2021 Isuzu D-Max SX 4×4 dual cab-chassis review
2020 Isuzu D-Max SX Dual Cab-Chassis review in Australia, including price, specs, interior, ride and handling, safety and score.
Following on from our review in the new top-spec Isuzu D-max X-Terrain, we’re in the entry-level SX. Now despite a sub-$30k entry point to the range (4×2 single cab manual), the SX range consists of 13 variations, this particular specification costing almost $50,000 before on-roads. Of course, as with the X-Terrain, there are many sharp driveaway price deals so be sure to look out for those.
But despite what is a price close to the next-level LS-M, the SX comes with some good equipment, a sturdy cabin and a practical chassis-style for adding a tray, camper or other aftermarket additions. Plus, there are plenty of accessories available from Isuzu.
If you’re coming from an existing Isuzu pre-2020, then you’ll be please to know that this is the new generation model, with new underpinnings and platform underneath plus a heavily revised though same-capacity 3.0L engine. The structure is built by Isuzu in Thailand and the company also builds the new Mazda BT-50, which is based on the core Isuzu D-Max chassis underneath. Most notable for this new generation is a big suite of safety aids that helped achieve a 2020-rated five-star ANCAP rating, plus a notable improvement in interior comfort and technology.
How much does the Isuzu D-Max SX 4×4 dual cab-chassis D-Max cost?
Our test car is priced at $48,700 with a six-speed automatic transmission, the six-speed manual is cheaper at $46,700. If you opt for a style side tray rather than this cab-chassis, the price is $49,990.
Equipment includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth connectivity, fabric trim interior, vinyl floor cover, rear-seat air ventilation, air-con, 17-inch steel wheels, automatic halogen headlights, auto high-beam and auto wipers.
Safety equipment for this auto transmission model includes AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-keeping assist with departure warning, speed limit warning and assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, front turning assist, eight airbags, a reversing camera, and more. It all was enough to help even this base model achieve a five-star ANCAP rating.
What’s the Isuzu D-Max like inside?
This generation brings a nicer cabin look and feel, even in base spec. Of note is the infotainment system which although smaller than other new D-Max models (7.0-inches vs 9.0in) brings Apple CarPlay connectivity (including wirelessly) and Android Auto. These are great additions as they mirror most phone functions on the screen, and it works well. You can also change settings for just about anything, including brightness, contrast, colour and more for the standard screens, reversing camera, and Apple/Android screens separately. Glare is low and touch sensitivity on point.
The dash in this SX grade is simpler in material use, not featuring the soft-touch top of the X-Terrain. That’s not to say they are scratchy, however, and there is a mix of elements that bring some interest in design. Some items like the vents and screen placement are pragmatic rather than elegant, but this is a work truck still. The smaller 7.0-inch screen in the 9.0-inch slate also looks a touch out of place.
The centre console remains large and the handbrake a mechanical release rather than electronic, with a decently large centre console behind it.
Behind the steering wheel is a 7.0-inch digital display that provides guidance for the digital speedo, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, speed sign recognition, and a raft of settings. It is here that you can turn off the bing bong sounds for the automatic speed sign recognition, lane departure warning and other alerts. Options include a less invasive flash on the screen which works well. When AEB is triggered it flashes via the red light bar tucked between the cowl and windscreen.
Adjustment of the driver’s seat is manual, as is the passenger’s, though there is manual and tilt adjustment on the steering wheel – something not all dual-cab utes on the market have yet.
The rear’s also a well-equipped area for kids and surprisingly roomy for adults. Rear air vents in the centre console stack are rare in this segment and the footwell space has a good amount of room. For those with kids, the isofix points on the outer seats and factory-standard top tether anchors are great – just mind that the manual says not to use them for the centre seat. Our three-year-old in the back had plenty of space once buckled in.
Finally, there are vinyl floors, and while not hoity-toity, these are useful for muddy boots and cleaning out dirt.
What’s the new Isuzu D-Max engine like?
We have the same 2999cc swept capacity from the turbo-diesel engine used before but it is a heavily revised motor with many new components in a new design. This includes a new block with a new head, pistons, injectors, turbocharger and more. The change is significant enough that the old 4JJ1-TC name evolves to 4JJ3-TCX.
Power and torque increase from the previous 130kW and 430Nm to 140kW (still at 3600rpm) and 450Nm, through either six-speed manual or new six-speed Aisin automatic.
That’s not a big difference, and both outputs remain lower compared to the Ford Ranger’s new 2.0-litre twin-turbo and Toyota’s 2.8-litre update arriving soon. But full torque is delivered from 1600rpm, 400rpm earlier than before, which gives plenty of pulling power in the real world. The six-speed auto is also nicely geared, and the ratios provide a thoughtful gear spread for initial acceleration around town and towing and cruising on the highway.
The other thought should be for lower stress on the engine which is why we hear many positive reports from our readers and the industry in regard to older Isuzu’s keeping on for a long time. Though if you want some extra get up and go there are plenty of tuners familiar with the 4JJ’s potential.
You can also appreciate the relaxed nature and tone of the 3.0L which sometimes drops into idle on flats and downhill and can’t be heard.
Service intervals on the Isuzu D-Max are every 15,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first, and there is a seven-year capped-price service plan.
What’s the new Isuzu D-Max like to drive?
Initially, it feels every bit as resolved and well rounded as other new D-Max utes up the range. The move to a new electrically-assisted rack brings lighter – if a touch too light for detailed feedback – steering feel that’s easy in the city and accurate and solid on highway driving.
Likewise to other models are three-leaf spring rear suspension and new dampers, but for the SX, which is the workhorse with the best load capacities, there is a revision to increase stiffness and thus increase payload.
This results in a 1190kg payload capacity for this dual-cab chassis 4×4, and there’s the same 3500kg towing capacity as across the range. Another benefit to the new model and its revised suspension is the front axle loading increasing from 1350kg to 1450kg, and the rear axle loading up from 1870kg to 1910kg.
It also results in a stiffer, firmer ride, particularly when unloaded. Thankfully, it’s not knock-your-teeth-out firm and rides compliantly over most bumps but with a little extra firmness on the rebound. This is somewhat cushioned by the 17-inch steel wheels with 255/65 profile tyres.
There is 4×4 available part-time, both in four-high and four-low, with a standard rear differential lock equipped to all models. This certainly helps with traction on loose surfaces and we found that this newer drivetrain, although only mildly upgraded, feels a little better suited off-road than before thanks to retuning of the off-road traction control system. In particular, grip on loose surfaces was good – improved on the old model – and traction in wet, muddy conditions was commendable, though ultimately let down by the standard road-biased tyres. With some tyre upgrades and a slight bump in ground clearance, the D-Max would a strong off-road option.
Of the 4×4 system, four-high can be set on the fly and engages quickly and without fuss. We used it on ascending a wet incline on the fly and were greeted with four-wheel traction quickly. Like nearly all four-wheel drives, four-low requires being stationary and engaging neutral or going into park to activate. Crawl speed was quite good in four-low (33.3:1), though the manual is better at 45.7:1.
How safe is the new Isuzu D-Max?
A wonderfully long list (for a ute!) of standard technology systems makes its way into the D-Max and it starts with a dual-camera sensor system produced by Japanese manufacturer Hitachi. As the cameras are mounted high on the windscreen things like AEB and adaptive cruise control work with any of the available Isuzu front bars.
The system itself is quite good and we had AEB work smartly and without false triggers. Sometimes we test cars that will initiate AEB when tricked by parked vehicles not in line with the trajectory of the vehicle.
To be honest, Isuzu and safety assistance systems have no history, so it was lifting to see it all work well in action. Lane-keeping assist includes steering assist which automatically centers the vehicles and works best on highways and freeways. The adaptive cruise control was spot on when following traffic with the exception of a couple kilometers creep over the set limit going down a hill. The blind-spot monitor is handy too when you have a large load in the back, and the automatic speed sign recognition was mostly accurate to the signed speed limits. The only annoyance we had was the default binging from the safety systems, but everything can be tailored via settings on the dash screen (you must be in park to access this screen and not driving).
There’s also a centre airbag between the front occupants, a first in the segment.
Is the new Isuzu D-Max a good ute?
Like our first encounter we remain impressed with the D-Max and it is firmly a top-three pick on the market. The price is good though not as sharp as it once was, and this is due to all of the leading tech and safety systems inside. That said, it remains one of the best value utes and the only real blight here is that the SX misses out on the larger 9.0-inch screen. That said, it comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the practical cabin with vinyl floor matches the 1190kg payload capacity and off-road ability, which we think is terrific.