In a sector increasingly dominated by ever more luxurious (and expensive) pick-up trucks, which could be accused of getting ideas above their station as they vie for attention in the so called ‘lifestyle’ sector, the Isuzu D-max offers a breath of fresh air.

It is a no-nonsense workhorse that ticks the boxes pick-up trucks were originally intended to tick, and is even available in single- and extended-cab guises.

But while undoubtedly a rugged all-rounder comfortable both off- and on-road, the D-max is not without sophistication and has a lot going for it.

Isuzu introduced the current model in May 2017 with a new, downsized engine – a 164hp 1.9-litre four-cylinder diesel replaced the old 163hp 2.5-litre unit. This delivers far better fuel economy but does not, insists the manufacturer, impinge upon its ability to put in a shift. It can still tow a joint class-leading 3.5t trailer, for example.

While the 1.9-litre is the only engine offered it can be married to either six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearboxes, and Isuzu has achieved compliance with the Euro6 exhaust emission regulations without having to resort to AdBlue – a feather in the brand’s cap as it is the only pick-up in the market to manage this and is a feature likely to go down well with the D-max’s core base of rural customers who just want to get on with the job in hand without such distractions.

While Isuzu likes to emphasise its truck’s rugged competence with the strapline ‘It just works’, trim levels are far from Spartan, and plenty of features are available to provide a comfortable working environment.

Even the entry-level Utility model comes with air-conditioning. Thereafter you follow a specification walk that takes you through Eiger, Yukon, Utah and Blade, which comes with a 9.0in touchscreen plus front and rear parking sensors.

But you don’t have to travel all the way to the top of the range to enjoy some in-cab cosseting. Utah features Bluetooth connectivity with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Also included in the deal are satellite navigation, a 7.0in touchscreen, and an eight-speaker DAB digital radio in a redesigned instrument panel with remote controls on the steering wheel.

You can order the Utility as either a 4×2 or a 4×4. Everything else comes with four-wheel drive as standard.

Isuzu continues to deserve plaudits for its provision of a five-year/125,000-mile warranty, backed up by a five-year roadside rescue and recovery scheme that includes Continental cover. The package is accompanied by a six-year anti-corrosion warranty and a three-year paint warranty.

Isuzu’s UK general manager William Brown says the market is already familiar with the D-max’s capabilities as an outstanding working vehicle but acknowledges that being crowned What Van?’s pick-up truck of the year for 2018 helped to further burnish its reputation.

“People who want a pick-up to do what a pick-up is designed to do are already aware that the Isuzu D-max is the best pick-up in the sector,” Brown claims.

“Winning the award has helped to reinforce our credentials with those in the know and increase awareness with people that are unfamiliar with what’s on offer in the pick-up sector.”

Brown says that because What Van? is a “credible and recognised voice of authority that understands the LCV and pick-up market”, Isuzu has used the award to promote the D-max across all its channels.

“It has been a key part of our marketing strategy for 2018,” he adds.

Brown also claims that in a market where Isuzu’s competitors are struggling this year, its sales are ahead of where they were in 2017.

This is not borne out by the Society of Motor Manufacturer and Traders’ figures, however, which put Isuzu down 6% in the first five months of the year on 2,022 registrations, with a poor showing in May (down 27%) largely to blame for the shortfall. It should be noted, though, that brands producing rival pick-ups, such as Mitsubishi, Toyota and Fiat Professional, were also behind in the year to the end of May.


Yukon Luxe Ex class=

The Yukon Luxe extrended cab version

When Isuzu revealed it was to introduce the 1.9-litre engine to the D-max there were some suggestions it would not have sufficient muscle when put to hard work to replace its 2.5-litre predecessor, but Brown refutes the doubters.

“The customers’ response from all sectors has been overwhelmingly positive,” he claims. “Feedback [indicates] the new engine is more refined, more responsive, more efficient and tows better.”

He says the most favourable reaction, however, has been to the fact that the engine does not require AdBlue.

Although Isuzu caters for the parts of the pick-up sector that some other brands no longer reach, namely single- and extended-cab customers, the manufacturer remains in line with the overall market trend, with Brown confirming double-cabs dominate sales. He says the mid-spec Yukon, with manual transmission, is currently the top seller, closely followed by the top-of-the-range Utah and Blade versions.

Where 4×4 single- and extended-cab trucks come to the fore is for tipper and platform cab conversions carried out by partners including Strongs Body Conversions and Cumberland Platforms. Brown claims the D-max is becoming the default choice for converters due to
its durability.

The vehicle has traditionally had its stronghold in the countryside with owner-drivers and small businesses, and while Brown says this remains the case, he points out that the biggest growth area is with dual-purpose customers who require the vehicle for both work and family use.

“The Blade model is particularly popular with this customer base,” he asserts, addding that the brand constantly struggles to keep up with demand for the model – matching supply to demand being a balancing act all importers must perform.

Isuzu does not compete with the likes of Ford, with its Ranger, or Toyota, with its Hilux, for big corporate deals, but Brown claims a number of large, high-profile fleet contracts are in the pipeline and will soon “come to fruition”.

“Fleet is another area of the business that continues to grow,” says Brown. “Already this year we have orders in excess of sales for the whole of last year.”

Historically, the main rivals for the D-max have been the Mitsubishi L200, the Nissan Navara, the Ranger and the Hilux, but a new player is about to enter the fray that could be seen to occupy the same ball park in terms of price and the fact that it will aim to attract customers through its quality and suitability for purpose rather than its brand name. This new challenger is Ssangyong’s next-generation Musso, which is now based on its Rexton SUV.

But Brown argues this last factor will discount the Musso as a competitor because customers will not view it as a conventional pick-up.

“The Musso is based on an SUV platform whereas the D-max is designed to be a pick-up and comes from truck DNA.

“Our priority is building pick-ups designed to do the jobs our customers really need a proper pick-up for.”

Isuzu sells its D-max to UK customers through a network of 105 dealerships, which includes 53 dedicated fleet dealerships and 30 selling the extreme, special edition AT (Arctic Truck) 35 model.

Retailer investment costs are comparatively low – the showrooms are not gin palaces – and Brown says: “Because we operate a simple, low-cost and profitable franchise model we have more applications for the franchise than we have open points.”

Isuzu launched the Blade-based AT 35 (the ‘35’ refers to the giant, 35-inch wheels) in 2016 priced from £30,999 to £34,499, excluding VAT, and Brown claims the response to the Icelandic company’s conversion has been “staggering”.

“It was never our intention for this to be a high-volume model, but due to the fact we have the most extreme and capable pick-up available for sale in the UK, it has become one,” he declares.

At the CV Show in April the brand revealed the AT Stealth edition – limited to just 10 examples with a price tag of £50,000. By the time the doors closed at the NEC it had sold all of them.

Another highlight on the stand was the launch of the Yukon Luxe extended cab with features such as 18in alloys, leather interior and tailgate assist.

NEW PIC D -max class=

Rural customers will appreciate the Huntsman