Isuzu continues its upwards trajectory in the pick up market with the D-Max. Jonathan Crouch tries the ritziest Utah DoubleCab 4x4 model
The Isuzu D-Max offers superior ride quality, an efficient 1.9-litre engine and a tough and practical demeanour. Is it good enough to challenge the best pick ups in its class? Drive a variant like this 4x4 DoubleCab Utah model and you wouldn't count against it.
Big pick up trucks have enjoyed quite some popularity in the UK, buoyed by a tax loophole that meant that company car drivers were quids in if they chose what was deemed a commercial vehicle over a typical private light goods vehicle. That novelty quickly wore off, as many realised that they would much rather be flying up the outside lane in a BMW 320d than lumbering along the crawler lane in a truck with suspension that seemed to be modelled on the kinematics of a bouncy castle.
Isuzu rather missed the boat in the 'luxury truck' sector that took off in the early Noughties. At the time, its offering was the distinctly agricultural TF. This was replaced by the more civilised Rodeo model and then in 2012, we got that model's successor, the D-Max. It might have arrived a bit late to capitalise on the sales bubble, but for genuine tradesman who need a solid workhorse, there's a lot to like here. Especially if said trades people can stretch to this plush version, the DoubleCab 4x4 Utah, which is what we're testing here.
The Isuzu D-Max is powered by a highly fuel efficient 1.9-litre twin-turbo common rail diesel engine, available with the choice of either six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmissions. This advanced Euro6-compliant unit generates 164PS and peak torque output of 360 Nm at 1400 rpm. The Isuzu D-Max also introduces a 'shift-on-the-fly' system, allowing the driver to adjust between two- and four-wheel drive modes while travelling at speeds of up to 60 mph.
The front suspension comprises an independent double wishbone with coil-spring setup while the rear suspension is made up of over slung leaf-springs installed above a special long span rear axle. Isuzu claims this offers better driving comfort. Like the Rodeo, the D-Max is built on a rugged ladder-framed chassis, but the similarities end there. The i-GRIP (Isuzu Gravity Responsive Intelligent Platform) underpinnings of the D-Max are 42% stiffer than the old Rodeo chassis, helped by improved cross bracing at the rear, which offers superior stability under load and when towing
Isuzu offers the D-Max with five specification levels and an extended cab body configuration - featuring rear-opening side-access panels - joining the usual single and double cab variants. The entry-level Isuzu D-Max is a single cab 4x2 derivative and above that are the double cab variants.
As well as being the most comprehensively developed, most efficient and most refined Isuzu pick-up to date, the D-Max is also a highly capable load-lugger: it has a 3.5-tonne (braked) towing capacity and a payload capacity of 1,000 kg.
Whichever D-Max variant you choose, it'll come with daytime running lights, air-conditioning, all-round electric windows and a CD stereo. On the top of the range Utah variant we tried though, all the niceties were in evidence, as you'd expect on a vehicle demanding a budget of around £24,000 ex Vat. Things like 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 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.
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. On the eco front, the CO2 emissions figure is a very respectable 163g/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 6-compliant unit can return around 40mpg on the combined fuel economy cycle.
Previous Isuzu pick-up models never really appealed to the lifestyle set. This improved D-Max model could be different. Models like this top Utah 4x4 DoubleCab offer a decent alternative to buyers in this sector already set on blowing around £25,000 on a top Ford Ranger, Mitsubishi L200, Toyota Hilux or Nissan NP300 Navara.
Though this vehicle may not yet be thought on in the same terms as these competitors, it deserves to be. It won't have a straight run at them though. Ford's much improved Ranger will prove a serious impediment to the D-Max improving the old Rodeo's market share. It's worth trying this Isuzu though. Sometimes the less obvious choice pays big dividends.