I HAVE a soft spot for Isuzus, probably because I owned one of its now-rare Bellett sedans for some years.
The attractive little four-seater doubled as a daily driver and occasional club racer.
It didn’t win any races, but set a hillclimb record, got a podium, gave us a lot of fun and we never needed to lay a spanner on it, unlike our Escort and Cortina class rivals who inevitably had to do some kind of a fix or rebuild after every meeting.
So the arrival of the D-Max ute was welcome. It’s a handsome brute with a fine paint finish and a tailgate emblazoned with the Isuzu name in big stylised print, just so people don’t confuse it with another brand.
What’s it cost?
Ute World is a very competitive place.
There are no fewer than 23 models in the range and for the review we got the flagship LS-T double-cab auto 4×4, priced at $54,700.
There’s also a 4×2 version for $7800 less. Prices in the extensive range start from $26,990.
You need to be up to speed on your ABC if you’re shopping for a D-Max because they come in a bewildering mix of SX, LS-U, LS-T, EX and LS-M spec, in manual or auto, and in cab chassis, space cab and crew cab format.
New features on the LS-T are stylish machined 18-inch alloys with Toyo road tyres, redesigned side steps, dark roof rails and grille slats, so there’s little difference between the latest and last year’s model.
The chrome grille sits between LED daytime running lights and projector headlights and yes, it does have keyless entry, push-button start and a fine, proper handbrake, rather than an electronic version.
The interior is spacious, with A-1 seating front and rear, plus good head, shoulder and legroom, excellent visibility and an aesthetically pleasing design.
The trim is a premium leather with faux leather seat bolsters and there are two USB sockets, one of them in the rear console.
Instrumentation is pretty good, although it does lack features like Apple Car Play, Android Auto, digital speedo and autonomous emergency braking.
What you do get is an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, satnav, 6-speaker audio, climate control aircon and a good reversing camera.
Vehicles of this kind are bought by serious folk who use them primarily for towing or work or leisure purposes, and don’t give a rat’s about perceived niceties.
In fact, the D-Max ranks among the top-10 in several of the world’s overall car markets and is the ute of choice in its manufacturing base: Thailand.
A major magnet is its new 6-year/150,000km warranty, a package that includes 6-year roadside assistance and 7-year capped price servicing.
What’s it go like?
Taking the new D Max on a country run with a load was effortless.
My old Isuzu huffs and puffs up the hills. The 3.0-litre diesel in the D-Max barely recognises them.
It charges along at whatever rate you set without complaints, drinking minimal kerosene along the way.
The 130kW/430Nm 3.0-litre turbo is a robust motor and mated to a 6-speed automatic that can handle just about anything.
It can take a tonne in its fully lined tray or 3.5 tonnes on the tow ball and our test run with 500kg in the back seemed to have no effect on its performance.
It ran up steep hills without any effort, cruised the open road at a loping 100km/h and then I checked the fuel economy figure.
11.7, the computer said. “11 point what?”
A second look showed the reading was in kilometres per litre.
Now that’s nonsense. The metric measure is litres/100km.
Where Isuzu got that weird mix of imperial term and metric distance from is a mystery.
Probably the result of a committee meeting made up of klutzes who didn’t pay attention during the metric conversion class.
Anyway, some arithmetic showed the real result to be 8.5L/100km. Now that’s more like it. In fact, it’s very good.
That will be a double thumbs up from tradies nationwide.
Inside it’s comfortable, with leather seats that are well bolstered for longer than usual urban sprints.
There is plenty of legroom for big boots and long legs both front and back in the dual cab configuration tested.
The dash instruments and climate control are easy to operate and there are charging ports just above a console platform for devises.
Not surprising then that the D Max is high on buyers top picks for light trucks.
There is an optional rear cover for the tray that is a nice feature.
Unlike hard covers, this one retracts allowing height to a load, quite important if you are considering anything deeper than the lid.
It normally runs in 4×2 high, but for 4×4 high or 4×4 low — all it needs is a turn of a rotary knob on the console.
If you’re one of the few who go offroad, well, if it’s really rough stuff you intend traversing, you might want to change the road tyres to knobblies, and fold those chrome mirrors in so they don’t get smacked off on some undergrowth.
Ground clearance is 235mm, approach angle is 30.0 degrees, departure 22.7 and ramp-over 22.3, which should get you through most parts of Australia’s tarmac-less track.
The test ute had a gorgeous paint finish, and no way was I going to take it anywhere near a thorn bush.
Nope. The vast majority of D-Max drivers — and most other tuff trucks — are tarmac folk.
In the cab the motor kicks up a bit more din than expected, but it’s not as irritating as the wind roar at 110km/h.
The indicators are still old school in that they do not have a the three-blink lane change feature.
The ride is firm, but the rear suspension has been tweaked for more comfort with the removal of two of the leaf springs.
The refined three-leaf system is of a new design that can still handle a load, but makes for happier human and pet occupants.
The test ute also had the optional ($545) Front Park Assist feature, which employs a three-stage radar sensor system to warn of things getting a bit tight when parking.
What we like?
Nice ride height and vision
Frugal fuel needs
What we don’t like?
Illiterate fuel economy gauge
Dated infotainment system
Some minor trim complaints
Lacks indicator repeat
The bottom line?
The D-Max is one of the best built and looking utes on the market. It has a fab warranty, suggesting it will go forever, just like the Bellett of the 1960s. In short, a lot of quality and class, but a tad short in finesse.