At What Van? we have long admired the Isuzu D-Max for the strength of its all-round package, which is why it’s won our Pick-up of the Year award for two years running.
It is robust and rugged and a proven workhorse, making it a favourite with the kind of customers, such as farmers and builders, who need a pick-up that can be relied upon to put in a shift in tough conditions.
The D-Max is competitively priced, reasonably economical, and to its manufacturer’s credit still available in single- and extended-cab formats in a market that is increasingly dominated by double-cab models.
But Isuzu is not afraid to mix it with the double-cab lifestyle aristocrats, and in January it launched the special-edition Utah V-Cross in a limited run of 100 units.
We got behind the wheel of the six-speed manual but the V-Cross is also offered with six-speed automatic transmission. All D-Max versions are powered by a 164hp 1.9-litre diesel engine and it is worth reiterating that it is the only pick-up that does not require the addition of AdBlue to meet emissions legislation.
Isuzu has dished out generous specification to the V-Cross, and on top of the regular Utah flagship it gets a front skirt, dedicated 18in V-Cross alloys, a wireless charger and a front camera.
This is on top of an already lavish feature list that includes leather upholstery in the cab, heated front seats, keyless entry and a push button start system – an arguable benefit for those prone to losing keys – automatic air-conditioning, a front and rear parking camera to complement rear parking sensors, a seven-inch colour touchscreen, DAB radio (albeit with intermittent reception during our test drive), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and satellite navigation.
A gear shift indicator on the dash helps you to drive economically, and steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise control buttons help you keep your eyes on the road, especially when slogging up and down motorways. The cruise control is not adaptive but it is to be hoped that this safety-enhancing technology will become more commonplace in the near future.
The interior is roomy and there is a decent amount of legroom for rear passengers. The driver’s seat is height-adjustable with electric controls and there are front and rear centre armrests as well as front and rear centre cupholders.
The door bins can accommodate water bottles, and a lidded storage box sits between the front seats but, despite this, there is nowhere really handy to place the likes of mobile phones and keys.
In October of last year Isuzu made trailer sway control a standard fit on all four-wheel drive D-Max models and also changed the suspension on double-cabs from a five-piece to a three-piece leaf spring set-up, which has improved ride comfort and reduced noise levels in the cabin.
But despite generous kit levels and impressive technology, you can’t help feeling the V-Cross would be out of its comfort zone if attempting to go toe to toe with the likes of the Ford Ranger Wildtrak or Nissan Navara Tekna, let alone the Volkswagen Amarok or Mercedes X-Class. It lacks the requisite refinement, the gear change is notchy and imprecise, a long skirt cannot disguise the spindliness of the gear lever itself, and a good deal of engine noise still makes its way into the cab.
For driveability we would recommend the automatic but the manual wins out if economy is the decider: it delivers 40.4mpg on the combined cycle, according to Isuzu, compared to 36.2mpg for the auto.
This is the same as the equivalent manual versions of the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger but not quite a match for the Mitsubishi L200’s 40.9mpg and a good way short of the 44.1mpg Nissan claims for double-cab manual derivatives of its Navara.
The real strength of the Utah V-Cross, like all D-Max models, is as a working vehicle: it’s great off road, with a practical 1.1t payload, and has a joint class-leading 3.5t towing capacity.
Isuzu D-Max Utah V-Cross 4x4 Manual
Price (ex VAT) £26,199
Price range (ex VAT) £16,799-£29,799
Insurance Group 40A
Service intervals 12,000mls
Load length 1,485mm
Load width (min/max) 1,110/1,530mm
Gross payload 1,101kg
Engine size/power 1,898cc/164hp
Combined fuel economy 40.4mpg
The Utah V-Cross is well specced but cannot compete with the leading lifestyle pick-ups. Like all D-Max models however, as a working tool it is hard to beat.