Isuzu D-Max: Jack of all trades, master of no bull

By: Cobey Bartels


The 2019 D-MAX is a true go anywhere vehicle, and while it may not be the best at any one thing, it’s the best at doing a lot of different things – the dark horse.

 

The 2019 D-Max holds the road like a 4WD ute should, with minimal tyre noise and all the creature comforts you'll need

I’d better clarify what I mean, so as to not offend D-MAX owners or the manufacturer itself – I mean it when I say that this is arguably the best out-of-the-box workhorse, no frills and no bull.

Now under the surface, the 2019 D-MAX LS-T Crew Cab is much the same ute as the 2018 D-MAX LS-U Space Cab I‘ve spent the better part of six months in.

Of course, this one’s not a space cab, it had swanky leather and it was also optioned up with parking sensors – all available options for the previous model if you so desired.

In terms of physical changes the ’19 model gets redesigned 18-inch wheels, and a slightly different grille, perhaps the final aesthetic freshen up amidst rumours we may see an all-new model for 2020.

On paper though, the 6 years/150,000km warranty, up from 5 years, further adds to the peace of mind you’re promised with the D-MAX.

The interior remains much the same, but its simplicity is something we've come to love. It just makes sense

After all, the bulletproof 4JJJ1 turbo-diesel that’s now been around for more than a decade is without a doubt the segment’s most tried and tested donk.

The burly 3-litre diesel is clearly under stressed in stock form, and is more of a Clydesdale than a greyhound within a segment that’s moving towards small-capacity engines running bucket-loads of boost in the name of fuel economy.

I’ve spent enough time on and off-road in the ’18 model to say that quite honestly, and as much as I never thought I’d say it, the 130kW/430Nm while on the lower end of the power stakes for this segment and a bit less than I’d like, does feel like plenty in most cases.

You’re never going to say no to more torque, particularly when you’re towing. Give me 700Nm and I’d probably still want more. But, I’d prefer not to sacrifice reliability in what is supposed to be a rugged vehicle you can really beat up on.

Even with the Aisin 6-speed auto, it’ll tow up around its maximum capacity just fine and while an extra cog or two wouldn’t hurt, the ‘box is well matched to the engine.

The benchmark at some point in recent times became 500Nm, I don’t know when, but it seems to have become the norm for 4WD utes.

Does a beach trip count if you don't get covered in sand?>

I’m partial to displacement and a healthy torque curve, so perhaps the 4J’s willingness to pull hard off idle and lug up hills makes up for slightly lower power figures than some key competitors.

Now, little things that irk me? The steering is heavy, and that’s not just in comparison to ever-improving electric steering setups.

It’s just bloody weighty, which makes tight car parks and low-speed manoeuvrability a bit of a workout.

As is the case with the D-MAX’s apparent flaws, they somehow all become strengths in a round-about way.

The steering is no different. Off-road, particularly when the terrain gets a bit gnarlier, the heavy steering is a lot less bitey and frenetic than lighter setups. The same goes for highway driving, of which I’ve done at least 10,000k’s of in one of these; the weighty feel gives you a surefooted peace of mind. The D-MAX holds the road well at highway speeds, really well.

If it was up to me, every 4WD test would be conducted on a beautiful beach. Like, for argument’s sake, Stradbroke Island off the coast of southeast Queensland.

Seeing as it was up to me to take the 2019 D-MAX off-road for a Mighty Machines TV review, I did just that.

After all, a 4WD is your ticket to freedom, straight off the showroom floor…and most people only dabble on the milder end of the off-road spectrum anyway. The beach it was.

Tidy rear end, and of course that trademark tailgate decal - a mainstay of Japanese ute manufacturers>

I guess the ‘Go your Own Way’ catch phrase Isuzu Ute coined was pretty relevant in my case.

We couldn’t fault the D-MAX on the soft stuff, from the factory all-terrain tyres to the engines ability to lug its way through the deeper sand without too much right foot action. I did opt to manually shift the auto, but that’s pretty typical behaviour with any modern automatic ‘box when you’re off the beaten track.

The funniest thing is, we took along a recovery vehicle just in case. It was indeed another ute, of the turbocharged V8 variety. Now I won’t disclose what make or model it was, but you do the maths.

Anyway, it ended up bogged, at which point the D-MAX came in handy. We’ll put that mishap down to a lead foot from the driver and aggressive mud tyres on the recovery vehicle, shall we?

Obviously a day of beach driving isn’t going to properly test ground clearance, wheel travel, or the 4WD system’s ability in rough terrain.

But I’d put money on the fact most dual-cab utes don’t see low-range very often, and when they do it’s probably on the lighter end of 4WD’ing.

The whole point is these are a do it all, go anywhere option for families, tradies, you name it.

Across the six months we filmed Mighty Machines, we took the two 2018 LS-U models from coast to country, without a single dramas.

One of my favourite things about ute ownership - dropping the tailgate and cracking a frosty one...with a veiw of course!>

I will say one thing – I drive a lot of different dual-cab utes. Getting into each one, there’s a five minute acclimatisation that takes place, especially as the gadgetry ante is constantly upped.

The D-MAX is, for better or for worse, always the same. In fact, let’s go with that as another one of those upside-down-inside-out strengths because no matter what generation D-MAX, they’re pretty well the easiest ute to just get in and go.

I find myself asking the all-important question – what purpose does a ute really serve in 2019? I mean, sure, they’re outselling cars and plenty of trays never feel the weight of a decent load, but they’re still a utility.

If they aren’t capable of getting their primary job done as a ute, you’d just buy a bloody SUV - right? It’d be more comfortable. But would it be anywhere near as handy? Nope.

So sure, adaptive cruise, heated seats, Apple CarPlay, push button start, they’re all nice. But does the D-MAX need them to stay true to its reputation as the reliable jack of all trades? To get the job of a ute done well? I really don’t think so. 

The D-MAX is the materialisation of the term, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Check out the Mighty Machines D-Max reviews below!

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