By Jonathan Crouch
If you want a job done properly, you call in a specialist. And when the job in question is that of creating a reassuringly over-engineered pick-up, then for British buyers, the specialist in question is undoubtedly Isuzu. Japan's oldest vehicle manufacturer is the only brand on the UK market that for decades has dedicated itself to the very specific needs of pick-up people, first with the rugged, utilitarian TF and then with Rodeo models that were light on lifestyle but tough to beat. Which was fine if all you wanted was a dependable workhorse to lug things around. But not so good for those in search of something that could be a little more car-like at the end of the day, something like this, Isuzu's D-Max. 'Car-like' might be over-stating things a bit. To be truly 'car-like', this vehicle would need to compromise hefty underpinnings that remain perfectly suited to the working week. But within the confines of the kind of vehicle a pick-up of this kind can be, the D-MAX proved to be a huge dynamic step forward for its brand - as it needed to be to match competitors of the calibre of Ford's Ranger, the Volkswagen Amarok, the Toyota Hilux and the Nissan Navara. Let's check out its credentials as a used buy
Pick-up (2.5 diesel [Yukon, Eiger, Utah, Blade])
Launched here in early 2012, the D-Max was safer, more powerful, more spacious and much better looking than its Rodeo predecessor, with lower running costs, extra equipment and more off-road capability. At the end of 2012, Isuzu launched the 'Vision pack' for the D-MAX, with a Pioneer Satellite Navigation unit, a rear-view parking camera and enhanced audio capabilities. Take up of this pack was good, so in 2013, Isuzu reprised the offer, this time offering the Eiger model with either a 'Work' pack, which included a tow bar, a payload liner, front and rear rubber mats and waterproof front seat covers or a 'Work Plus' package which added premium BF Goodrich All-Terrain tyres. Towing capacity was raised by 500kg in 2013, raising braked capacity to 3.5 tonnes, and later that year the D-MAX walked away with 'Best Pick-Up' at the annual Van Fleet World awards. This same year a special edition Blade model was launched with an upgraded specification that offered the choice of either a loadbay roll-top cover or a hard-top canopy. It proved popular and an upgraded version was introduced in mid-2015.
What You Get
On to the loading practicalities for this double cab bodystyle. At around 5.3m long, this is certainly a pretty large vehicle, so you won't be surprised to retract the sturdy drop-down tailgate (which can only retract to horizontal level because of the chunky bumper) and find a pretty substantial cargo area on offer. You'll find a space 1485mm long, 1530mm wide and 465mm in depth - easily big enough for a euro pallet which can slide in the 1110mm-wide space between the wheelarches. Styling hasn't been a priority for Isuzu pick-ups in the past that offered rugged, squerical shapes, big wheels, lots of chrome - and not a lot else. In a segment now increasingly reaching out to the lifestyle market, a bit more effort was required with the D-Max, hence this model's adoption of a more rakish, wedgier shape that's supposed to look 'tough, poised and ready for work'. So there's a larger front grille on a front end decorated with daytime running lights and flowing into an A-pillar that was moved forward by 100mm in comparison to Isuzu's old Rodeo model and set at a more acute angle leading to the lowered roofline. At the rear, you'll find a set of largest-in-class tail lamps, which feature LEDs on higher-specification models. Climb inside, easier than you might expect thanks to wide-opening doors, and you're greeted by an interior that's hard-wearing and cleanly styled. It's not easy to get the cabin right on a vehicle of this kind. If it's too plush, it'll be rejected by operators who are looking for a properly tough working vehicle. Too basic and you won't attract private buyers who'll be looking to drive the vehicle themselves. In this D-Max, there's a decent balance between these two extremes, starting with a chunky three-spoke steering wheel that feels good in your hands and features wheel-mounted controls on most versions. We're not quite so sure about the air conditioning and ventilation system of plusher variants, controlled by buttons in a rather unusual circular array which sits below the stereo. It's a bit distracting at first because you have to take your eyes off the road to make adjustments, but after a while it becomes second nature. Many will prefer the rather less stylish but ergonomically superior chunky dials of the lower trim models. At least the switchgear features buttons are broad and chunky so that you can easily operate them with freezing cold hands or when wearing thick gloves. Though the front doorbins could be bigger, otherwise storage space around the cabin is much improved on that of older Isuzus, with a lockable glovebox, a deep lidded box between the seat, a pop-up compartment on top of the dashboard, a shelf beneath the steering column and a sunglasses holder above the windscreen. Plus there are enough cupholders for an in-car espresso party. You even get them in the back, a much more comfortable place to be than expected, thanks to extra vehicle length and a longer wheelbase that facilitate additional head, leg and shoulder room. Plus the seat back is less vertically inclined for greater comfort on longer journeys. A trio of back seat three-point belts and headrests are provided but in truth, three adults would be a little squashed here on longer journeys. One nice touch is the way that 60/40 split-folding rear seats enable you to more flexibly use this rear passenger space for packages, should you so wish. Additional storage compartments in the floor under the rear-seat base are also useful for keeping things out of harm's way. Whichever D-Max variant you choose, it'll come with daytime running lights, air-conditioning, all-round electric windows and a CD stereo. Further up the range on top models, niceties run to roof bars, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth connectivity for your 'phone, heated and folding mirrors, climate control and leather upholstery. There's a stack of safety gear built in across the line-up, with stability and traction control, six airbags, a four-channel anti-lock braking system and electronic brakeforce distribution all featuring. Anti-whiplash head restraints and a pedestrian-friendly front bumper and bonnet also contributed to a four-star Euro NCAP safety rating that's notably good for a pick-up truck.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The D-Max is one of the very toughest pickups around. The 2.5-litre turbodiesel engine is as durable as they come, helped by the fact that it's offered in a much lower state of tune than more modern motors. That might mean it's not as quick, but it'll take a licking and still keep ticking. With an indestructible timing chain, you won't have to worry about main belt servicing on it either. Ground clearance is good enough to keep the major mechanicals out of harm's way and the interior is hardwearing too. About the only gripe is that some of the hard-finished plastics can look a bit scratchy in time. Check for tired rear suspensions and slipping clutches on vehicles that have been overloaded or subjected to severe towing.
(approx based on an 2013 D-MAX Double Cab) A rear suspension leaf spring can be found for around £1,000, while a set of injectors is £800. Turbochargers and air con pumps can be found for around £650, while an alternator is £245. Front brake pads are £45 a set.
On the Road
Have you ever bought something and found it a bit under-specified for the job you had in mind? Annoying isn't it? Sometimes it's good to choose something quite the opposite. A watch, say, that's waterproof to 200 metres. Maybe a quad-band mobile phone. Or perhaps this Isuzu D-Max pick up. This thing feels completely bullet-proof in a way that only the more expensive Toyota Hilux can match. And it's got far more pulling power than 'Top Gear's' favourite, despite costing no more to run. Pulling power in fact, is the first thing you notice about this D-Max once out on the road. Though there's only a single four cylinder 2.5-litre engine choice now on offer, it's exactly the kind of powerplant you'd want in a vehicle of this kind, with 163PS on tap and, more importantly, 400Nm of torque from just 1,400rpm, the kind of grunt that makes low speed urban work easy and tough muddy inclines straightforward. It's also a major reason why this vehicle can tow a braked trailer of up to 3.5-tonnes on later models. On the move, this engine isn't the most refined of its type but it's a big step forward from older Isuzu units in this respect, helped by the fact that the designers have gone to a lot of trouble to soundproof both the cabin and the engine bay to what they hope are passenger car-like standards. In fact, everything about this vehicle is more cultured than buyers of its predecessor, the Rodeo, will remember. The steering for a start. It isn't what you'd call sharp but it's better than you might expect in a pick-up and can facilitate a reasonably tight turning circle that's 11.8m in the 2WD model and 12.2m in this 4x4. Also better than you might expect is the shift quality of the six speed manual transmission or, if you prefer, the five-speed auto 'box. Whichever of the two you select, opt for an all-wheel driven variant like this one and there are certainly plenty of choices in using it, with a set of high range gears you can use in either for two and four-wheel drive and a low range gear ratio option for the really mucky stuff. Most of the time, you'll be driving on tarmac with two driven rear wheels, a configuration that offers better economy and extra steering feel. Not enough to make you want to chuck this vehicle around mind you. Plonk your boot on the throttle with an empty load bay and a wet roundabout and you'll unsettle this pick-up just as you would any other as the laws of physics go to work. The leaf-sprung rear end can also feel a bit fidgety on country lanes but in both scenarios, as is usual with this kind of vehicle, things are much improved if you're carrying a bit of weight in the back. Certainly the coil springs and dampers which carry the front axle in this design do a much more effective job than the crude torsion bar system used by the old Rodeo model. That vehicle had the same rugged ladder-framed chassis but there the similarities between the two vehicles largely end. The i-GRIP (or 'Isuzu Gravity Responsive Intelligent Platform') underpinnings of this D-Max are 42% stiffer than the old Rodeo chassis, helped by improved cross bracing at the rear, which offers better stability under load and when towing. For wet or icy tarmac or light off piste work, you can take the opportunity, at up to 60mph, to twist the centre console dial and select high range all-wheel drive. It takes a second or so for the front wheels to engage but when they do, the D-Max feels notably more sure-footed on the slippery stuff. Of course, once in a while, you'll need to do more, occasions on which you'll be further twisting this dial to engage the full low-range four wheel drive mode, something that can only happen when the vehicle's stopped. In this mode, you really do get an incredibly accomplished off roader, aided by a well chosen first gear ratio that's an ideal 'crawler gear' over rough terrain on which you'll appreciate ground clearance that at 235mm is much higher than you get with most other rival pick-ups. In extremis, you'll also benefit from very useful approach and departure angles, respectively 30 and 22-degrees. There's also a 22-degree ramp angle and a maximum transversing angle of 49-degrees. And in deep mud? Well, a clever brake traction control system, developed to replace the old Rodeo's limited slip differential, helps here no end. If you've only one front wheel with meaningful traction, a scenario in which the Rodeo would often get stuck, this set-up will figure out that it needs to send drive to that wheel and will crawl you out of trouble. You can also disengage the system for those moments when you want to deliberately generate wheelspin to cut through a slippery top surface in order to gain traction.
The Isuzu D-Max doesn't tend to be thought of in the same bracket as the Toyota Hilux, the Ford Ranger, the Nissan Navara and the Mitsubishi L200, but it deserves to be. Those who have owned one swear by their durability and that bodes well for used buyers. If ruggedness is what you're after and you fancy a value alternative to a Hilux, the D-MAX ought to be your go-to pickup choice.