There have been a few key changes to the 2017 Isuzu D-Max, which have brought it up a few notches in terms of power, comfort and efficiency. The updated gearboxes and uprated engine have made it a better off-roader as well. Is the venerable D-Max still a competitor amongst a fast-moving field of competitors? We find out.
As a company, Isuzu is somewhat of a minnow in the Australian car industry. Look internationally in the commercial markets, and the Isuzu brand is a giant. But as far as we’re concerned in this situation, they have only two models: a ute, and a ute-based wagon. When you compare that to who Isuzu competes with; companies with a much larger range of vehicles across the gamut of segments, they suddenly take on the vestige of David walking into the arena against Goliath.
There are negatives and positives to such a setup for Isuzu. Their network and overall brand presence is much smaller, making growth slower and more difficult. But, the positive is that their 4X4 offerings have zero chance of being watered down with passenger and non-off-road components. Instead, it’s quite the opposite: a lot of the important moving bits under the sheet-metal of the D-Max and MU-X are shared with or sourced from light trucks and commercials.
Realistically, the easiest path that lay ahead of Isuzu for Euro5 compliance was to scrap the 4JJ1 engine from the D-Max and MU-X, and replace it with something they already have designed and installed for other markets: 2.5 litre, twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel that makes a not-too-shabby 120kW and 400Nm. There a 1.9 litre turbodiesel in the Isuzu stable, as well. Lower capacity for cleanness and efficiency, and increased boost for power and torque development: it’s a well-trodden path.
But, they didn’t. Isuzu told us that they have spent the previous two years connecting with and questioning end-users of their products, finding out the good and bad. Isuzu owners love their 3-litre diesel, despite it being far from the most powerful motor on the block. It’s a bit more of a traditional diesel engine: modest power, not particularly refined, an a nice surge or torque from low revs. In my head, I imagine it would have gone something like this:
Isuzu: Do you like the 3.0 litre 4JJ1 engine?
Owner: Yes, it’s great.
Isuzu: What if we swapped it for something smaller and two turbos?
Owner: **screaming and gargling**
If Nissan cared to ask similar questions of D40 Navara owners, they would have got a similar answer. Instead of asking such questions, they started replacing rear coil springs with slinkies.
Isuzu did listen however, and chose to take a harder path: reworking the existing engine, and improving it’s performance, efficiency and cleanness. Aussies love their diesels to err on the side of large, and the 4JJ1 engine has built a solid reputation under the bonnet of Isuzu and Holden 4WDs alike in Australia over the years. It’s now more efficient, cleaner, and makes more torque and better power.
There’s something honest about the D-Max ute. It’s not trying to drive and ride like a passenger car, or wow you with embroidered heroics. It’s an unashamed diesel ute, which seems to embrace it’s relatively basic interior, clattery engine and firm rear end. If you want a good load capacity; you kind of have to accept it. And a hard-wearing interior tends to come with shortcomings. And in my opinion, fair enough. It’s certainly more tool than toy.
Now, if someone stopped reading at the end of the above paragraph, they might think now that I’m going to entail about how there are faster, better-optioned and quieter options out there, and you shouldn’t consider the D-Max. But, it’s not as simple as that. If you want the most refined and carlike ride, buy an Amarok. Consider the two-litre, then buy the V6. If you want something packed with tech and lifestyle-related coolness, buy a Ranger. But please stop putting stupid Raptor grilles and decals on it. You’re not cool.
But if you’re all about old-fashioned values like simplicity and durability, have a good, hard look at the D-Max. Rather than making big, wholesale changes, this updated D-Max is largely business as usual for the Japan-owned, Thai-built ute. The engine is the same, but now makes 430Nm. Peak power is the same, but you have better access to power and torque across a wider rev range. Most importantly, there is more torque available at lower revs.
This improved performance, which is certainly noticeable and worthwhile, is augmented by an extra cog in the gearbox, both automatic and manual. In both cases, 1st gear is slightly lower and top gear is significantly higher, making for better performance both on the highway and off-road. Aside from the extra cog, the gearboxes are also improved in their general driveability. The manual, in particular, we found quite sweet and easy-to-use. This is apparently down to triple-cone syncronisers on 1st, 2nd and 3rd gear.
Off-road, there is definite improvement in performance. Extra gearing, with a lower 1st gear is always beneficial, and the fact that the engine makes 380Nm much earlier (from 1,700rpm), and 430Nm peak (at 2,000rpm), you get a more sedate, controlled low-range drive. The engine is happy to plug strongly along through soft sand, and doesn’t complain when put to task.
Isuzu had added more sound insulation in the wheel arches and firewall, which has helped reduce the clatter of the engine. It’s still there, but is just a bit more-dull. It doesn’t win in the refinement stakes, but that’s not what this ute is about. It’s about being a ute.
The interior has also been updated, which has kept it mostly from falling way behind. The interior is clean and hardwearing, without frills and frivolity. There is now a new 7” touchscreen infotainment unit, which includes a kitsch, fast built-in satellite navigation unit. No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto here, unfortunately.
Other improvements are Hill Descent Control, which works down to 4km/h. In our experience, it would be nice to go slower than this, for the really steep stuff, but the feature is still worthwhile for most off-roading descents.
The D-Max still makes sense for the Australian ute market. It’s not the flashiest, it’s not the fastest. Nor is it the cheapest. But it does feel like one of the most honest. It’s all the same ingredients in the same recipe, this time they are just that little bit tastier.
2017 Isuzu D-Max Specifications
Engine: Isuzu 4JJ1-TC Hi Power. 130kW @ 3,600rpm, 430Nm @ 2,000-2,200rpm
Gearbox: Six-speed Aisin automatic or Isuzu Manual gearbox.
Driveline: Part-time 4X4 with shift-on-the-fly and two-speed transfer case.
4X4 Weights and Payloads:1,731-2,026kg kerb weight. 2,950kg GVM. 1,219-924kg payload.
Dual Cab Dimensions: 5,295mm long, 1,860mm wide, 1,855mm high. 1,570mm wheel track.
Off-Road: 225-235mm ground clearance, 30.0° approach, 22.7° departure, 22.4° rampover angle.
Towing: 3,500kg braked towing capacity, 350kg towball mass, 5,950kg GCM.
2017 Isuzu D-Max Pricing
|Drive||Body||Style||Spec||Gearbox||RRP incl. GST||Excl. GST|
|4 x 2||SINGLE||C/C||SX||man||$28,500||$25,909|
|4 x 2||SINGLE||C/C Hi-Ride||SX||auto||$31,700||$28,818|
|4 x 2||CREW||C/C Hi-Ride||SX||auto||$37,300||$33,909|
|4 x 2||SPACE||Ute Hi-Ride||SX||auto||$35,500||$32,273|
|4 x 2||CREW||Ute||SX||man||$34,500||$31,364|
|4 x 2||CREW||Ute Hi-Ride||SX||auto||$38,000||$34,545|
|4 x 2||CREW||Ute Hi-Ride||LS-U||auto||$43,600||$39,636|
|4 x 4||SINGLE||C/C Hi-Ride||EX||man||$34,800||$31,636|
|4 x 4||SINGLE||C/C Hi-Ride||SX||man||$38,000||$34,545|
|4 x 4||SINGLE||C/C Hi-Ride||SX||auto||$40,100||$36,455|
|4 x 4||SPACE||C/C Hi-Ride||SX||man||$40,700||$37,000|
|4 x 4||SPACE||C/C Hi-Ride||SX||auto||$42,800||$38,909|
|4 x 4||CREW||C/C Hi-Ride||SX||man||$43,200||$39,273|
|4 x 4||CREW||C/C Hi-Ride||SX||auto||$45,300||$41,182|
|4 x 4||CREW||Ute Hi-Ride||SX||man||$43,900||$39,909|
|4 x 4||CREW||Ute Hi-Ride||SX||auto||$46,000||$41,818|
|4 x 4||CREW||Ute Hi-Ride||LS-M||man||$46,400||$42,182|
|4 x 4||CREW||Ute Hi-Ride||LS-M||auto||$48,500||$44,091|
|4 x 4||SPACE||Ute Hi-Ride||LS-U||man||$46,200||$42,000|
|4 x 4||SPACE||Ute Hi-Ride||LS-U||auto||$48,300||$43,909|
|4 x 4||CREW||Ute Hi-Ride||LS-U||man||$48,300||$43,909|
|4 x 4||CREW||Ute Hi-Ride||LS-U||auto||$50,400||$45,818|
|4 x 4||CREW||Ute Hi-Ride||LS-T||auto||$54,200||$49,273|