Prime Mover Magazine

Loving the load

Loving the load

With stylish and sporty front-end treatment, a bullet-proof powertrain and seriously rugged chassis and undercarriage, the latest Isuzu D-Max is a mighty force to be reckoned with. Prime Mover takes a mid-spec dual cab tray-back unit for a lengthy test and finds it actually performs better with a load in the back than when unladen.

There’s something rather unique about the Isuzu D-Max ute that sets it apart from the rest of the ute crew. It’s produced by the company that recently notched up the unprecedented feat of 30 straight years as overall truck market leader in Australia.

Given this, it’s an undeniable boon that the new D-Max boasts a high-performance version of the engine that powers its ‘big brothers’ – the lighter versions of Isuzu’s indefatigable N Series range of light-duty trucks which has spearheaded the company’s charge to total truck market domination in this country over the past three decades. It should therefore come as no surprise that this powerplant provides the D-Max with ample oomph to simultaneously carry a one-tonne payload and haul a braked trailer with an all-up weight of 3.5 tonnes.

And it does all this while providing a full-size family car-like cabin environment with plenty of space for five adults. This is an important point because some dual cabs in the past, due to constraints with body and chassis lengths and widths, offered less than ideal legroom and comfort for rear seat passengers. However, the modern dual cab, as typified by the D-Max, has been designed from the ground up as a dual-purpose passenger and load carrier, and as such does a sterling job on both fronts. 
The engine is Isuzu’s 4JJ1-TC Hi-Power 3.0 litre in-line 4-cylinder turbo diesel featuring a diesel particulate diffuser (DPD) for emissions control. With bore and stroke dimensions of 95.4mm x 104.9mm, it delivers a punchy 130kW at 3600 rpm backed by a healthy peak torque of 430Nm at 2000 rpm. Also assisting in this respect are electronic high pressure common-rail fuel injection with variable swirl system (VSS), a variable geometry turbocharger (VGT) and charge air cooler.

Stirring the pots are either Isuzu’s own 6-speed manual with high torque capacity and a 275mm diameter clutch plate or an electronically controlled Aisin 6-speed automatic with sequential shift and brake shift lock. The auto features Adaptive Logic Control and a fuel-saving lock-up torque converter on gears three to six. It also sports an Uphill/Downhill Transmission Control System which holds the appropriate gear on grades to enhance engine performance and engine braking during respective ascents and descents. Both transmissions feature double overdrive ratios for maximum fuel efficiency at highway speeds. The sixth ratios are 0.63:1 and 0.58:1 for manual and auto respectively.

The D-Max Prime Mover tested is an automatic 4x4 SX dual-cab fitted with a drop-side alloy tray. With the drop sides easily detached, we load the tray with a zero-turn mower weighing about 350kg which provides an interesting comparison to running empty. While this is less than half the maximum weight this vehicle can carry, it nonetheless represents a somewhat average payload that this type of vehicle possesses when kitted out with toolboxes and other tradie necessities. Interestingly, the vehicle seems to relish having some weight onboard and actually performs better than when empty. The ride is also much improved compared to the firmness felt from the heavy-duty rear leaf suspension when unladen. However, the high capacity is undoubtedly necessary when toting a full payload.

The engine and auto transmission with its well-spaced ratios work in seamless synch, keeping the revs mostly within the fuel-efficient torque band between 1,500 and 2,500 rpm. When called upon for rapid acceleration the transmission is quick to kick-down one or two gears and the engine happily spins to 3,000rpm and beyond. Yet it is equally at ease ambling at the 1,500 rpm mark which ensures relaxed 100km/h cruising on the highway in the double overdriven sixth ratio. The low revs at cruising speed also contributes to an impressively quiet interior.

During the test we also had the opportunity to do some mild off-roading which the D-Max handled with absolute ease. Features like ample ground clearance, underbody protection plates and snorkelled diff breathers bode well for off-road work of a more extreme nature. The 4x4 system Isuzu calls ‘Terrain Command’ features a 2.482:1 low range and enables shift- on-the-fly between high range 4x4 and 4x2 at speeds up to 100km/h. Traction control is also a standard feature across the range.

While it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the top-spec versions, the SX dual cab is equipped with enough creature comforts to enable this practical no-nonsense workhorse to conveniently double as a family hauler. Nice interior touches include a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 7-inch touch screen infotainment system incorporating reversing camera display as well as Bluetooth and USB ports. It also has very comfortable and supportive seats trimmed in what appears to be a highly durable yet attractive fabric upholstery.

We found little to fault with the vehicle apart from a few minor niggles. The remote lock/ unlock buttons on the key are too sensitive and on a number of occasions after locking it and pocketing the key the familiar ‘clunk’ sound indicated it had been inadvertently unlocked. The instrument panel also seemed a tad disjointed with a central red digital display for odometer, trip, fuel and temperature readings that was hard to read in bright sunlight, flanked by white numeral and needle analogue speedo and tacho. And there is no variable dwell function with the intermittent wiper setting.

The positives, however, are myriad. After a mix of mostly highway hauling with a bit of off-road and metro thrown in for good measure, the D-Max returned a creditable 11.5km/l or 32.5mpg in the old money.

All up, we came away mightily impressed with the new Isuzu D-Max as a versatile load lugger that feels and looks equally at home in the Coles carpark. The lion-hearted 3.0 litre diesel displays the brawn of its truck heritage while returning excellent fuel economy along with refined drivability.

This is one dual cab ute we’d definitely take home to meet Mum.

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