The What Van? Road Test: Isuzu D-max
Monday, November 5, 2012
With Ford, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Nissan and more latterly Volkswagen all active in the pick-up market, Isuzu sometimes has to fight to be heard. The brand is less familiar to the British public than the other five manufacturers, and while most prospective vehicle buyers will know where their nearest Ford dealer is, they might struggle to pinpoint the whereabouts of their local Isuzu outlet.
The activities of Isuzu Truck (UK) and Nikki King, its high-profile customer-service-oriented CEO, have helped raise the marque’s profile. However, they may also have resulted in some confusion.
As the name suggests, Isuzu Truck dealers sell Isuzu’s truck range. The pick-ups are sold through a separate network run by long-established Subaru importer IM Group, which has also recently started to ship in the competitively priced Steed pick-up built by Chinese manufacturer Great Wall.
Despite the blandishments offered by Ford, Nissan, et al, Isuzu’s pick-up line-up is well worth considering as an alternative and has recently been rejuvenated by the introduction of an all-new model.
Making its British debut at the Commercial Vehicle Show held at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre in April, the D-max replaces the Rodeo. Power comes courtesy of a 163hp 2.5-litre twin-turbo common rail diesel married to either a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic gearbox. Customers can opt for either a 4x2 or a 4x4 and the D-max is marketed as a four-door five-seater double-cab, a single cab and as a stretched single-cab with rear-opening side access panels. Four different specification levels are up for grabs, and we opted for a 4x4 double-cab built to the top-of-the-range Utah standard.
A driver’s seat that can be adjusted electrically for rake, reach and height remains something of a novelty on a light commercial vehicle, so like excited small children we fiddled about with the switches until the right level of comfort had been achieved. The leather-trimmed steering wheel is height-adjustable, too, so it should be easy for most shapes and sizes of people to find a satisfactory driving position.
Turning to in-cab storage space, the front doors stand in sore need of bigger bins, but at least they each feature a moulding to accommodate a cup or a can. You’ll find two cup holders between the front seats, one of which is occupied by a removable ashtray, and a pop-out cup-holder at each extremity of the fascia.
The glove box is lockable, there’s a deep lidded box between the seats while a pop-up lid on top of the dashboard conceals a tray. Looking up reveals a sunglasses holder above the windscreen. Look down and you will spot a shelf beneath the steering column with a small, hopper-type compartment to its right.
There is enough room for two on the back seat, but if you try to seat three people you had better hope they all know each other well. If they don’t, then they may find it a little too cosy for comfort. All three back-seat positions feature a lap-and-diagonal belt plus a headrest – too many pick-ups over the years have offered occupants of the centre rear seat nothing more than a lap-strap, with no headrest at all – and an arm-rest can be folded down for use by the two outboard passengers when the centre perch is unoccupied. It is a shame, however, that all the seats are let down by leather trim that alas looks rather cheap and plasticky. It wipes clean, but that is about the best that can be said for it.
Both the front seats feature map pockets for the rear passengers to use and the rear doors feature bins and cup-holders. A couple of flip-down cup-holders – you certainly won’t run short of somewhere to put your expresso in this vehicle – are positioned at the back of the console that sits between the front seats and can be accessed from the rear.
Front or back, the Utah’s standard side steps make it easier to climb in and out.
Access to the cargo box, which sits on a steel ladder-frame chassis, is by means of a drop-down tailgate. It can be locked horizontally, but cannot be lowered completely thanks to the presence of a bulky rear bumper.
Four load tie-down points are provided, but there is no ladder rack behind the cab. Maximum load length is 1485mm, maximum width is 1530mm narrowing to 1079mm between the wheel arches, and maximum load height is 465mm. Maximum loading height is 830mm and a plastic load liner comes as standard.
With a gross payload capacity of 1063kg, the Utah can haul a braked trailer grossing at 3000kg or an un-braked trailer grossing at up to 750kg.
If there is not enough space in the cargo bay then you can always use the roof: our D-max was fitted with roof bars.
With a cast-iron block and an aluminium head, the D-max’s in-line four-cylinder 16-valve direct-injection common rail CRDi Euro5 engine produces its maximum power at 3600rpm. Top torque of 400Nm bites across a 1400-2000rpm plateau. CO2 emissions are quoted at 194g/km – a respectable figure for this size and type of vehicle.
Chassis and steering
Double-wishbone independent suspension plus an anti-roll bar are fitted at the front while a rigid axle plus semi-elliptic leaf springs help support the rear. Our demonstrator’s 17-inch alloy wheels were shod with Bridgestone Dueler H/T 255/65 R17 tyres. Hydraulic power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering offers a 12.2m turning circle between kerbs.
Precise handling with little or no lurching or wallowing is among the D-max’s plus-points. However, it takes a lot of poke to shift a vehicle that weighs more than three tonnes when fully laden and there were times when our demonstrator seemed slow off the mark when accelerating away from rest. Mid-range and top-end acceleration are much more satisfactory, although the gear-change needs to be a bit smoother, and engine noise is not an issue.
The D-max rides better with some weight in the back. Remove the weight and the rear end gets a bit skittish, with the suspension struggling somewhat when it comes to coping with uneven surfaces.
Four-wheel drive is easy to engage: all you need do is twist a knob between the front seats. Turn it again and you remain in 4x4 mode but with the added advantage of a low-ratio set of gears. During our test the D-max sloshed through some seriously deep water without gurgling to a halt, and slithered up and down a series of inclines on the other side. We had to engage the low set of gears on one or two occasions, and they were not found wanting.
Utah buyers should be quite happy with the specification level they enjoy. The package includes climate control, cruise control, heated front seats, power-operated windows on all four doors and electrically adjustable and heated mirrors that can be folded flat electrically too. Complete with audio controls on the wheel, the high-quality radio/CD player features iPod, USB and Bluetooth connectivity.
Buying and running
Isuzu deserves high praise for making a generous five-year/ 120,000-mile warranty a standard feature. Service intervals are set at two years or 12,000 miles and we averaged 36.0mpg. The official combined cycle figure is 38.2mpg.
There is no spare wheel, alas – you get an inflation pump and sealer instead – but at least there is the consolation that you are not hauling around unproductive additional weight.
ABS comes as standard along with Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control System and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution. You will find solid 280mm disc brakes at the front with 295mm drums installed at the back.
Driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags should help protect
the cab’s occupants if the worst comes to the worst, and an immobiliser and remote central locking will help frustrate thieves. While we are hugely in favour of reverse parking sensors, we found the ones fitted to our demonstrator overly sensitive.
The Isuzu D-max is a practical workhorse that is unlikely to disappoint.
From the Piazza to the Rodeo
Anybody remember the Isuzu Piazza? A striking-looking sporty hatchback, it broke cover in the UK during the 1980s and was the first Isuzu to be widely available in Britain. But the vehicle that really brought the Isuzu name to the fore was the 4x4 Trooper. Sold as a van as well as in passenger car guise, it gained a loyal following, with dealers apparently still being asked if it, or something similar, will return. Despite the fact that the company produces an attractive SUV in other markets called the MU-7, such a return looks unlikely.
The D-max’s Rodeo predecessor made its British debut in 2007, initially as a 4x4 five-seater four-door double-cab powered by a new 136hp 2.5-litre common rail diesel generating 35hp more than the previous 2.5-litre.
The Rodeo had the square-cut styling of a traditional pick-up, a look abandoned by its successor in favour of more free-flowing lines.