It might look like something beginning with H, but Isuzu's ute is full of surprises
First, the breaking news: Isuzu confirms a new seven-seat SUV will be here towards the end of the year.
It'll be based on the latest D-Max ute and similar - in concept, at least - to the Holden Colorado 7.
The name is still a "watch this space" question, but in view of Isuzu's long history of midsize SUVs, could it be called anything other than the Trooper 7?
And now the main item: a review of the D-Max that will provide the "donor" chassis for the forthcoming SUV. It's sold here in two specifications, the base LX and the bountiful LS. Driven's test vehicle was the LS double-cab five-speed manual, listing at $54,990, or $2000 more for the automatic.
It's not just a warmed-over Holden Colorado. Although developed alongside the Holden, about 80 per cent of Isuzu's truck is different, including the entire drivetrain.
This drive was approached with trepidation. The turbocharged engine comes from the Isuzu N-series truck and some reports dismissed it as too ... well, truck-like. Just what the market needs: a noisy, smelly truck engine in a ute when the breed is assuming limo-like traits.
It only took a couple of kilometres to drive off any concerns. First of all, the engine wasn't noisy and rough, even in an N series, and second of all, it fits well with the D-Max.
It's true that some ute diesels are smoother and quieter - the Ford Ranger and Nissan Navara 550 spring to mind - but they're refined almost to the point of being soulless. D-Max proudly signals that it has substance under its bonnet; that it's ready to work hard for its living.
The Isuzu delivers 130kW of power and 380Nm of torque at 1800rpm and 275Nm of the torque is available at 1000rpm, which is more or less right off idle. Those power and torque figures are some distance off being class leaders, but Isuzu prides itself in publishing nett figures - the output measured with the engine in the vehicle, not on a test rig without ancillary devices.
The engine maintains its peak torque until almost 3000rpm and the payoff is outstanding flexibility. It will pull in fourth and fifth gear from really silly rpm. Some rivals might have given up and stalled while the Isuzu's still slugging away.
Around town, a driver can usually start in second then flick to fourth without straining the engine; a poor-person's automatic. So it's a willing component in a first-class all-Isuzu drivetrain and I'd take it over the rival Holden Colorado 3-litre unit. It's easy on fuel, too: our overall consumption, which included off-roading, was a commendable 8.5 litres per 100km.
The engine is also designed for easy maintenance and long life with a stainless-steel timing chain, roller rockers with twin bearings on each rocker and a less maintenance-intensive valve system. The oil filter is possibly the world's most accessible, right on the top of the engine.
Inside, the D-Max is similar to, but different from, its GM cousin; it's full of worthy features like wider seat rails so big guys in the back can get their booted feet under the front buckets. You'll find 10 cupholders and 15 storage spaces.
4WD is engaged via a Terrain Command system worked by a console-mounted rotary switch. In low-range, the manual D-Max offers good overall low gearing of just over 40:1, for slow, steady progress in the rough or on steep descents.
The automatic is just under 33:1 but that version adds electronic hill descent control to keep steep descents from becoming white-knucklers.
Isuzu's electronic traction control works well off-road and ground clearance of 235mm helps keep it from getting hung up. Approach and departure angles of 30deg and 23deg are average.
D-Max is also not a class leader at towing, with a braked rating of 3000kg. Colorado also manages 3000kg but, when Driven hooked up a heavy load, the Isuzu handled it with greater ease than the Holden. Maybe Isuzu is being conservative in that rating, too.
The load area is 1550mm long, 465mm deep and can take a genuine one-tonne, but could do with better tie-downs. The tailgate locks, but not with the remote central locking.
I hope dealers let would-be owners take a decent test drive because that's when the D-Max shows it's much more than the warmed-over Colorado it's often mistaken to be.
LX: Single cab, cab chassis, 2WD manual, $36,890
Space cab, cab chassis, 4WD manual, $48,890
Double cab wellside, 4WD manual, $49,990
LS: Double cab wellside 2WD manual/auto $44,790/48,890
Double cab wellside 4WD manual/auto $54,990/56,990
The bottom line:
It's a little trucker and proud of it. That works for us.