Car Reviews

2017 Isuzu D-Max Review

Simon Mustey’s first drive 2017 Isuzu D-Max Review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score. 

In a nutshell: The new Isuzu D-Max gets some much-needed tweaks to keep it on the front-foot against the latest round of new 4×4 utes.

2017 Isuzu D-Max

Pricing $28,500+ORC (Single Cab Chassis)- $54,800+ORC (4×4 LS-T Auto Dual Cab) Warranty Five years, 130,000km Engine 3.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel Power/Torque: 130 at 3600rpm; 430Nm at 2000-2200rpm Body 5040mm (Single Cab Chassis); 5295mm (Dual-Cab Ute) (L); 1775mm (Single-Cab Ute); 1860mm (Dual-Cab) (W); 1685mm (Single-Cab Ute); 1855mm (Dual-Cab) (H) Tare weight: 1545-1970kg Spare Full sized Towing 750kg unbraked; 3500kg braked; Towball Download 350kg Transmission Six-speed manual; Six-speed automatic Drive Part-time 4WD with low range Turning circle 12-12.6m Wading depth 500mm  Approach/Departure angles: 30/22.7 degrees Ground clearance 235mm Crawl ratio 33:1 auto; 46:1 manual Fuel tank 76L Fuel diesel Thirst 7.9L-8.1L/100km (combined cycle)

Editor's Rating

What's the inside like?
What's it like on the road?
What about safety features?
Practical Motoring Says: The D-Max has always been the quiet achiever and, with the lineage of the best small-medium truck manufacturer behind them, they're no longer an also-ran. Sales are growing and this refreshed model is a big improvement on the old car. It's a rugged vehicle that works well off-road and is comfortable and well equipped for getting around town. Work and Play. Yep, both boxes are ticked.

THE LATEST ITERATION of the D-MAX, brings not only long overdue technical improvements such as HDC (Hill Decent Control) but a reworked Euro V version of the much-loved Isuzu four-cylinder common rail turbo-diesel. There are four main models to choose from, ranging from the trade-spec EX single-cab ute through to the dual-cab LS-T. New to the range is the X-Runner, Isuzu claim its aim is to appeal to younger buyers looking for a work and play vehicle. It clearly has Ford’s Ranger Wildtrak firmly in its sights. Though $10K cheaper.

While Isuzu’s ranges of medium-sized trucks are built in Japan, the D-Max range is built in Thailand. The development of the Australian Euro V spec engine started back in 2014, with over two years and 100,000km of development work performed right here in Australia.

Isuzu has developed multiple versions of the D-Max to suit various regions and, in some markets, can be had with a 1.9L turbo-diesel from the factory, though for Australia, we have the upgraded 3.0L EURO 5 turbo-diesel as the only option.

What is it?

The test car primarily driven, at the local launch, was the dual-cab LS-M dual-cab ute. At the launch we were told the design of the D-Max is inspired by the Orca, commonly known as the killer whale, and were even shown a picture where the Orca metamorphasised into the D-Max. You might have trouble imagining it, we were having trouble seeing the resemblance as well, though I have never had any luck seeing dog shapes in clouds either…

Regardless of the inspiration, the latest D-MAX, with only a changed bonnet and front bumper, has a modern look that will no doubt be hidden by a great number of purchasers with a steel or aluminium bull bar that should not only increase the functionality, but the approach angle as well.

The rear of the ute tub remains unchanged. Unfortunately, Isuzu hasn’t taken the opportunity to integrate a third brake light into the tail gate assembly. The third brake light is mounted to the top of the rear screen, the same as many sedans. To Isuzu’s credit, unlike the market leader Hilux, the tailgate is lockable in most models. Only the LS-U and X-Runner versions comes with side steps, and that’ll be the first thing you remove either before off-roading, or alternatively the first time you head out.

What’s it like inside?

While some may see the utes as primarily trade-focused vehicles, the upper-spec models are quite well appointed, with climate control, and even a seven- or eight-inch touch screen. Disappointingly, reversing cameras aren’t standard across the range. Let’s hope in the future that Isuzu makes them standard fitment.

There’s a dual glove box with a 12V 150W power outlet available in the upper glove compartment, just right for charging your phone and more universal than offering just a USB charging outlet that comes in some of the competition.

The steering wheel is a simple uncluttered design without feeling the need to have a pilot’s licence to drive down to the local shops. Here you’ll be able to operate the cruise control, answer a phone call and limited operation of the infotainment system. It is however rather small.

Ergonomically, the cabin is well set out for the driver. In typical Japanese designed fashion, the switches are well marked and easily operated. 

The front seats are comfortable and supportive without feeling restrictive to movement. They also feature map storage pockets in the rear. Do you remember maps?

The rear seat passengers are accommodated with two door pockets including a bottle holder and a separate dual cup holder that flips out of the centre console on the automatic model. Additionally there are back seat USB chargers that are sure to keep the kids happy.

There is plenty of room for three full-sized adults in the back seat.  And if you’re seated in an auto, plenty of cup holder options as well.

The dual cab tub’s internal length is 1552mm and 1530mm in width. If you thinking that you’ll be able to load a full size pallet in the back, unfortunately the distance between the wheel wells is only 1105mm, a good 60mm short. You’ll need an Amarok with its 1222mm wheel arch clearance, to pull off that trick.

Like many of the competition, the tie downs in the tub a woefully inadequate. For a vehicle that purports to be a commercial, to fit four flimsy tie downs that are located half way up the side of the tub is laughable. Remember this is a vehicle that can carry in excess of 1000kg in the back, in an accident situation those tie downs would barely slow down the load, let alone stop it from being turned into a potentially lethal projectile. Sure, it’s possible to install some yourself, but they should come from the factory.  

To Isuzu’s credit however, the tailgate is lockable, and also easily operated with one hand. An important consideration when you’re carrying something with one hand that needs to go in the back, otherwise you’ll have to lift it the extra height to pop it over the full height of the side of the tub. Not an important consideration if you’re over six foot, but if you’re short, like me, it’s something that’ll drive you nuts.

All of the windows are electrically operated but only the driver’s window is one-touch up and down. Overall, while the D-Max interior isn’t going to win style points with the cafe set, it’s well set out, and functional. This is, after all a 4WD.  

There are two levels of infotainment system available, the seven-inch touchscreen version in all bar the top spec LS-U variant features DVD, MP3, FM/AM Aux with USB, Ipod input and Bluetooth audio streaming. The top spec LS-U adds an eight inch touch screen, and Sat Nav. The screens do double duty as reversing camera screens on the LS-M and LS-U spec models

The D-MAX’s infotainment system isn’t Apple Carplay or Andriod Auto compatible. While this can be seen as a glaring omission in this day and age, Isuzu claim the omission is due to that the average D-Max owner spends enough time out of mobile service range that the feature isn’t warranted. DAB is also omitted, and this is more of a glaring omission than smartphone compatibility.

The dashboard, ticks all the boxes. With a clear, legible, tacho on the left and speedo on the right. In addition, the LS-M and LS-U have an electroluminescent (digital) display to communicate gear indicator, engine temperature readings, fuel gauge, ambient temp, date, trip and odometer.  With the press of a button you’ll be able to check out overall and instantaneous fuel consumption. Additionally, you’ll be able to see how full the diesel particulate filter is.

The only problem found is the screens, both the seven- and eight-inch versions were very hard to read in direct sunlight. When the reversing camera is operating, there are two yellow lines depicting direction of travel, unfortunately Isuzu didn’t see fit to tie in the steering wheel angle sensor with the reversing camera system, allowing the projected lines to “bend” when you’re reversing and turning the steering at the same time.

What’s it like on the road?

The main improvement has been developing the Euro 5 spec emissions compliant engine. To do this Isuzu has used a DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter). Though they haven’t simply bolted the DPF to the exhaust and left well enough alone. There has been a whole raft of changes to the engine’s internals. From new piston designs, to new fuel injectors, a new fuel injector supply pump and a host of other small tweaks have netted the 3.0L engine an improved torque output from 380Nm to 420Nm. More than that, thanks to the new VGS turbocharger, you get the peak torque delivered 100rpm earlier in the rev range and it stays around for an extra 700rpm, from 1700rpm to 3500rpm. 

The D-Max is an easily liveable 4WD around town, the new six-speed automatic gearbox shifts smoothly, the brakes are progressive and don’t require excessive effort. The steering is also well weighted.

The new six-speed manual gearbox’s shift can best be described as notchy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the shifts were precise and easily accomplished without excessive throw, it was just that as you shifted from gear to gear, you could feel the gear being selected. There is no reverse lockout, unlike the Ranger, where you have to lift a collar on the gear shift before you’re able to select reverse. So some may select reverse when meaning to select first gear. Though after a few goes you’ll get used to the extra pressure on the gear shift required to select reverse and i can’t see it causing an issue. 

The 4WD selector has three settings, 2WD, 4WD high and 4WD low.

Part-time 4WDs that operate exclusively in 2WD on the bitumen, especially utes with minimal weight over the back wheels often suffer from traction problems, especially in the wet. The day of the test was dry and hot, and even with spirited take offs at the traffic light grand prix, there wasn’t a hint of wheel spin. This, of course, is likely to change in the rain.

Reverse parking can be an issue with a long-wheelbase car. This is compounded by the large turning circle of 12-12.6m, although it’s comparable with the competition. There is a reversing camera on all but the most basic models making parking easier even with a load on the back which would otherwise hinder your rearward vision.

The launch roads took in some winding roads through the mountains of northern NSW that were somewhat reminiscent of Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, with tight bends hugging the terrain. The D-Max offers neutral handling at normal speeds tending to understeer when pushed (car makers consider understeer to be safer than oversteer). This of course can be mitigated by simply easing off the throttle.

 

The ride is acceptable for an un-laden ute, you can’t and shouldn’t expect a limousine-esque ride. Having said that, I drove from about 8am until around 4:30pm, breaking only for meals and photos. At the end of the day I didn’t feel the need to use a walking frame.

The cruise control works well when modulating the speed working up and down gentle grades. My only criticism would be when accelerating using the cruise, accelerating from 80-100km/h could be measured with a sundial. You’d be better off simply accelerating to the desired speed and then resetting the cruise control. 

Away from the road and, just like any part-time 4WD, you should change the dial from 2WD to 4WD to take advantage of the extra traction and more predictable handling afforded when you’re driving all four wheels. This can also be done at speeds up to 80km/h.

Even though limited dirt road driving was done on the day, the D-Max didn’t bounce around on the slightly corrugated roads we encountered. The ESC also didn’t intervene at any stage and therefore I would recommend leaving it on as the calibration seems to have been tuned with dirt-road driving in mind. Unlike some of the competition when you go off-road, the ABS programming, or for that matter the traction control doesn’t change. More on that later.

To meet the Euro 5 emission specifications, Isuzu added a DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter) to the exhaust system. Not a newcomer to using DPFs, Isuzu has been using them in its truck range for more than five years. A DPF takes the visible particulates from the exhaust gasses, contains them within the filter and periodically burns them off. Isuzu state the burn is performed every 500Km. Though interestingly, while you can keep an eye on the level of particulates in the filter using the dash display, unlike their truck range, there is no way to perform a manual burn.

Commendably, and unlike any other manufacturer, the DPF is mounted vertically in the engine bay. If the vehicle is parked over long grass and a DPF that is mounted on the underside of the vehicle performs an automated burn, the temperature of the DPF has a real risk of causing a grass fire. Of course, the best way to avoid this is not to park a hot vehicle, DPF equipped or not, on long grass. The downside to this, of course, is increased under bonnet temperature that could lead to side effects like reduced battery life.

The launch offered some limited four-wheel driving, including some sand driving on the beach. To successfully 4WD in high range you need to turn off the ESC. This is accomplished by pressing the ESC button on the dash until the “car doing skids” indicator lights up on the dash.

In the case of the D-Max pressing the ESC button for a couple of second on dash, brings up the “TRC OFF” light. It turns off both engine and brake traction control off. If you press the ESC button for at least seven seconds, then both the TRC OFF and ESC indicators lights up, turning both systems off. You want the ESC system off for high-range four-wheel driving. For example, negotiating a beach exit, you don’t want the ESC automatically backing off the throttle when you get a little sideways. You don’t however want to turn off the brake traction control. This is predominantly how old-school 4WDs got stuck. Without brake traction control you can easily get “cross axled”, where one wheel from one axle and a second wheel from the second axle spin, providing no drive to the wheels with traction.

Low-range however is a different story, when you select low-range 4WD, the ESC is automatically disabled, and so is engine traction control.

This is exactly the configuration you need to negotiate off road obstacles. If you come to an obstacle that needs 4WD, such as a beach exit, you’ll be much better served with selecting low range and being able to reap the benefit of brake traction control and possibly selecting a higher gear, than using high range 4WD.

A first for the D-Max is Hill Descent Control which is activated via a button on the dash. On reasonably sedate declines the HCD works well. You’re able to adjust the speed using the brake pedal once activated, to speeds between 4-30km/h. It also automatically deactivates at 50km/h. For those who have to negotiate heavy terrain, you’ll know 4km/h is way too fast. When you’re lowering your vehicle down a decent rock step you’ll need to be inching doing at less than 1km/h. While the minimum speed is too fast for some scenarios, you’re able to use the brake, or even better utilise ‘driving through the brakes’ technique (this means to hold your left foot on the brake and use your right foot to gently apply pressure to the throttle to get the car to inch forward. Once you’re past the obstacle, take your foot back of the brake and the HDC will re-engage.

As with all of its dual-cab competition bar the Navara, it has leaf springs in the rear. This type of spring design offers a progressive spring to handle heavy loads, but is left wanting off-road. As can be seen the D-Max likes to pick up a rear wheel instead of articulating the suspension to follow the terrain. If you want to look how a commercial application rear end should be designed with off road in mind, take a peak under either a Uni-Mog or a Defender. Both utilise coils springs, the suspension can take a load and also articulate with the terrain, not leaving you looking like a tripod.

The crawl ratio with the adoption of six-speed gearboxes has been improved for both transmissions. The auto now offers 33:1, and the manual an impressive 46:1. What that means for the driver is that selecting first-gear low-range negates the need for HDC and you’ll not need to provide additional braking in all but the most adverse terrain.

The D-Max, like most modern manuals features anti-stall technology. If you point it at a hill in first gear, release the clutch then the D-MAX will idle its way up the hill and will automatically increase the throttle to avoid stalling. This feature was tested and functions progressively, with little more than hearing the engine working a little harder than normal to know that it’s operating. However, if you need to stall the vehicle deliberately, such as when performing a stall-stop key-start recovery, a firm foot on the brake will bring the proceedings to a halt with the engine stalled. You can also key-start the vehicle, that is start the vehicle in gear without the clutch being depressed, as part of the stall-stop, key-start hill recovery procedure.

The brake traction control is useful, but not as refined as on either the HiLux or Triton. The D-Max was purposely cross-axled on an obstacle, then left to its own devices, to gauge the effectiveness of the brake traction control. Forward momentum was completely halted for a couple of seconds with light accelerator pressure until the brake traction control applied some brake to the spinning wheels before we started moving again. Unfortunately this complete loss of forward momentum can, in some scenarios be all you need to get completely bogged.  

The D-Max also now feature HSA (Hill Start Assist), when you take your foot off the brake, regardless of whether you’re driving an auto or manual, the D-Max applies the brakes to stop you from rolling backward. HSA is only useful to a point and will sometimes, off-road, actually hinder self recovery. HSA was unable to be turned off.

The largest wheel diameter available is 17-inch and that’s great for off-roaders. When you get into rim diameters of 18-inches and up, not only are there a greatly reduced availability of genuine off-road tyres, the likelihood of tyre damage increases exponentially as the tyre sidewall tyre height decreases. 

Unusually for a manufacturer, Isuzu rate the tow points to the GVM of the vehicle. In this case a maximum of 2950kg. Unfortunately, even if you use a bridle to distribute the load across two tow points almost increasing the capacity two-fold, this still comes up short for the Australian Standards recommended 8000kg snatch strap for the vehicle. This could potentially see the factory tow points removed at very high velocity toward the recovering car, with potentially lethal results.

Thankfully the aftermarket have rated recovery points available that will simply bolt in place of the factory loops. If you go off-road, throw the factory tow points in the bin and replace them with dedicated recovery points.

Isuzu rates the D-Max for the following towing capacities:

  • 3500kg – 4X4 turbo diesel manual (350 kg TBM)
  • 2500kg – 4X2 turbo diesel manual (250kg TBM)
  • 3500kg – 4X2 turbo diesel auto (350kg TBM)
  • GVM – 2950kg
  • GCM – 5950kg (4×4 dual cab)

If you’re loaded up to max GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) this will reduce your ability to tow without exceeding the GCM (Gross Combined Mass). With a GCM of 5950kg and a GVM of 2950, all loaded up you’ll now only be able to legally tow 3000kg, meaning you’ll lose 500kg of towing capacity.

The D-Max isn’t the only offender amongst the dual cabs. The worst culprit is the Ranger/BT50 that loses 700kg of towing capacity at GVM and one of the best in this regard, the Amarok still loses 80kg of capacity. You’ll also need to be mindful of not exceeding the maximum axle weight of 1250kg (Low Ride) 1350kg (High Ride) front and 1870kg for the rear axle. 

What about safety features?

The refreshed D-Max retains its five-star ANCAP rating. And, as is becoming more normal with modern utes, you’ll get a range of safety features to protect your loved ones. Included, as standard, are six airbags, (dual front, curtain and side, ESC (Electronic Stability Control) EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, used to proportion the braking force correctly with varying loads.) ABS (Anti-Skid Brake System) and EBA (Emergency Brake Assist).

Unfortunately there are no ISOFIX child seat restraint points fitted. Neither will you be getting advanced safety features like lane departure alerts or blind spot monitoring. TSC (Trailer Sway Control) is also absent, which is a missed opportunity considering the target demographic will be likely towing. And, as we mentioned, reversing cameras aren’t standard across the range.

Isuzu D-Max range – key features:

SX

  • Leather steering wheel with audio controls;
  • Audio with mini USB and Bluetooth streaming;
  • Vinyl floors;
  • Manual air conditioning;
  • Halogen lights; and
  • 16-inch wheels.

EX in addition to SX

  • Leather steering wheel with audio controls;
  • 7-inch Touchscreen audio with USB and Bluetooth;
  • Power windows and electric mirrors; and
  • Remote keyless entry and central locking.

LS-M in addition to SX

  • Reversing camera;
  • Projector headlights;
  • LED daytime running light;
  • Fog lights;
  • 16-inch aluminium alloys; and
  • Lockable tailgate.

LS-U in addition to LS-M

  • 8-inch Touchscreen audio with USB and Bluetooth;
  • SatNav;
  • Side Steps;
  • Climate Control; and
  • 17-inch aluminium alloys.

Pricing

SX $28,500+ORC (Single Cab Chassis 4×2); $46,000+ORC (Dual Cab 4×4 Auto)  

EX $34,800+ORC (Single Cab Chassis Hi-Ride 4×4)

LS-M $46,400+ORC (Dual Cab Hi-Ride 4×4 Manual); $48,500+ORC (Dual Cab Hi-Ride 4×4 Auto)

LS-U $46,200+ORC (Space Cab Hi-Ride 4×4 Manual); $50,400+ORC (Dual Cab Hi-Ride 4×4 Auto)

LS-T $54,200+ORC (Dual Cab Hi-Ride 4×4 Auto)

Like many manufactures model we are absolutely spoilt for choice.  For my money I would be choosing the LS-M dual manual over the LS-U.  Take the near couple of grand to my favourite 4WD shop and look at a snorkel and bulbar.

Why would you buy one?

In the small to medium truck sector there is no equal to Isuzu. Their dependability is the stuff of legends. So why do Toyota sell almost three times as many Hiluxs as Isuzu sell D-MAXs? The Toyota has the same reputation in utes that Isuzu have in small trucks, a reputation that has been built over decades. Isuzu’s market share is steadily building, and with the cross over between trucks and utes (the D-MAX uses the same engine as the smallest of the Isuzu trucks) It’ll take a little while, though there will come a day where worksites all over this land of ragged mountain ranges will be full of Isuzu’s to D-MAX.

 

 

Simon Mustey

Simon Mustey

Simon Mustey is a tragic 4WDer from Melbourne. With a strong technical bent inherited from his father. He's flown aeroplanes, (even jumped out of perfectly good ones), rode fast road bikes and even made his way across the Simpson Desert in his trusty Land Cruiser with family in tow. When not telling tall tales, he's running the driver training for the Land Cruiser Club of Victoria.