BUYERS GUIDE - UTES & CAB CHASSIS MEDIUM
The Isuzu Ute D-MAX now has five specification levels and three body configurations, all powered by the same three-litre, turbocharged and intercooled diesel. The range has been upgraded twice since its introduction in 2012 – most recently in mid-2019.
Isuzu UTE also won the ‘Best of the Best’ Award for 2018, achieving the highest customer satisfaction of all 32 winners at the 2018 Annual Roy Morgan Customer Satisfaction Awards.
IUA ranked 1st or 2nd in 11 of the 12 months across the year with six consecutive monthly wins (July-December) and achieved a Customer Satisfaction score of 96.1 percent over the 12 months of 2018.
The current-shape, post-2012 Isuzu D-MAX range was new from the ground up. New chassis, interior cab pressings, roof and door panels were essentially identical to those used in the 2012 Colorado, but cab trim and inclusions were different.
The post-2012 diesel engine and transmissions were totally different: Holden used a VM-Motori diesel and its own transmissions where Isuzu Ute upgraded the performance of the three-litre, four cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled engine from the previous model.
The engine intercooler was moved out front, where it worked much more efficiently; the combustion zone had increased ‘swirl’; the pistons had new oil-cooling channels; and the turbocharger had variable geometry. The D-MAX engine retained chain-driven camshafts, not belt-driven and had cast roller rockers.
The oil-drain interval was extended to 20,000km, with a 10,000-km interim safety check. Oil was standard mineral type – not semi-synthetic. We wouldn’t follow tyhat procedure and would prefer an oil change every 10,000km.
Matched to an Eaton five-speed manual gearbox the peak torque rating was 380Nm from 1800rpm to 3000rpm. When coupled to the Aisin five-speed automatic transmission the same peak torque was limited to 1800-2800rpm. Maximum power of 130kW was at 3600 rpm. Towing capacity was 3000 kg, with a maximum 300kg ball load.
The auto had sequential shift and featured adaptive grade logic, hill ascent and descent control.
The post-2012 D-MAX cabin was longer, wider and taller, providing a more spacious interior for front and rear seat occupants. The Space cab, with small, forward opening doors on each side, had room for adults, over short distances.
Post-2012 D-MAXs scored a full complement of safety gear: electronic stability control; traction control; brake assist; four channel, four sensor ABS system; and six airbags.
Electronic brake distribution compensated for variations in cargo weight. There was also a reversing camera on the top spec’ LS Terrain model.
The chassis had deeper rails and an increased number of cross members. A new front suspension was fitted, with independent coil springs, upper and lower wishbones and stabiliser bar. At the rear were conventional leaf springs, but these were longer, for better comfort.
Another change from the previous model was location of the rear axle under the springs, rather than on top of the springs as previously. This change did nothing for ground clearance under the axle, but did improve belly clearance. The wheelbase was 45mm longer and track dimensions front and rear were increased by 50mm. The D-MAX ute tub floor was 15mm lower than the previous model and wider by 70mm.
The stiffer chassis and coil-sprung front end reduced body sway and ride quality was better on all surfaces. Shift quality in the manual box was improved by a revised linkage and ‘tiptronic’ style auto shifting provided easy ratio control in the auto box.
The D-MAX handled better than its predecessor and was also much quieter. Claimed fuel consumption was a combined figure of 8.0–8 .3 L/100km.
In late 2012 Isuzu UTE Australia (IUA) introduced a five-year warranty with five years’ roadside assistance for all new D-MAX vehicles. The new warranty applied to all vehicles sold from January 1, 2013.
The next major upgrade occurred in early 2017.
You had to look hard to detect bodywork
changes in the 2017 Isuzu D-MAX models. Essentially it was a facelift, with a new bumper and bonnet pressing, allowing revised grille and headlight shapes. LS models picked up projector headlamps with LED daylight running lights and fog lamps.
New displays were fitted: seven-inch for SX and LS-M models and eight-inch for LS-U and LS-T models. LS models also got three USB ports. Reversing cameras were fitted to LS models and were optional on SX.
Hill descent control (HDC) was made standard on all 2017 D-MAX models.
Isuzu Ute’s ‘Triple 5” after-sales offering was for five years or 130,000km warranty; five years’ roadside assistance and five years’ capped price servicing. Service intervals were 10,000km or 12 months and fixed price servicing extended to five years or 50,000km.
For 2017 Isuzu Ute introduced a Euro 5 compliant variant of the proved three-litre 4JJ1 engine and fitted six-speed manual and automatic transmissions across the range.
Isuzu Ute made the decision to retain the reliable, proved three-litre four, even though Isuzu developed twin-turbo 1.9-litre and 2.5-litre engines for Europe that comply with Euro 5. Doubtless, it would have been far less expensive to adopt the 2.5-litre 4JK1, rather than developing a Euro 5 version of the three-litre.
However, Isuzu Ute Australia execs and the dealer body were determined to continue using the long-serving larger engine that has proved itself in Holden Rodeos, the first Colorado and in Isuzu Utes and N Series trucks in Australia.
The Isuzu 4JJ1 diesel has by far the best pedigree in the ute market.
Improvements to pistons, injectors and common-rail supply pump, plus fitment of a variable geometry turbo and larger EGR cooler with bypass valve saw torque increase by 50Nm, along with a widening of the torque band. Although peak torque was still produced at 2000-2200rpm, the previous 380Nm torque peak
was available from 1700-3500rpm, greatly increasing engine flexibility.
The Euro 5 Isuzu 4JJ1-TC engine was fitted with a diesel particulate filter (DPF), as are all new ute diesels. However, there was no selective catalytic reduction (SCR) converter and therefore no need for urea (AdBlue) injection and storage tank.
The DPF needed a soot-removing burn-off approximately every 500km and this was done automatically by the engine ECU post-injecting fuel to raise the temperature of the exhaust gases. There was no manual regeneration function.
As with most DPF-equipped engines there was an upper ‘X’ mark on the dipstick to show if the sump capacity had increased through unburnt DPF-regeneration fuel draining into the sump. Stated oil change intervals were 20,000km, but if we owned a D-MAX with DPF it would get oil drains every 10,000km.
The torque increase dictated development of a heavier duty rear axle for the 2017 D-MAX.
In April 2018 Isuzu Ute upgraded the
leaf suspension on SX, LS-U and LS-T cab models, replacing the five-leaf spring pack with a softer riding three-leaf design.
The top-shelf LS-T also received some of the equipment featured in the MU-X LS-T model, including 18-inch wheels with Highway Terrain tyres, satellite navigation, roof rails and a passive entry and start system.
The D-MAX LS-T also scored perforated-leather faced seats and soft-touch, leatherette-trimmed dashboard, glovebox lid and armrest.
All LS-grade D-MAX models picked up two 2.1-amp USB outlets – one in the dashboard and one in the centre console.
Load capacity of all D-MAX models increased slightly, with an upgrade of GVM rating across the entire range to 3050kg, from 2950kg.
Bumper-mounted reversing cameras were made standard on all ute models and optional on cab/chassis models.
Another standard inclusion on all 2018 D-MAX models was Trailer Sway Control (TSC), that used the vehicle’s Electronic Stability Control (ESC) to help eliminate trailer ‘snaking’, by automatically using selective accelerator and brake action, without driver intervention.
Isuzu Ute Australia resisted the temptation to give the LS-T a visual going over, along the lines of Ford’s Wildtrak or Raptor, because its core market is the more practical ute buyer, who values substance above appearances.
At launch the upgraded LS-T carried a $54,700 RRP tag.
Isuzu Ute Australia put on a comprehensive
test day for the new vehicles, with loaded and empty vehicles fitted with the new three-leaf rear springs and two vehicles pulling trailers: a 1750kg boat trailer with 175kg towball weight and mechanical override brakes and a 1900kg caravan with 180kg ball weight and electric trailer brakes.
The new rear suspension had less harshness and bump reaction than the five-leaf 2017 model provided for comparison, yet a loaded crew cab, with 600kg in its cargo tub, handled that weight while remaining level.
All the test vehicles handled on and off road conditions very easily and we appreciated the three-litre engine’s braking power when descending steep grades with trailers in tow: engine braking that’s lacking in smaller-capacity diesels.
A highlight of the launch day was the opportunity to take the Team D-MAX precision driving squad vehicles for a run on skid-pan surfaces at the Mount Cotton (Brisbane) Training Facility premises.
Although these tricked-up machines weren’t available to the public, they illustrated only too clearly the degree of punishment the D-MAX can absorb.
These vehicles had loud exhausts, stiffer shock absorbers, Toyo tyres, roll cages, race seats and hydraulic handbrakes. When performing for crowds around the country they spent most of their performing time with their NoSpin locking rear diffs engaged and some of their time climbing and descending the world’s steepest ramp (45-degrees), flying over the yawning gap between two ramps and running on two wheels, with their off-side wheels in mid-air.
The exterior of the 19MY D-MAX LS-T was refreshed by 18-inch machined-faced matte black aluminium wheels. The new-look wheels were shod with 255/60R18 Toyo Open Country Highway Terrain tyres, for durability, all-weather grip and lower road noise.
Between the LS-T and LS-U wheels sat new sidesteps, constructed from durable fibre-reinforced polymer (FRP) and attached by steel brackets. The sidesteps were shaped to shed water from the face of the step, and our evaluation showed they had much better foot grip than aluminium steps when the vehicle
was on a slope.
Atop the D-MAX LS-T cabin were matte black roof rails and the LS-T. LS-M and LS-U variants also received matte black treatment to the radiator air intake on the front bumper, as well as the B-pillars of all 19MY Crew Cab LS models.
Probably more significant than the refreshed look was the introduction of warranty and servicing enhancements, encompassing a six-year/150,000km warranty, six-year roadside assistance and seven-year/105,000km capped price servicing program.
Front Park Assist (FPA) is available as an option on all LS models. Utilising a three-stage radar sensor system across the front overhang points of the vehicle, FPA audibly warns the driver of any obstacles while manoeuvring in tight spaces, mitigating the chance of an accident.
FPA is available an optional accessory for $545 RRP and can be retro-fitted to all 17MY-onwards LS-M, LS-U and LS-T D-MAX models.
On and off road in the D-MAX
Isuzu Ute Australia put on an excellent
drive program for the launch of the latest D-MAX models. The route took in stop-start city traffic, secondary roads, freeway and plenty of up and down
hill sections. Off road evaluation was done on beach sand and in a rocky quarry and no flat spot.
Matched to new six-speed manual and automatic transmissions the 4JJ1 diesel delivered like a turbine.
Engine noise was subdued by additional sound deadening materials and probably by the DPF. However, it was still obviously a light truck engine, not a car diesel.
New overdrive gearing saw the engine
spinning at a relatively low 1900rpm at 110km/h, but response to accelerator pedal pressure was instant, with no stumbling or power delivery delay.
Triple-cone synchros on 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears in the manual box made the shift action somewhat heavy, but the gate gave much better gear selection than the six-speeds fitted to Ranger, BT-50 and Amarok, if not as slick as the HiLux’s manual.
The D-MAX’s Aisin auto was a beauty, with almost seamless up and down shifts.
On road the latest D-MAX handled predictably and the rear end behaved well on bumps. Steering was hydraulic, not electric, and feel was excellent.
Off road the ute climbed very steep
grades with little accelerator pressure and engine braking – even in the auto models – was quite strong.
Hill descent control was standard and descent speed was regulated by the brake pedal: push on the brake at the desired speed setting and the HDC system maintained that figure, except in loose or slippery conditions where the tyres could slip a little.
When HDC speed was too slow it could be raised by simply pressing a little on the accelerator: intuitive and very effective.
The D-MAX relied on its traction control electronics to limit wheelspin and there were no limited slip diff or diff lock options available.
The interior was little changed and ergonomics were good. However, the steering column was still tilt-only, not telescopic.
Fuel consumption as a solo vehicle averaged under 9.5L/100km and, when towing, 11.5L/100km.
When launched in 2009 the 11-model D-MAX range was all diesel-powered. Isuzu’s 4JJ1 Hi-Power 3.0-litre common-rail, direct injection VGS turbo-diesel engine had a maximum power of 120kW at 3600rpm, with peak torque of 360Nm from 1800 to 2800rpm (manual transmission models) and 333Nm at 1600 to 3200rpm (automatics). D-MAX variants included single and crew cab, ute or cab/chassis.
Significantly, the D-MAX platform was the only one in the ute/one-tonne class that offered a longer wheelbase in cab/chassis variants than in ute variants, to allow correct load balance. Consequently D-MAX had the longest cab-to-axle dimensions in the class for single and crew cabs, permitting more load length ahead of the rear axle.
Isuzu’s D-MAX range comprised three trim levels: EX, SX and LS and all D-Max 4WDs were equipped with high-ride suspension, steel sump and transfer case guards, wheel arch flares and 16 x 7 wheels shod with 245/70 tyres. The sole D-MAX EX model was a single cab/chassis manual which targetted the farm truck niche and offered seating for three, a load-sensing brake proportioning valve and drilled silver steel wheels. SX variants came with ABS with EBD, dual front airbags, power windows with driver’s window one-touch auto-down and remote entry via a single integrated key/pad. The top duo of 4WD crew cab utes was badged LS-U and LS-M.
They picked up the following additions over SX: four-speed automatic option, cruise control, aluminium wheels, leather steering wheel rim and shift knob, electro-luminescent instrument cluster, five-function trip computer, projector headlights and front fog lights, rear step bumper, power-adjustable and remote fold-back door mirrors with LED turn indicators, flush fascia CD/FM/AM audio with MP3/WMA and six speakers, overhead console with twin map lights and a flip-down sunglasses case, variable intermittent wiper mode
D-MAX LS-M was the more off-road-themed LS variant, distinguishable by its cabin protection frame in the cargo tub, scratch-resistant grey front bumper, grille surround and wheel arch flares, black finish on the rear step bumper and exterior hardware, and vinyl floor covering instead of carpet. Shifting between 2WD to 4WD High Range could be done ‘on the fly’ at speeds up to 100km/h via a dash push-button Drive Mode Selection panel.
D-MAX towing capacity was three tonnes of braked trailer. Endorsed accessory hard tonneaus and a canopy were available. Pricing in 4WD range started at$27,800 for the EX single cab/chassis manual and topped at $42,500 for a fully kitted automatic 4WD LS-U Crew Cab ute .
In July 2009 a lower cost SX 4WD Crew Cab ute was added to the lineup, at a RRP of approximately $42,200 drive-away.
At the same time dual front airbags were added to the farm spec EX 4WD single cab /chassis, then priced at $35,600 drive-away, with a 2.55m aluminium tray body fitted.
The Space Cab D-MAX was added to the range in August 2009, for only $2200 more than its single cab/chassis stable-mate, compared with the $4000 to $5500 extra that other brands charged for this variant.
With a RRP of $35,800 the D-MAX Space Cab SX 4WD cab/chassis provided room behind its two bucket seats for stowing valuable gear and opening rear quarter windows. An automatic transmission option in the D-MAX SX mid-spec 4WD Crew Cab ute in May 2010 and standard cruise control was added to all SX variants.
Also, twin rear ‘jump’ seats with lap-sash belts and multiple folding modes were added to the SX 4WD Space Cab/chassis manual.
The D-MAX had dashboard push button control for shifting from two-wheel-drive to 4WD and it worked instantly when required. Four wheel drive engagement happened under full power, which was handy on some slippery track sections and disengagement was also rapid, after a slight lift of the accelerator pedal. In-cabin noise level was car-like, except for the aforementioned downshift issue, making a Bluetooth phone link quite useful.
The D-MAX shone in off-road situations. The rear axle limited slip diff centre worked well to control wheelspin in soft and slippery conditions. Fuel capacity was a marginal 76 litres, like all mid-sized utes, but there was ample space for an after-market 130-litre tank under the bodywork. Economy on our tow testing worked out at exactly 12L/100km, which was pretty good.
The Isuzu D-MAX established itself in the Australian market as a worthy successor to the Rodeo, despite fierce competition from the mechanically identical Holden Colorado.
Our extensive solo-vehicle and tow-testing in Isuzu D-MAX utes shows that they need very little in the way of bush mods to go virtually anywhere. We’d suggest a long-range replacement fuel tank, a snorkel and a suspension lift. A front-end diff lock or LSD would be nice, for severe trails.
Will the true son of Rodeo please stand up
The 2009-11 Isuzu D-MAX and Holden Colorado were badge-engineered utes, in much the same manner that Mazda’s BT-50 and Ford’s Ranger are mechanically identical, but aesthetically different. Only in 2012 did the Colorado get its own 2.8-litre Duramax engine, while the D-Max continued with an Isuzu three-litre.However, while Ford has a controlling interest in Mazda, making that arrangement quite tidy, the D-MAX/Colorado pairing is messier. Here’s the background.
Isuzu’s four-cylinder KB ute range that was badged ‘Rodeo’ from the 1980s was originally produced in Japan and exported globally, including into Thailand. Isuzu utes have been selling in Thailand since 1957 and local production by Isuzu Operations Thailand (IOT) began in 1974, in parallel with Japanese production. By the 1980s Isuzu had light and heavy truck production and marketing agreements with GM that eventually culminated in GM control of Isuzu.
The Asian meltdown of the 1990s saw GM relinquish its control of Isuzu, but some production and marketing agreements remained in place, including the production of utes badged Chevrolet and Holden.
In 2002, the remainder of Isuzu Rodeo ute production was transferred from Japan to Thailand. In 2004 GM began parallel production of the Chevrolet-badged Rodeo vehicle design at its own new plant in Thailand. The IOT-owned D-MAX is built in Samrong and the GM-owned Colorado is built by GM Thailand in Rayong – neighbouring satellite towns near Bangkok.
GM pursued this new-plant initiative in 2004 to bolster its flagging market shares around the world.
Once its Thai plant was in full swing it was logical for GM to sell the Colorado in Australia, through Holden dealers, but that move cut IOT’s former product channel into Australia – one of the largest ute markets in the world. Hence, the birth of Isuzu UTE Australia Pty Ltd (IUA), to bring in the IOT-built D-MAX.
The outcome is Holden dealers selling the GM-built Colorado and IUA dealers selling the IOT-built D-MAX.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Australia’s successful Isuzu truck dealerships would be the most logical outlets for the IOT-built D-Max, but there’s an additional complication. IOT is a joint corporation, with 80 percent shareholding by Mitsubishi Corporation (not Mitsubishi Motors) and 20 percent by Isuzu Japan. Isuzu Australia Limited (the truck-importing subsidiary that’s 100 percent Isuzu-owned) is fiercely protective of its market leading brand image and wasn’t happy to ‘go to bed’ with IUA. However, an increasing number of Isuzu truck dealers have signed D-MAX dealership agreements.