Isuzu continues its upwards trajectory in the pick up market with the D-Max. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
With this D-Max, Isuzu has become a credible force to be reckoned with in the growing UK pick-up sector. An efficient 2.5-litre turbo diesel can haul and tow hefty loads through the wildest terrain you're likely to come across and there are three bodystyles to suit a wide range of buyers. Smart, tough and affordable, it looks set to do very well.
Within the confines of the kind of vehicle a tough pick-up can be, Isuzu's D-Max is a huge dynamic step forward for its brand - as it needs to be to match competitors of the calibre of Ford's Ranger, the Volkswagen Amarok, the Toyota Hilux and the Nissan Navara. Launched here in early 2012, it's safer, more powerful, more spacious and much better looking than its Rodeo predecessor, with lower running costs, extra equipment and more off-road capability. Rivals claim similar virtues of course, but too often, they're tucked away in the corner of a sales showroom really dedicated to selling passenger cars. Will such a place really support a dedicated pick-up person when they really need it? And will the vehicle in question really be as capable in the Serengeti as it is in Surbiton? With this D-Max, you know you've little to worry about on either score. With Isuzu, it was always that way. It's just that with this model, there's a little more polish with the product on offer. Let's try it.
Pulling power 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 - not quite as much as a comparable Ford Ranger but usefully more than an equivalent Hilux or Mitsubishi L200. 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.
Design and Build
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 this time round, hence this D-Max'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's been moved forward by 100mm 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. The back seat is a much more comfortable place to be than I'd 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. 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.
Market and Model
It's a job to know where to start when describing the model range as wide as this one. After all, this D-Max can be everything from a reliable building site workhorse to a weekend toy for going windsurfing in. Single cab 2WD variants prop up the range priced from around £14,000 excluding VAT, with a £1,700 premium on top of that for a 4WD model you can also pay an further £500 to specify in 'extended cab' form with a couple of occasional rear seats. Most buyers though, will want a double cab model, a 4WD-only line-up priced in the £17,000 to £22,000 bracket, depending on your choice between a wide range of trim levels. Whichever D-Max variant you choose, it'll come with daytime running lights, air-conditioning, all-round electric windows and a CD stereo. There's only a single solid paint colour offered though - white - so unless you want that, you'll have to budget some extra money for one of the optional mica or metallic colours. At the top of the range is the highly specified 'Blade' variant which comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, full leather trim, a high-end eight-speaker stereo, a Pioneer touchscreen navigation system and the choice of either an Aeroklas leisure canopy or a Black Mountain Top roller cover for the cargo bay. Right across the D-Max range, There's a stack of safety gear built in across the range, 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.
Practicalities and Costs
On to the loading practicalities, which we'll base around the double cab variant that most UK customers will want. At around 5.3m long, this is certainly a pretty large vehicle, so you won't be surprised to flip down 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. You get a unique-in-class five-year / 120,000-mile transferable warranty which helps beef up those residuals and reinforces the reputation for durability and ruggedness for which Isuzu pick-ups have become renowned. Not that you're likely to need it. In development, this design underwent over four million kilometres of endurance testing, the equivalent of 100 times round the world. There's also three years of roadside recovery and assistance, a three-year paint warranty and six years of anti-corrosion cover. What else? Servicing is every 12,000 miles or 24 months. And insurance? Well it's group 9A or 10A, dependent on trims, for the double cab models. On the eco front, the CO2 emissions figure is a very respectable 194g/km and there's a dual Exhaust Gas Recirculation system to cut down on NOx Nitrogen Oxide emissions.Plus this very efficient common-rail Euro 5-compliant unit can return a class-leading 38.2 mpg on the combined fuel economy cycle.
If you thought Isuzu pick-ups were a bit rough and ready, it's about time you gave the D-Max a try. Once this brand was really one reserved for the requirements of pure commercial operators. These days though, it'll also suit private buyers looking for an all-terrain utility vehicle that can play the lifestyle card. But how does it stack up in what's becoming quite a crowded market? Very well actually. Pricewise, it's one of the best value choices in the class, it's a standout performer on the balance sheet and now that the styling's so much tidier than Isuzus of old and the equipment levels are a lot better, the brand's appeal has been broadened to suit the sort of buyer who would previously have automatically looked to a Nissan Navara or a Toyota Hilux. The sort of person who might not be considering this D-Max. But probably should be.