seems dated despite not being that old – this second-gen model has only been around since 2012 – and the steering column lacks reach adjustment, which is not yet the norm in a ute.
Despite its basic appearance, the requisite equipment is mostly there in LS-U spec, which features six airbags, Bluetooth audio and, erm, carpet. You also get 17-inch alloys, projector headlights and front fog lights, LED tail-lights, aluminium side steps and extra chrome trim.
Turn into a tarmac corner with the relatively heavy steering and the D-Max heaves over, its outside-front tyre squealing with less provocation than it takes with most of its rivals.
While it’s a bit of a blunt instrument, the D-Max is reasonably comfortable, offering a well-judged level of damping that lets the suspension breathe, and then some, without degenerating into float. It is quite settled on coarse chip but strangely less so on visibly smooth tarmac.
The 3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder is gruff and comparatively noisy. With 130kW and 380Nm, it’s not the most powerful, either, though the longevity of an under-stressed truck mill is an appealing prospect. The D-Max sits about mid-pack in terms of acceleration, at 11.7sec from 0-100km/h, just 0.2sec slower than the five-speed Triton. However, the 9.2sec it takes for the rolling 80-120km/h tells of the Isuzu’s lack of responsiveness and the transmission’s lack of smarts. The Triton completes the job in just 7.9sec.
Wind, tyre and suspension noise filter into the cabin more freely than they do in the more refined Amarok and Ranger, which will make the D-Max more tiring for long trips. Back-seaters have it worse, courtesy of a lack of under-thigh support and a too-upright backrest, though head and shoulder room are good.
Ute ownership can be about real and perceived unbreakability, and we would personally prefer a tough, keenly priced truck with a five-year warranty than one that’s trying hard but ultimately failing at being the polished workhorse-meetsfamily- hauler. But the Colorado still edges out the D-Max here because it’s more refined and has a marginally nicer cabin design (if you don’t mind its chintzy chrome and cheap plastic).
The average family may also quite rightly be persuaded by the Colorado’s qualities, badge and superior performance.
Or they may plump for one of the other six utes we’ve tested here, because there’s no shortage of quality competition. JW
The D-Max offers a class-leading 3500kg towing capacity and boasts ample approach and departure angles, generous ground clearance, an innerguard engine air intake and a pair of front recovery hooks as standard.
But surprisingly, given the Isuzu’s workmanlike personality, it lacks a standard locking rear diff, which means it flounders where most of its rivals power on in really tough conditions.
This is exacerbated by modest wheel travel and average traction-control calibration. Like the Triton, the Isuzu failed to complete our most challenging test climb.
$48,300 Engine 2999cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, TD Power 130kW @ 3600rpm Torque 380Nm @ 1800-2800rpm Transmission 5-speed automatic Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) 5295/1860/1795/3095mm Weight 1945kg Tray capacity 1005kg Braked towing capacity 3500kg Unbraked towing capacity 750kg Ground clearance 235mm Tyres Bridgestone Dueler H/T 255/65R17 ADR81 fuel cons 8.1L/100km 0-100km/h 11.7sec 0-400m 18.2sec @ 124.4km/h 80-120km/h 9.2sec 3yr resale 64% . Honest appeal; mostly good ride; proven drivetrain . Basic cabin; lacks refinement; engine, auto lack responsiveness