The motoring landscape continues to evolve and with it the humble ute.
A quick look at the sales figures for last month show utes held down four, yes four — of the top 10 spots in Australia.
Nothing new in that, with the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger still going at it in first and second placer, but spare a thought for Isuzu whose D-Max utility nailed the number five spot in May — ahead of Mazda’s all-conquering Cx-5.
The Corolla (let’s not forget the Corolla), just made it into the ninth spot.
The champagne corks must be popping over at Isuzu’s headquarters at Cannon Hill in Queensland, where the company has been quietly going about business since 2008 with two solid but unexciting offerings — first with the D-Max and later with the 7-seat MU-X which was added in 2013.
D-Max is all new while an all-new MU-X is coming soon.
What’s it cost?
SX is the entry level offering and earmarked for work, with rubber mats, vinyl floor covering and a rather spartan cabin — apart from the large infotainment screen (more on that in a bit).
SX is priced from $29,990 driveaway with a six-speed manual and that includes a large, factory fitted alloy tray with drop sides.
It features manual air conditioning, tilt and reach adjust steering wheel, power windows with one-touch up/down driver’s window, auto lights and wipers, with auto high beam, adaptive cruise control, power outlet in lower instrument panel, 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with Voice recognition, plus four-speakers.
All fairly standard fare, but the safety story is a strong one, across the board and bears some closer scrutiny.
D-Max is the first ute and one of a small handful of vehicles to introduce an additional centre airbag across the entire range.
Mounted within the inner-side of the driver’s seat, it’s designed to protect both front occupants from colliding with each other during a severe impact.
Isuzu is also among the first to introduce Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) with Turn Assist, with the system able to autonomously brake at intersections to avoid driving into the path of an oncoming vehicle.
The Intelligent Driver Assistance System (IDAS) uses radar and binocular style cameras that precisely detect and measure distance, size, velocity and depth of vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and other potential obstacles.
The system incorporates Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR), Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM), Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), Lane Keep Assist (LKA), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), and Emergency Lane Keeping (ELK).
What’s it go like?
Like the last one, this D-Max is powered by a 3.0-litre turbo diesel.
It’s the same engine, but has been rejigged on the basis of local feedback, Isuzu says.
It puts out 140kW at 3600rpm and 450Nm from 1600 to 2600 rpm — 10kW and 20Nm more than before.
The torque band, available across a flat 1000 revs, is five times wider and more usable than its predecessor — with 400Nm on tap from 1400 through to 3250 rpm.
The engine features new internals, high-pressure direct injection and a more efficient electronically controlled Variable Geometry System (VGS) Turbocharger.
With less noise and vibration, it all adds up to an engine that is much quieter, smoother and stronger, not to mention sounding less like a truck.
Tradies will love it because it goes like a rocket (and we all know how they always seem to be in a hurry).
It’s long at more than 5.3 metres and has a turning circle of 12.5 metres, which makes it a handful in car parks.
And although it has a reverse camera, it doesn’t provide guidelines which reduces its usefulness.
With 17-inch steel wheels, 235mm of ground clearance, gas shocks and heavy duty leaf springs, the ride quality though is still hard, unforgiving and truck-like.
It has to be, otherwise it will be bouncing off its suspension bump stops with a full load on the back.
If you happen to be sitting in the passenger seat, you’re likely to be thrown around by unexpected jolts and with someone n the seat next to you, there’s not much room to put anything.
This model can carry an 1186kg payload, with an alloy tray that measures 2550 x 1777mm with 255mm drop sides.
This heavy duty tray incorporates a rear-window grille, with a top rail that is rated at 150kg.
It can also tow a 3500kg load, with a maximum towball rating of 350kg and has trailer sway control.
The large touchscreen looks impressive, but the actual viewing area is masked off at 7.0 inches and is not particularly responsive – it could do with a physical volume control too.
Android Auto refused to connect, or at least stay connected for more than a few seconds, and so we were left without navigation. Apple uses gets wireless CarPlay.
Digital radio reception is terrible. Hint extend the rooftop antenna. Better but still not the best.
With a 76-litre fuel tank, fuel consumption is a claimed 8.0L/100km. We were getting 8.6L/100km.
D-Max is covered by a 6-year/150,000km warranty, with 7-year roadside assistance and 7-year capped price servicing.
What we like?
Good fuel economy
Front pillar grab handles
What we don’t like?
Cabin too plasticy
Reverse camera needs guidelines
The bottom line?
There’s nothing flashy about the D-max, but then there doesn’t have to be.Is
Isuzu has been refining -Max since its launch 13 years ago and it looks like those chickens are finally coming home to roost.
At $29,990 driveaway (with a tray) the SX is outstanding value, especially given the high level of safety that it offers. Ford and Toyota need to spend less time worrying about each other and keep an eye on the rear vision mirror.