Isuzu Maxes Out with its Third-Gen Ute

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Words: NZ Autocar
30 Oct 2020

The all-new Isuzu D-Max has arrived in New Zealand, bolder, stronger, more sophisticated and with a safety arsenal that has resulted in a five-star ANCAP crash rating.

The first 500-odd units have been snapped up by the now 48-strong NZ wide dealer network. About the only downside of the much improved range is a significant price hike, kicking off at $49,990 for the LX 2wd auto double cab to $75,490 for the top X-Terrain double cab 4wd auto. But what cost more style, safety, refinement and on- and off-road performance?

One tonne utes continue to be big business here, amounting for one-quarter of all new vehicle sales and it’s a segment that’s continuing to grow. Demand for autos and 4x4s remains high.

Isuzu’s 15-strong third-gen D-Max line-up has now arrived, and promises to be fully competitive with mainstream models like Ranger, Hilux, Triton and Navara. It has been renewed from the ground up, and in particular is said to pack the most safety tech of any in the sector.

Overall dimensions have changed minimally but the look is more dynamic, with all variants bar base LX picking up bi-LED headlamps and DRLs. Under the hood, the 4JJ3 engine has bulked up, adding 10kW and 20Nm, now out to 140kW and 450Nm, respectively.

Six-speed transmissions are essentially carryover, although the auto picks up an oil cooler and is said to be faster shifting. It slurs nicely on the upshifts, and offers manual sequential shifting at the lever. You can also switch on the fly from 2H to 4H and back, although engaging low range mandates a stop. However, 2L comes up more quickly now, taking just a few seconds.

The new D-Max looks more staunch if not quite in the league of Ranger, but up front it’s appropriately tough and aggressive, with alloys of 17-18 inches, LX aside. The interior is more muted, though instruments and infotainment touchscreens are clear enough.

Seats are comfy, the upper models with powered operation, and access is good, front and back. Mention of, the new range-topping X-Terrain model has comfort entry with push button start, the rest regular key slots. X-Terrain also comes with leather upholstery, remote engine start, dual zone air, roof rails, tonneau cover, tray liner, 18-inch gunmetal alloys, and front and rear parking sensors.

Safety kit is where the D-Max takes the high ground. All models feature eight airbags - the extra expands between the front seats to prevent head clashes in side impacts - active cruise and lane keeping (in the auto models), blind spot and lane departure monitoring, AEB and forward collision warning, RCTA, automatic high beams and auto-on wipers and lights.

Braked towing capacity is 3500kg across the range, payload is one tonne and the infotainment system is compatible with Apple Car Play and Android Auto. Sat nav and a nine-inch touchscreen are found in the upper LS and X-Terrain models.

We drove the range off-road and the penultimate LS model on tarmac. All variants wore all-terrain rubber. En route to High Peak Station, the LS proved surprisingly refined; the motor is almost inaudible at a constant 100 on active cruise, and there’s little tyre noise. Unladen, there’s much the same ride quality as the opposition offers.

Off-road chops improve significantly, with all 4x4 models gaining rear diff lock, invaluable over uneven ground when the suspension is fully stretched. There’s also 200mm more wading depth, out to 800mm, which we tested driving downstream, and added ground clearance. With the all-terrain rubber fitted, this happily tackles steep climbs, both directions, thanks to hill start assist and hill descent control.

Off-road comfort is good too, thanks in part to cushy well shaped seats. The workhorse models fitted with heavy duty suspension (LX and LS-M) are a bit less forgiving over rock-infested tracks. Entry LX ranges in price from $41,990 to $61,990, while LS models start at $61,990 and end at $67,990 for the double cab auto 4x4.

Despite price rises, Isuzu is bullish about the prospects of the new D-Max and rightly so. Isuzu Utes New Zealand General Manager, Sam Waller, describes the new range as “ruggedly refined” and we’d say that about nails it.

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