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In the day and age of the lifestyle ute, it can be hard to differentiate the work horses from the show ponies.
With so many models available from just about every manufacturer the market is abundant with choice, however, not all utes are created equal. This brings us to Isuzu D-MAX, something of a quiet achiever. Isuzu is building a strong following based on quality and value for money. Of course, they are getting a little support from Fleetwood Mac.
This review is looking at the LS-Terrain, which is the range-topping D-MAX. Essentially it’s an LS-U with extra kit to broaden its appeal as a family oriented option. If the whole lifestyle vehicle movement floats your boat, this is Isuzu’s contender.
The LS-Terrain offers keyless entry and start, leather seats, climate control, satellite navigation, 18-inch alloys and roof rails.
Any vehicle aimed at family buyers should offer plenty of safety features, the LS-Terrain gets six airbags, stability control, traction control and a reversing camera. The basics are covered, but it misses out on the latest safety tech. When the D-MAX was last tested by ANCAP it came away with a five-star rating.
At $54,200 plus on-roads, the 2017 Isuzu D-MAX LS-Terrain is competitive against high-spec models from Toyota and Ford.
There have been some styling upgrades to the exterior of the D-MAX. The revisions are subtle and stick with an evolutionary rather than revolutionary theme. None of that in-your-face Americana to be seen here. The new grille and headlamps sharpen the front but keep the car easily identifiable as an Isuzu.
There have been significant improvements made to the D-MAX for the 2017 model year. The focus of these improvements has been the drive train. The engine, exclusively developed for Australia, has had a torque increase taking the 3.0-litre turbo diesel to 430Nm. New automatic and manual transmissions are also available. The LS-Terrain is not offered with a manual gearbox, and as such, our test D-MAX was equipped with the new six-speed automatic developed by Japanese transmission specialists, Aisin.
In most cases, it’s very hard to determine how much a new model has improved without being familiar with the car it’s replacing. Isuzu kindly afforded us the opportunity to sample the outgoing model prior to this test, Isuzu’s claims of better performance are legitimate. The improvements to the drivetrain have delivered better performance and refinement.
The engine does grumble a bit, it’s a sound that takes us back to the day. It sounds like a workhorse should. It’s not an old-school rattler, but it does sound fair dinkum. Importantly, there’s plenty of oomph with peak torque accessible from only 2000rpm.
Moving to the new automatic transmission, the extra gear makes a difference. For the most part, the gearing is well sorted and changes are decisive. It’s a smooth performer in traffic. At times, it seems calibrated to hold onto gears to ensure there are no gaps in torque delivery, which is a good thing.
From behind the wheel, the upgraded engine and new transmission make for a far better driving experience. On the road, the new D-MAX is more responsive to throttle input than the outgoing model.
Steering can be a little vague, but it is well weighted and never uncomfortable.
What does impress is the suspension, with an unladen tray, the D-MAX delivers a composed ride for a ute. Some bounce is to be expected, but it’s not as fidgety as some of its rivals. With some weight in the back, it’s a very level ride meaning the tradies will be comfortable.
Highway cruising is a relaxed affair - noise, vibration and harshness levels are impressive for a brand that doesn’t lean on a passenger car range to make its commercial vehicles more appealing to the masses.
Straight out of the box, the D-MAX is capable off-road. Most enthusiasts will upgrade the suspension and tyres, whether it's necessary or not. In factory specification, the 4x4 D-MAX will handle what the majority of owners are likely to subject it to.
We were able to test the D-MAX in a variety of off-road situations. In low-range, it was easily able to dispose of sandy and muddy tracks, it could also climb and descend reasonably steep slopes with absolutely no fuss. It offers plenty of grip and feels as sturdy as any HiLux when conditions get rough.
Caravan and camper trailer enthusiasts can rest easy, the D-MAX is rated to tow 3500kg, which keeps it in line with the best in the segment.
One of the stranger things that came up on test was the fuel consumption readout. According to the D-MAX, it was consuming 11.8 litres of diesel for every 100km travelled, we didn’t believe this was accurate. The official figure of 7.9L/100km was proving very difficult to get near, so we resorted to scientific theory and mathematical equation, which lead us to the more accurate figure of 8.5L/100km.
Regardless of whether the LS-Terrain is being used as a tool of the trade or lifestyle vehicle, the seats are some of the most comfortable in the category, they are brilliant. It’s easy to find the sweet spot. Unfortunately, the team is let down slightly by not having reach adjustment for the steering wheel.
Cabin materials, although improved, are a long way off the class leaders. The leather seats in our tester had a nice feel, the same can't be said about the plastics though which are hard and scratchy. The buttons and switches also feel a little left behind when compared to the competition. The layout adopts a minimalist approach that does suit the character of the D-MAX. A splash of colour would go a long way to improving the cabin ambience.
Infotainment is taken care of via an 8-inch touchscreen. All the usual suspects are present, Bluetooth for phone and audio streaming, CD, USB, and a very good satellite navigation system. It all works well and the response times are good. The quality of the menu system graphics is definitely an area for future improvement.
For lifestyle buyers, the rear USB port is a great thing. It’s hard to comprehend why more brands don’t incorporate ports in the back. One front USB port isn’t enough in this day and age.
Ownership credentials are excellent, Isuzu’s comprehensive after sales support plan donkey licks its higher selling rivals. The D-MAX is backed with a five year/130,000km warranty, five years roadside assistance and a five year/50,000km capped price service program. Maintenance intervals are set to 12 months/10,000km.
Another part of the Isuzu ownership experience is the I-Venture club. For an additional cost, the club provides a variety of off-road driving opportunities where Isuzu owners can actually learn how to properly use the vehicle and maximise its potential. It’s remarkable how many people attempt to explore the great outdoors without undertaking any education to ensure they have the required knowledge and skills.
Under the supervision of an accredited 4WD trainer, the I-Venture club provides an ideal platform to learn about the many aspects of off-road driving so that owners can confidently and safely get full value out of their D-MAX.
The 2017 Isuzu D-MAX represents a genuine improvement over the old model. It strikes a commendable balance between on-road comfort and off-road ability. In fact, its off-road prowess makes it worthy of serious consideration for anyone who will actually do some driving off the beaten track.
The LS-Terrain is refined, efficient, well made and feels like a ute that will go the distance. After spending a week in the D-MAX, we would liken it to a ute incarnation of Rocky Balboa, it’s not overly flashy, but it keeps getting the job done. There are nicer cabins to sit in and prettier utes to park in the driveway, but this isn’t a show pony looking for attention from the neighbours. This ute is a work horse for those who want to do things, not just think about doing them.
2017 Isuzu D-MAX LS-Terrain Specifications
Price from $54,200 plus on-road costs Engine 3.0L 4 cylinder turbo-diesel Power 130kW @ 3600rpm Torque 430Nm @ 2000 - 2200rpm Transmission six-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 7.9L/100km Tank Capacity 76L Length 5295mm Width 1860mm (excluding mirrors) Height 1855mm Wheelbase 3095mm Ground Clearance 235mm Turning Circle 12.6m Tare Mass 1970kg Service Intervals 12-months or 10,000km Warranty five year/130,000 kilometre
Let’s start a Car Conversation, with its upgraded engine and transmissions can the D-MAX take sales from the HiLux and Ranger?
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