+ Built to be rugged and reliable
+ Good value for money
+ Greatly improved interior
– Engine lacks refinement
– Automatic can be hesitant
– Not as polished as some rivals
Verdict: The new Isuzu D-Max is something to be celebrated. Here is a truck that has clearly been designed by people who use pickup trucks, and as a result is full of genuinely clever little traits. It represents good value for money, should prove durable and creeps in at under 2,040kg to avoid its speed being capped. However, a revised focus on lifestyle customers highlights some of the more workaday rough edges that remain.
In the UK Isuzu has slowly but surely been making a name for itself over the decades. Already a staple of Asian utility vehicles, its workhorse roots have given the brand a strong platform to build a reputation for durability. The D-Max pickup has long been a favourite of farmers and those who need a hardy vehicle that can be flogged during a working day, yet be practical enough to get the largest of miscellanea in the back. This third-generation D-Max aims to bring some added civility while retaining the truck’s hardy DNA.
This new pickup gets a revitalised look with more car-like features than its predecessor. Sure, its chiselled features and blunt facia are typical truck, but intricate lighting, stylised bumpers and a distinctive new grille adds a good deal of polish. You can have the D-Max as a single cab, extended cab or double cab, with the most extreme trims on that spectrum only available as a single or double cab respectively.
The interior is where some of the biggest changes have taken place, both literally and metaphorically. A lengthened wheelbase grants more space inside the cabin, an environment that has been significantly overhauled. Even the most basic ‘Utility’ variants of this truck feature a more sculpted dashboard and the occasional glossy finish, while polished V-Cross cars get soft touch materials and a large 9-inch infotainment system that plays nice with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s an excess of storage with cubbies and cup holders galore, but it’s the more premium look of the cabin that separates this model from what came before. You’ll still find numerous hard plastics about the place, and while not the nicest of materials, in years to come owners will be grateful for their resilient properties.
Extended cabs can seat two in the back via a set of rather cool rear-hinged doors, but these are very much jump-seats for short trips. Most of the time this space will likely be used for bags and coats. Double Cab models offer plenty of legroom for rear passengers, though headroom for those 6ft and above can become a challenge. The versatile rear bench can either fold flat for more cargo space or lift its base like a cinema seat for bulky items while also revealing some underfloor storage.
Power for all D-Max models comes from a 1.9-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine, and it’s certainly got the brawn 4x4 owners expect. While 162bhp is perfectly adequate, it’s the 360Nm of torque that those hauling or hitting the rough stuff really care for. The D-Max is far from fast, but you can always feel its mechanical strength beneath you. Off-road it’s an impressive thing with high and low range gearing, lockable differential on mid-spec trucks, and strong approach and departure angles, not to mention an 800mm wading depth.
On the road, the Isuzu D-Max feels surefooted thanks to its sizeable stance and selectable all-wheel drive for when the going gets slippy. It also feels a touch more agile thanks to not weighing as much as before, and its steering is less of a wrestling match. However, the D-Max’s push upmarket in V-Cross guise does begin to highlight the truck’s more agricultural roots. While you’ll enjoy the swankier interior and impressively supportive leather heated seats, the gurgling noises the diesel engine makes contributes to it not being as refined as some rivals. There is a notable improvement in ride quality over the old truck, but you do still get a bit of patter over high-frequency bumps.
The new D-Max is a marked improvement over the truck that came before it in every area. If you’re looking for a sensibly priced, well equipped, durable, reliable and practical pickup, its amongst the best in its class all things considered. That said, the sweet spot in the range is a mid-spec truck – say a DL40 – that has most of the toys and the choice of a manual gearbox. The more ‘lifestyle’ oriented top-spec V-Cross can only be had with a sometimes hesitant automatic transmission and features a price tag that starts to challenge the more refined Toyota Hilux – all be it with more equipment as standard.
Business users will find themselves with one of the best working trucks out there thanks to a strong range of Utility models that get the basics spot-on. We became rather fond of the most simplistic variant in full UN specification white with black bumpers.
One of the biggest changes to the D-Max from its metamorphosis is the interior. Let’s start with the most basic Utility models as even here there’s plenty to talk about. Gone is the flat featureless dashboard of the old car, and in its place a much more interesting sculpture with tiered elements and some glossy finishes. Single cabs by definition have the least space, but the ample storage for drinks and work paraphernalia will be welcomed by those spending many hours in here. The same goes for the highly adjustable seats coated in a hard wearing fabric. UK trucks also get hardier floor lining as opposed to the carpet found in other markets.
Utility trucks come well equipped, too. Things like rain-sensing wipers, DAB radio, USB ports, remote locking, a 4.2-inch instrument display and cruise control are standard. All D-Max models come with an impressive array of safety systems including; forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring autonomous emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, speed limiter and lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert – some items dependant on cab. In fact, this kit actually made the D-Max the first pickup to achieve the full 5 stars from Euro NCAP under its latest standards.
DL20 trim primarily adds a more stylish aesthetic to the exterior, the ability to shift into all-wheel drive on the move and a locking rear differential, while the cabin receives heated front seats and ventilation for rear passengers. DL40 is where things become a lot more car-like with this double cab only model gifted a 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, leather seats that feature added adjustment, dual-zone climate control, and a premium audio system. The softer material choices and overall aesthetically pleasing design elevates this space far beyond the old D-Max.
V-Cross is the big conquest trim for Isuzu as it wants to appeal to those who aren’t just buying this 4x4 as a tool. It gets snazzier alloy wheels, Gun Metal details, a larger 10-inch infotainment system, more speakers, additional seat adjustment and generally comes across as a more premium offering than its siblings. It is also the only trim offered exclusively with the 6-speed automatic transmission and no manual.
Just like the rest of the D-Max, its infotainment system is a leap ahead of what came before. That’s said, it is a game of two halves. The added real estate and square form factor in V-Cross models is greatly appreciated, making things easy to prod while on the move. Its user interface is graphically simplistic, and not as slick as what you’d find in some rivals. However, take advantage of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and things improve dramatically. The screen ratio is not your traditional ‘widescreen’ format, but this squarer shape actually works better for Apple CarPlay. Icons are a good size, and you don’t get a sense that everything has been squeezed into a narrow space. Apple CarPlay can also be had in tangle-free wireless flavour, too.
Extended cab models feature rear-hinged doors that open backwards for access to a second row. Space back there is tight for passengers, and so it is very much for occasional use. Most of the time this space will likely be used for additional storage.
Double cabs get a set of proper rear doors and take full advantage of the D-Max’s longer wheelbase. As a result, legroom in the back is generous, however, headroom can be a bit tight if you’re a tall adult. Versatile rear seating can fold flat or stow its base for additional cargo capacity. Handy underfloor storage is also great for more delicate items or things you want to keep out of view. This all bolsters the excellent cabin storage that boasts up to 10 cup holders, a dual glovebox layout and many other cubbies.
The load bed of the D-Max is nice and square on double cab models, although obviously more generous in length on single cabs. Double cab Utility models and up get a damped tailgate to improve safety and reduce that horrible clatter when opened. All trucks get neatly integrated steps on the rear bumper to further improve access, and each can carry over a tonne in the back. A double cab has bed dimensions of 1,495 x 1,530 x 490 which is a good usable size, however, it is a little smaller than that of a Ford Ranger. Single cabs and extended come in at 2,315 x 1,50 x 465 and 1,805 x 1,530 x 490 respectively.
This bit is nice and easy for D-Max customers as there’s only one engine on offer. The tried and tested 1.9-litre turbocharged diesel should be familiar to anyone who’s upgrading from the old D-max. With 162bhp and 320Nm of torque, it’s a good strong motor, although its power output is. less than some competitors. However, engineers of this pickup worked hard to reduce its overall weight, bringing it under the magic 2,040kg, meaning you’re not subject to traditional commercial vehicle speed restrictions. Some pickups might have more power, but the D-Max will complete a journey faster and avoid any unexpected speeding fines.
It might not be the most refined engine out there but claimed combined economy of 33.6-30.7mpg isn’t bad for a truck of this size. Emissions follow a similar trend, ranging from 220-241g/km.
Most Isuzu D-Max comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission that, just like the engine, is a little agricultural in nature. However, it is satisfying to use as you can feel bits of metal engaging and getting to work with each shift. DL20 and above get the option of a 6-speed automatic gearbox that is all-new and said to be 25% faster than before. In operation, the shifts themselves are certainly smooth enough, but it has a tendency to hang onto gears too long while hesitating to upshift. The net result is an excess of unrefined engine noise filling the cabin, something modern competitors experience far less. More frustratingly is that top-spec V-Cross models can only be had with the automatic, somewhat undermining this model as being the most civilised.
One of the first things you’ll notice when driving the new D-Max is that it’s generally a more civilised article than its predecessor. The new steering that adapts to the truck’s speed might not be bristling with feedback, but it is predictable, light around town and sensibly weighted at higher speeds. There’s also a reduction in body roll and generally a better sense of control when rounding sweeping bends. This is exactly the more polished dynamic abilities engineers were aiming for when working hard to reduce weight and tinkering with the suspension.
The D-Max rides with a bit more fluidity these days, with there being a less pronounced bounce from the rear when the load bed is empty. Even the seats have been designed to reduce the road vibration passengers feel. It soaks up our imperfect rutted British Tarmac well, but over high-frequency pockmarks you get a persistent patter entering the cabin. However, there’s no denying that its changes under the skin have been for the better.
This truck is easier to live with than ever before thanks to its wide array of sensors and a reversing camera. There’s no getting away from this being a big beast – wait until the Artic Truck arrives – but there is a sense of knowing where its corners are, and it never feels clumsy even in the Tesco car park. You’ll just have to be mindful of how the D-Max dominates a parking space if you were to use it for more urban ventures.
That 1.9-litre diesel engine is a familiar ingredient as this is the same engine as before. It’s by no means fast, with a 0-62mph run of 12.7 seconds in its fastest guise, but the engine feels strong, pulling cleanly after flicker of turbo lag under hard acceleration. As mentioned, the reduced weight of this truck means you can enjoy the UK’s speed limits without factoring in the typical commercial vehicle shortcomings.
What’s less impressive about this engine is its lack of refinement, which is a shame because clearly a lot of work has gone into making the D-Max feel more grownup elsewhere. It’s just a bit gruff and certainly makes itself known when accelerating. To people who see the Isuzu as being a tool of work and not so much play, that won’t bother them, but posher V-Cross customers might look to the more refined Toyota Hilux as a benchmark.
We’d recommend the manual gearbox over the automatic, and while the auto is faster and more sophisticated than before, it can be lazy on upshifts and is far from responsive when commanded manually. The manual ‘box is rather ‘old school’, wobbling around at idle and really feeling like the mechanical lever that it is. There is something quite satisfying about moving the cogs yourself, and off-road enthusiasts will likely prefer this over an auto in any case.
Leaving the road for rough terrain puts this pickup in its element. Easily capable of climbing steep inclines and wading through up to 800mm of water, its hardy underpinnings are designed to take some serious punishment. More electronic trickery such as Hill Descent Control is a great tool, but there’s no replacement for a proper mechanical solution to getting unstuck like low-range and a locking differential. For off-roaders who love getting involved and applying learned techniques, the D-Max is a great companion. From soft sand and loose rocky hill climbs to muddy bogs and rivers, this Isuzu is right at home.
The new D-Max is a more rounded package than it ever has been, but still offers business users an excellent range of highly capable trucks. It is competitively priced and arguably appeals to a broader base of customers than before. Picking the trim that’s right for you is essential, but overall it’s a truck that contends for leadership on many fronts. Isuzu’s life is about to become much easier in the UK with fan favourites such as the Mitsubishi L200 set to leave the market, meaning a whole new base of customers will be considering what pickup is next for them.