Despite being attacked from all sides by the likes of Ford’s Ranger and the Toyota Hilux, the Isuzu D-Max has still managed to gain a firm foothold in the uber competitive Kiwi Ute segment. In fact, the previous generation D-Max went on to become a firm favourite with buyers due to its ‘Bang for your Buck’ stance.
Fast forward to today, we have a new D-Max, and the theme for this new version has completely changed. The 2021 D-Max is the spearhead of Isuzu’s attack on dominating the Ute market by providing a more premium feeling Ute, while still providing the rough and ready appeal of its predecessor.
Let’s start with what lies underneath. The previous D-Max shared its underpinnings with the Holden Colorado. The new D-Max is cut from the same cloth as the new Mazda BT-50. The D-Max family sports a plethora of different spec and trim levels, manual or automatic options, and single and double cab variants. The range starts at $49,990 for the entry level LX 2WD.
My test car, be it quite an orange one, was the range topping X Terrain 4WD which tips the financial scales at a hefty $75,490 plus ORC. A snip over $75k is a big leap over its predecessor, and significantly more than the equivalent Hilux.
So, what do you get for your dough? Under the bonnet sits a very strong 4JJC 3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine kicking out 140kW of grunt and 450Nm of torque, a boost of 10kW and 20Nm of its predecessor. This is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission sending drive to all four wheels, of course. Isuzu claim combined fuel consumption of 8.0L/100km, CO2 emissions of 208g/km and towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes.
On the subject of looks, the X Terrain makes no apology for not being subtle. In fact, one could say it is probably one of the most eye-catching Utes out there. Its heavily re-designed front and angry headlights indicate a Ute hell-bent on being noticed. It is also much slipperier than before, with a slimmer and more aerodynamic body. Plus, a plethora of visual additives like front and rear under body spoilers, roof rails, roller tonneau cover and an aero sports bar completes this ensemble to great effect.
Inside, you can tell Isuzu have worked overtime to bring the D-Max onto that premium plain. Sharing much of the fascia and switchgear with its BT-50 counterpart at Mazda, there are lashings of leather trim atop the dashboard and just about all the durable materials feel high quality. Despite this, there is still a rugged ambience about the interior of the D-Max.
Standard kit is very generous with the D-Max X Terrain. The goodies include Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Adaptive Cruise Control, Dual Zone Climate Control, Heated Leather Seats, Keyless-Entry with Push Button Start, LED daytime running lights and a 9-inch Infotainment System with Satellite Navigation. This is an easy system to use but doesn’t feel as premium as the piano black finish surrounding it.
In terms of safety, standard across the D-Max range is Isuzu’s Intelligent Driver Assistance System. This includes a barrage of safety kit including Adaptive Cruise Control with stop and go traffic functionality, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Departure Prevention and eight Airbags. You also get Rain Sensing Wipers, Auto High Beam Headlights, Reversing Camera, Parking Sensors, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Blind Spot Monitoring. The D-Max was also the first Ute to be tested against the revised ANCAP safety standards, earning a five-star safety rating.
Moving off and those 450Nm make themselves known straight away. The delivery of torque feels very meaty and immediate from as low as 1000rpm. From there, that turbo diesel six pot pulls incredibly strongly and despite running out of puff close to 4000rpm, keeping it in the rev band between 1000rpm and 3500rpm provides some impressive performance.
This performance is also one of refinement. There are no rough patches or the feeling of a tired engine struggling to get going, just seamless go. It is also relatively quiet compared. The six-speed box shifts well, with seamless shifts matching that seamless go. Seamlessly you might say.
Isuzu’s engineers also deserve a pat on the back when it comes to the D-Max’s on road manners. Redesigned front and rear suspension give you a comfortable ride. Some Utes have a tendency to bounce around like a spring lamb on caffeine, but the D-Max stays planted and stable. Thicker anti roll bars, double wishbones and new high mounted upper control arms means body roll is at the least, quite minimal.
While tarmac is all well and good, and a place where most D-Max owners will spend their time commuting, the call of the off-road jungle becomes too good to resist after a while. So, after pointing the nose of the D-Max towards the dirt and gravel of the trails running alongside the Waimakariri Riverbed, it was time to see if it can really rough it.
In short, it can. Flicking over to 4WD and the rough stuff is dealt with. The electromagnetic diff-lock provides you with constant traction as you motoring through the mud and dirt. Suspension travel has been increased by 30mm too. Also, the knowledge a good degree of underbody protection gives that extra confidence to climb every mountain and ford every stream.
Talking of streams, a redesigned engine air intake system means the D-Max can wade rivers up to 800mm in depth, sadly the river next to where I was driving was too deep and moving far too fast to test this claim. Whether crawling over uneven terrain in 4WD low or galivanting along a gravel road, the D-Max X Terrain is immensely good.
Despite the steep price, there is so much to like about the new Isuzu D-Max X Terrain. It is not only lightyears ahead of the generation which preceded it, but it also manages to be one of the most formidable Utes on sale today. Basically, the new D-Max has raised its game and if you are prepared to pay that premium for the X-Terrain, it should do everything you expect a Ute to do, and more. Within reason that is.