Why you should consider this ute
Isuzu's D-Max ute puts the work into workhorse. A well-tested chassis and proven engine reassure owners this bus won't break down.
Its reputation for getting the job done is one of the reasons for the D-Max occupying No. 5 place in 4WD ute sales so far this year, ahead of the Nissan Navara and Mazda BT-50.
That's a huge feat for a vehicle that's essentially eight years old. Isuzu has tinkered with the looks as best it can but can't disguise the fact this vehicle doesn't have the latest safety aids or connectivity.
It seems Isuzu buyers prefer reliability, backed by a six-year/150,000km warranty and six years free roadside assist over the latest conveniences.
The fact the Isuzu is still selling in decent numbers - 5907 in the first half of this year - should worry its rivals ahead. The new D-Max expected in 2021 will come with software and sensor updates that should only increase its appeal.
The Isuzu might not pack the latest tech but nor does it involve a big hit to the bank balance. We're driving a dual-cab 4WD, the limited-edition X-Runner that sits at the top of the D-Max line-up at $54,990 on the road.
Standard gear includes tub liner, sports bar, eight-inch touchscreen infotainment display with satnav and reversing camera, six-speed automatic transmission and the venerable but bombproof 3.0-litre turbo diesel.
For those who don't necessarily need the X-Runner's extra bits, the four-door 4WD D-Max kicks off at $39,990 drive-away for the SX.
Servicing costs are capped for the first seven years/105,000km on MY19 vehicles, totalling $3600 (the sixth-year service hurts at $1110).
The D-Max shows its age against the latest, city focused crop of 4WD utes in having slightly less refined manners around town and a more utilitarian interior.
It still sits mid-pack in terms of how it handles an urban commute. The suspension is stiffer over little bumps than, say, a Ford Ranger and the rear end jitters over small corrugations - the upside is that it barely dips with 350kg in the back.
A mix of durable plastics for protection and soft-touch panels to help refine the cabin's looks and feel. Storage is decent front or back and the seats are leather-clad but not as bolstered as I'd like.
The steering feel from the hydraulic rack is a touch heavier than the electro-hydraulic jobs in the segment leaders but that weight helps in the rough stuff.
The absence of a digital speedo is another quibble for anyone living in Victoria where fixating on the speedo rather than the traffic is a required part of the driving routine.
Basics are covered, with the aircon quick to heat or cool, the switchgear solid and well placed. A physical volume knob for the audio would be handy.
The MY17 Isuzu earned a five-star safety rating from ANCAP, though the result was based on the initial testing in 2012-13. It survived the crash tests relatively unscathed and earned a score of 33.58 out of 37.
Six airbags are standard but an attentive driver is the only active safety component - autonomous emergency braking and the associated aids aren't an option. The fact D-Max sales continue to grow indicates that isn't a concern for a slice of the population.
Including such gear presumably would extend its appeal to young families who prefer the perceived protection AEB brings.
I like the D-Max. Like a farmer in a suit, it's unpretentious but still looks the business. The 3.0-litre diesel has been tweaked to deliver 130kW and 430Nm via a six-speed automatic.
It sounds a touch coarse from inside the cabin and doesn't like to be revved but keep it below 3300rpm and it pulls relentlessly.
A separate lever alongside the transmission engages 2WD, 4WD high or 4WD low.
The low range has a decent crawling speed but highlights one of the few mechanical flaws in the D-Max's armoury: the absence of a limited-slip diff or diff lock.
Typical off-road work - dirt tracks and decent ruts - cause no consternation and the hill descent software is effective and easy to use.
For those who venture deep into the bush or on to a remote beach, some sort of ability to lock the rear wheels is invaluable when the going gets ugly.
Use the D-Max as a tow vehicle or load lugger and you're on a winner. The engine is lifted straight out of an Isuzu truck, so handles a one-tonne payload or hauls up to 3500kg without problems, other than pushing fuel economy well above the 7.9L/100km claim.
On the highway, that heavy steering suddenly becomes more benign and trailer sway control helps keep things in line.
It does the job around town without really enjoying itself. Ideally there needs to be a bit of weight in the back to keep the rear end settled when you're crossing cobbled laneways and the like.
The turning circle of 12.6m is tighter than a Ford Ranger, so it's manageable in shopping centres.
The D-Max is a bulletproof 4WD ute package let down only by the lack of active safety aids. Test drive it, then debate the pros and cons with the better half.
Isuzu D-Max vitals
Price: $54,990 drive-away
Warranty/servicing: 6 years/150,000km, $2090 for 5 years
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, rear camera and sensors
Engine: 3.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 130kW/430Nm