First Drive: Isuzu D-max

Date: Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Isuzu reckons it has improved refinement and quality in its new D-max pick-up while losing none of the ruggedness and off-road ability on which its predecessor, the Rodeo, built its reputation.

 In four-wheel drive double cab guise the brand is offering the D-max in four trim levels. We got behind the wheel of the lower mid-range spec Eiger with six-speed manual transmission. Costing £18,499, excluding VAT, the Eiger is priced competitively against its rivals’ mid-spec products and comes in £750 more expensive than the D-max base model.
Power comes from a 163hp 2.5-litre common-rail diesel engine, official combined fuel consumption is 38.2mpg and emissions are put at 194g/km – figures that more than hold their own in the sector, with fuel economy only bettered, marginally, by the Toyota Hilux.
The D-max is a handsome beast in a butch, muscular way. The wedge-shaped front end now sports flared fenders, giving it a broader appearance than the old Rodeo it replaces. The bigger grille has been raised and butts up to the bonnet, and the Isuzu badge has also been enlarged.
At the rear, the tail lamps are  much larger than before, while the Eiger rides on 16-inch alloys and features body-coloured bumpers.
Stepping into the cab the impression is underwhelming and the fittings are reminiscent of the far cheaper Great Wall Steed (see page 12), and is a reminder that the Eiger sits just above the base model in the D-max line-up.
The radio/CD player facia looks dated and has tiny, fiddly controls, while the gear stick is long and flimsy-looking; initially, we struggled occasionally to select the right gear.
However, there is plenty of useful storage space and the cup holders are sturdy and strong. The steering wheel and driver’s seat are height-adjustable, providing reasonable comfort, and on the move the interior is quiet.
The D-max handles well – the steering is light and easy and there is plenty of punch from the engine. Off-road, it is an accomplished performer and should have more than enough in its locker to serve operators who need to take it off the beaten track. First gear is set as a ‘crawling gear’ for traversing very rough terrain plus steep inclines and declines. Ground clearance has been raised 30mm over the Rodeo to 235mm, and the D-max also boasts a maximum traversing angle of 49°.
As well as the Eiger, we also drove the flagship Utah on-road. Our model had the five-speed automatic transmission with
the option of sequential manual shift, a system that worked smoothly and predictably in
both modes.
The level of refinement inside the cabin is a considerable step-up compared with the Eiger, with features such as cruise control, automatic climate control, parking sensor and leather upholstery. But on the downside, there is no factory-fitted satnav as yet.

 

 

Five-year warranty

Isuzu is to offer a five-year/ 120,000-mile warranty with its new D-max pick-up.
The package, which the brand claims breaks new ground in the sector and demonstrates its faith in the product’s reliability, comprises a standard 36-month/60,000-mile manufacturer’s warranty plus
an extended warranty provided by the importer, Isuzu UK, which belongs to the IM Group’s portfolio.
Isuzu’s UK boss Paul Tunnicliffe says the extended warranty puts “clear water between ourselves and the competition”.
General manager William Brown says the cover “gives buyers of the D-max peace of mind for longer than any other pick-up in the UK” and adds: “We’re demonstrating our absolute confidence in the toughness of our new product.”

 

 

Isuzu aims for sector dominance with D-max

Isuzu has such faith in its new D-max that it is confidently expecting to become the best-selling pick-up manufacturer in the UK, starting with a 44% hike in volume in 2012 to 3550 units.
The prediction is all the bolder bearing in mind that the rise would come on top of the strong performance of the D-max’s predecessor, the Rodeo, last year. With more than 2400 units shifted, it propelled the UK into becoming Isuzu’s biggest European market for the first time. UK boss Paul Tunnicliffe reckons if the Japanese Tsunami and Thai floods hadn’t hit supply, another 500 would have been sold. But with the new vehicle not in showrooms until June, it only has half a year to hit the manufacturer’s target.
What’s more, the competition has just got a whole lot tougher with the arrival of the VW Amarok last year, followed by the recently launched new Ford Ranger. The cheaper end of the sector has also expanded recently with the introduction of the Steed from Chinese manufacturer, Great Wall.
Intriguingly, the IM Group is the UK importer for both Isuzu and Great Wall (the brands share three dealerships) but claims the models will not tread on each others’ toes due to the Steed’s lower towing capability and rock bottom price.
While still pitching the D-max as the toughest truck in town (and country) Isuzu reckons it can take on all comers.
UK general manager William Brown says: “The D-max is a significant step forward from its very successful predecessor. It is a highly capable tool for those working outdoors, yet is extremely refined. It features an efficient Euro5 engine while also exhibiting that rugged toughness for which the Isuzu brand has built such a solid reputation.”
The D-max’s power comes courtesy of a 2.5-litre twin-turbo common-rail diesel engine that generates 163hp and peak torque of 400Nm from 1400rpm. It is offered with six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission and Isuzu claims fuel economy is 10% better than on Rodeo. The official combined cycle figure is 38.2mpg. The vehicle can switch between two- and four-wheel drive at speeds of up to 60mph.
The vehicle is available as a double, single and, for the first time in the UK, extended cab configuration with rear-opening side access panels. Prices range from £14,499 to £21,499, excluding VAT. The double cab variant, expected to be the most popular, is up for grabs in four specifications from the base level D-max to Eiger, Yukon and Utah. Of these, the two mid-spec models are expected to
command most sales.
All versions are selectable 4x4 but the entry-level single cab is also offered as a 4x2.
The D-max’s load-lugging credentials include a three-tonne unbraked towing weight (although the UK importer is lobbying
to get this increased to 3.5 tonnes) and payload capacities of 1058-1136kg.
Tunnicliffe claims the make-up of the brand’s 93-strong dealer network gives it an edge over the competition in that retailers are wholly focused on their customers’ requirements. Unlike Nissan,
Ford and VW dealers, for example, they do not have to spend most of their time selling passenger cars.
The manufacturer is also increasingly targeting agricultural dealers, which means the pick-ups are displayed alongside tractors and farm machinery.
“Historically we were aligned to Subaru (also imported by IM); now we’re moving towards agricultural dealers. We’re the only brand that can do this,” claims Tunnicliffe.
The D-max is bigger than the Rodeo. The 3095mm wheelbase is 45mm longer while bumper to bumper overall length has increased by 215mm to 5295mm. Ground clearance is up 30mm to 235mm to improve off-road performance while loading height has gone down 100mm to 685mm, which is lower than most competitors, according to the manufacturer.
“It’s more confident and aggressive,” says Tunnicliffe who maintains that despite efforts to improve the cabin’s quality and refinement with touches such as increasing leg room and enabling the rear seat to recline further, it retains the DNA of a tough working vehicle. At least 90% of the vehicles are fitted with tow bars, which, he claims, is much higher than on competitors such as the Nissan Navara or Mitsubishi L200, for example.
But Tunnicliffe is not just targeting pick-up rivals – he also has a venerable British institution in his sights, particularly if the D-max’s towing capacity can be raised.
“We’re having a go at the Land Rover Defender sector,” he says.
Isuzu’s traditional strength has been selling pick-ups to farmers, and while seeking to grow this market further, Tunnicliffe also wants to increase fleet sales to water and forestry companies, for example, and has targeted 500 such sales in the second half of 2012.
General manager Brown says the strategy has got off to a good start with a Welsh utility company ordering 16 D-max Eigers. He suggests the D-max will plunder sales from rivals by undercutting them on price, and believes the flagship Utah will compete with the Amarok and new Ford Ranger.

 

Verdict
Drives well and is a competent workhorse. But only top-end models can challenge the best-in-class for refinement.



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