2018 Isuzu D-Max is on a good ute thing — and sticks to it
FOR advice on how to successfully sell cars to Australians, may we please invite Isuzu to the stage.
With just two models in its line-up - the D-Max ute and ute-based MU-X SUV - the brand sold nearly 26,000 vehicles last year, maintaining its year-on-year double digit growth.
Fun fact: it's a different buyer profile, of course, but Isuzu sold more cars here in 2017 than BMW or Audi.
Isuzu is on a good thing and is sticking to it. For its 2018 D-Max one-tonner, it adds improvements here and there and steers well clear of anything revolutionary.
The still-utilitarian cabin has been softened slightly, it can carry an extra 100kg, new suspension improves the ride and a rear camera is standard, putting it on par with most ute rivals on the safety front.
The D-Max's key selling points remain, namely the proven reliability of the understressed 3.0-litre turbo diesel, decent towing performance, appealing drive-away prices and a long warranty.
A market Isuzu can't afford to ignore is the cashed-up tradie, or simply those seeking one-tonner tough looks with the hard edges rounded off.
The D-Max LS-T Crew Cab joins the range on a permanent basis. The $54,700 flagship 4WD sports 18-inch alloys with highway tyres, perforated leather seats, satnav and keyless entry.
Such premium features (for a ute) are typical on most range-topping one-tonner rivals, even though Isuzu has been reluctant to travel this path overtly and risk its core "tough and rugged" image.
As not all Isuzu buyers take their utes off road, there is the prestige LS-T rear-driver with highway tyres for $46,900.
Isuzu's message is clear. "The D-Max is a scaled down truck, not a scaled up car," says spokesman Mark Harman.
If LS-T sales are strong, Isuzu's top brass might consider a more hardcore D-Max version in future, along the lines of the new Ford Ranger Raptor and Toyota HiLux Rogue and Ruggeds.
ON THE ROAD
Small improvements are key and a simple fix Isuzu has brought to the Crew Cabs is soft touch leatherette for the arm rests.
I've had plenty of off-road wheel time in the outgoing D-Max and needed a towel on the centre console to avoid my elbow rubbing itself raw on the hard plastic. The soft-touch upgrades are welcome and well executed.
The cabin remains simple with plenty of expected hard plastics. The lack of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto puts the audio a generation behind rivals, even if Isuzu insists its core market doesn't prioritise such things.
Two USB charge points, leatherette for the glovebox and new cabin chrome and gloss black finishes are also welcome.
We're sure to see most one-tonne utes sporting coil sprung rears in the near future. Meanwhile, Isuzu has a new three-leaf spring suspension set-up for its Crew Cabs.
Using denser steel for the springs, Isuzu aims for greater on-road comfort without compromising the off-road, hauling and towing ability.
OFF THE ROAD
On our short test, sampling the old and new models back-to-back showed the D-Max's jarring rear end has been tamed somewhat over larger bumps. We'll need a more comprehensive on-road test to evaluate whether the unique-to-Australia three-leaf rear improves things on the bitumen.
Small but effective changes improve the strong-selling D-Max. Isuzu sticks to the core principles - same tough-as-nails engine and transmission, the good warranty and sharp prices are quite rightly left alone. It's not the best
one-tonne ute but still does most things very well, now with a bit more comfort too.
PRICE A new LS-T range topper officially lands in 4x4 and 4x2 guise for buyers seeking a plusher D-Max. This flagship Crew Cab 4WD is a hefty $54,700, which buys perforated leather trim, 18-inch alloys with highway tyres, satnav, roof rails and keyless entry and start.
TECH In an Australian market first, the D-Max has three-leaf spring rear suspension for its Crew Cab models. Eschewing regular five-leaf springs, Isuzu says the new set-up's stronger and lighter materials improve daily driving without compromising payload.
DRIVING Isuzu isn't chomping at the bit to add the likes of autonomous emergency braking or lane departure warning to its products. D-Max is now in line with most rivals, with trailer sway control as standard and a reversing camera on all but cab chassis.
PERFORMANCE Isuzu engineers have revised the gross vehicle mass of the D-Max range, now 2950kg on rear-drive models and 3050kg for 4WDs. Payload is up 100kg over outgoing models to 1349kg and 1159kg respectively, well ahead of the likes of Toyota's HiLux and Mitsubishi's Triton.
DESIGN Identical to the outgoing model externally, the D-Max adds a bit more jazz to the colour palette thanks to a bright red, a graphite grey and a cobalt blue reminiscent of the Toyota HiLux SR5. No bad thing.
ISUZU D-MAX CREW CAB UTE
PRICE $38,700-$54,700 (average)
WARRANTY/SERVICE $1300 for 3 years (average), 5 years/130,000km (excellent).
SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags, electronic stability control, trailer sway control, hill descent control, reversing camera (average)
ENGINE 3.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 130kW/430Nm (average)
THIRST 7.2L-8.1L100km (good)
SPARE Full-size (good)
TOWING 3500kg (joint class leading)