Isuzu has kept its D-Max pick-up truck on customers’ radars during the past few years through supplementing the line-up with a series of special edition models.

These include the Utah V-Cross, the XTR, the Workman+ and even the hardcore off-roader, the D-Max AT35, which was developed in partnership with Arctic Trucks, the Icelandic 4×4 specialist converter.

Nevertheless, with competitors such as Ford, Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi having brought out new or revised models, the current version is beginning to look long in the tooth.

The last update was the 2017 facelift, with the most significant change being the introduction of the 164hp 1.9-litre engine, which replaced the old 163hp 2.5 lump. Despite some initial misgivings it might lack the brute force of its predecessor the new powertrain won over the doubters by proving it could get the job done. 

This was important as the D-Max has built up an enviable reputation as a competent workhorse, which has stood it in good stead with its core customer base of farmers and rural businesses. 

Isuzu has never claimed the D-Max is the most sophisticated pick-up on the market, but that could be about to change with the arrival of the next-generation model in the first quarter of 2021. Isuzu UK gave What Van? an exclusive chance to drive a prototype version of the new D-Max before the production model arrives in showrooms in March next year.

The truck gets the same engine as the current iteration but this time it will need the addition of AdBlue to conform to the latest emissions regulations, bringing it into line with its competitors.

Isuzu had used the D-Max’s status as the only pick-up not to require AdBlue as something of a selling point but claims the significance of this has diminished as operators of diesel LCVs have become accustomed to topping up their vehicles with the urea-based liquid, which removes NOx pollutants from the exhaust.

The new D-Max has taken a big step up in terms of refinement, which should enable it to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of the rest, especially now that the sector’s two premium models, the Volkswagen Amarok and Mercedes-Benz X-Class, have departed.

Isuzu is to simplify the line-up of the new D-Max, placing trucks in three categories: Utility, All Purpose and Adventure.

Utility consists of a 4×2 single cab, a 4×4 single cab, an extended cab and a double cab (both 4×4). All of these get a six-speed manual gearbox.

All Purpose encompasses the DL20 extended cab with the manual gearbox and two double cabs, one manual and one with a new six-speed auto transmission, and the DL40, comprising manual and auto double cabs.

The ‘DL’ indicates a selectable differential lock, which product manager Liam Campbell says delivers better traction off-road than a limited slip differential. The diff lock is standard on all bar the Utility models.

The Adventure category houses the flagship V-Cross, which is also available with manual or automatic transmissions.

An area where Isuzu has upped its game is in the provision of advanced driver assist systems (ADAS). As standard the new D-Max will get forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, which combines with an intelligent speed limiter to alter speeds between zones, and lane departure warning, with a lane departure prevention system that adjusts the steering if the driver is about to cross lanes without indicating.

All models feature a forward-facing stereo camera that can detect pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles. The manufacturer claims that unlike other cameras in the pick-up segment, Isuzu’s camera has two lenses and gauges distance by comparing the two readings – operating in a similar way to a human eye. It says the camera can identify vehicles from 120m away. 

Double-cab trucks come with a rear radar that enables additional ADAS features such as a blind spot monitor that detects vehicles in the driver’s blind spot and alerts the driver via an orange warning light in the door mirror. The warning light will flash if the driver indicates to move into the lane where a vehicle is detected. If the driver fails to take action emergency lane keeping will adjust the steering to prevent the lane change.

Isuzu claims this is the first time such equipment has been a standard fit on double-cab pick-ups in the UK.

Double-cab trucks also get rear cross-traffic alert to detect vehicles approaching from the rear when reversing out of a parking space while auto versions come with adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and pedal misapplication mitigation, which suppresses engine torque and issues a visual and audible warning if the driver suddenly accelerates in front of an object. It works at below 5mph when an obstacle is within 4m to help avoid incidents at low speed – for example, if the driver is parked and selects drive instead of reverse.  

We drove a prototype of the V-Cross 6AT on a road route of country lanes, A-roads and motorways. 

Beefier than the current D-Max with the bonnet raised by 30mm and a bigger badge, the pearlescent white truck boasts a gun metal radiator grille, side steps, door mirrors, door handles and 18in alloy wheels, which gives it a purposeful presence and makes a welcome, understated change from some of the flashier, blinged-up examples of the current range.

Generous specification includes a decent reversing camera as well as front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry with push-button start, bi-LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, and LED front fog lights.

Electromechanical power steering has replaced the old hydraulic set-up and improves handling. It is light and easy in low-speed, urban situations and stiffens up at higher speeds, and for the first time on the D-Max, the steering wheel is rake and reach-adjustable.

The auto transmission is smoother and snappier than before with a shorter throw between cogs, but is still not a match for the Amarok’s eight-speed auto or the Ranger Raptor’s 10-speed auto transmission. 

The wealth of new ADAS kit helps to keep you safe and within legal limits and we were impressed by the efficiency of the Adaptive Cruise Control in maintaining safe distances from vehicles in front on the motorway. 

The cabin in the V-Cross is a world away from the current D-Max and could be called car-like, which is not a description that would be given to previous D-Max interiors. Softer plastic adorns the dash, which features a 9in touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the sound system has eight speakers, and leather upholstery abounds on the steering wheel and seats. The driver’s seat is eight-way electrically adjustable and there is dual-zone climate control and a welcome light. Isuzu has also taken huge strides in improving comfort and refinement, resulting in an impressive reduction in engine and road noise inside the cabin. 

The overall length of the new D-Max has reduced by 30mm but the wheelbase has increased by 30mm, and it is noticeable that rear seat passengers get more legroom.

Due to the addition of all the ADAS kit Isuzu admits payload will be marginally lower than the current model.

We didn’t get to take the new D-Max off-road but Isuzu says its wading depth has increased to a class-leading 800mm, alongside the Ford Ranger, thanks to the breather holes being placed higher. This compares to 700mm for the Toyota Hilux and 600mm for both the Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi L200.

Isuzu D-Max V-Cross 6AT prototype

Price (ex VAT) tbc

Price range (ex VAT) tbc

Insurance group tbc

Warranty 5yrs/125,000mls

Service intervals 12,000mls

Load length 1,485mm

Load width (min/max) 1,110/1,530mm

Load bay height n/a

Gross payload 1,101kg

Load volume n/a

Engine size/power 1,898cc/164hp

Combined fuel economy tbc

CO2 tbc