The all-new 2021 Isuzu D-Max has finally arrived in Australia and we’ve just spent a week behind the wheel of the top-spec D-Max X-Terrain.
The old Isuzu D-Max arrived in 2012 copping a couple of updates helping to stretch it out until this new one arrived. The new D-Max was launched in Thailand late last year and will lob into local dealerships in September.
That old D-Max was never the most comfortable in terms of either ride or interior comfort, lacked key features that its competitors included, and was basic when it came to safety. But it had a rock solid 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine, was cheaper than its key rivals, and seemed to appeal to those after something without pretension. A quick look at monthly sales figures over the last few years would show how popular the old D-Max was, a constant top five best-seller in the 4×4 segment.
But that was then and this is now. The new D-Max has finally arrived and we’ve spent a week with the top-spec X-Terrain variant which is intended to duke it out with the likes of the Ford Ranger Wildtrak, Toyota HiLux SR5, Mitsubishi Triton GLX-R and Nissan Navara N-Trek and so on.
Being the top-spec fancy pants model in the range it’s not the one those looking for a touring dual-cab will go for, so we kept our testing to lumpy dirt roads and bitumen. Next week we’ll be testing the D-Max LS-U which we reckon will be the one to go for if you’re looking for a tourer – we’ll have a full on- and off-road test and video review on that one.
What is the Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain?
As mentioned this is the top-spec model in the range and is all about adding creature comforts to win over buyers from other top-spec dual-cabs. This is the sort of thing you’re more likely to see running around town than getting dirty in the bush. There are other variants in the range intended for that.
Australia is only the second market outside of Thailand to get the new D-Max. Pricing for the new D-Max runs from $32,200+ORC for the entry cab chassis SX up to $62,900+ORC for the top-spec X-Terrain variant. However, Isuzu is offering driveaway pricing at the moment on both those vehicles, starting at $29,990 for the entry-level cab chassis SX variant and $58,990 for the X-Terrain we’re testing here. By way of comparison, that driveaway price for the X-Terrain variant undercuts the Ford Ranger Wildtrak’s RRP by more than $6500.
So, while prices are generally up across the new D-Max range, they’re still, in most cases, cheaper than their key rivals. And they’re also now among the best-specified vehicles in the segment.
The X-Terrain stands out from the rest of the range via “darkened treatments” on the front, side and rear spoilers, 18-inch alloys, pumped guards, side steps, roof rails and the grille. The D-Max is available in eight colours, but our test car arrived painted in Volcanic Amber metallic.
All lighting at the front is LED, with Bi-LED headlights, fog lights and DRLs. Finishing off the exterior of the X-Terrain model is an aero sports bar which isn’t as useful as a regular sports bar (the Ranger Wildtrak has a similar-style bar), roller tonneau cover (manual) and tub liner – weirdly there are only two tie-down in the back of the D-Max X-Terrain.
What’s the interior of the D-Max X-Terrain like?
Well it’s chalk and cheese compared to the old D-Max which felt like it’d been made using the same plastic as old school lunchboxes with its big button no-nonsense interior feeling low-rent compared to key rivals. Not any more.
Take a look at the pictures of the interior. It’s all soft-touch materials, contrast stitching, good quality plastics and rocker-style brushed-alloy-esque switchgear splashed around the place, and the fit and finish is excellent.
Sure, there are still some hard, scratchy plastics around the place but they’re exactly where you want more rugged materials to be, like on the door linings, the handbrake and the base of the dashboard. But the general step-up in quality of the interior can’t be overstated.
The X-Terrain’s dashboard is dominated by a nine-inch high-definition infotainment screen that offers wireless Apple CarPlay and Android connectivity. Fortunately you can still connect your iPhone via USB because running it wirelessly drains the battery when you’re streaming music. The wireless connection takes longer to register than running it via USB but, once connected, it works brilliantly.
Now, Isuzu claims the screen offers the highest resolution (1280×880) in the segment and that may well be the case but the angle the screen’s been mounted on makes it prone to washing out in sunlight. The infotainment’s menu structure takes a little while to get the hang of and it’s not overly feature rich but it does the basics well and that’ll be enough for most buyers.
What I do like is the simple elegance of the controls for the climate control system. The rocker-style switches have a brushed-alloy effect and both look and feel nice to the touch. All of the controls are clearly labelled and easy to use on the fly. And for this sort of vehicle that’s exactly how it should be. Simple is always best.
The instrument cluster boasts two analogue dials with a large full-colour multi-information display. You can scroll through it via the steering wheel-mounted controls to show everything from speed, to trip, to parking display and more. And you can adjust the speed alert to warn you in increments of 2km/h. Some will complain these things are annoying but given how easily modern vehicles accelerate and creep having an audible poke can be a good thing. But I’ll come back to safety a little later.
What are the seats like? The leather-accented seats are both supportive and comfortable with good length in the seat base…something those of us with longer legs appreciate on long drives. The driver’s seat offers eight-way powered adjustment and both reach and rake on the steering wheel, so getting comfortable behind the wheel no matter your size is a cinch. And vision right the way around (the wing mirrors are nice and big), and via the reversing camera, is good. That said, the reversing camera struggles at night displaying a very grainy picture.
Dual-cab utes aren’t well regarded for their rear seat accommodation but the new D-Max is one of the better examples, with good head and legroom and enough angle on the seat back that adults will be able to sit comfortably. There’s a directional air vent for those in the back too. The back seat offers easy-to-access top tether anchors, and the whole seat back can be folded down like on Ford Ranger which is a nice touch for those who like to store, say, a 12V fridge in the back of their vehicle.
Not exactly the interior but the tray measures the same width as the old D-Max (1530mm) but there’s an extra 15mm of length and 30mm of depth. On the X-Terrain variant you get a roller-style shutter for the tray which can be locked. It’s the same principle as the shutter on the old Ranger Wildtrak but this one’s much slicker and easier to use. The tub liner is good but will most likely be binned by buyers and replaced with a spray-in liner…and the fact there are only two tie-down hooks near the tailgate is an oversight.
Speaking of the tailgate, Isuzu would be wise to invest in adding a helper spring because while it’s not as heavy as some tailgates, it can drop on you if you’re not careful. It will be interesting to see if aftermarket helper springs for the current D-Max can be fitted on the new one. Moving on.
What’s the Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain like to drive?
Here in Australia there’s only one engine available for the D-Max. D-Max fans will be pleased to learn the thing carries on with a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine which is a derivative of the engine in the old D-Max. That one was the 4JJ1-TC while the new one’s code is 4JJ3-TCX.
So, what’s new? It starts with a new engine block, cylinder-head, crankshaft and lightweight aluminium pistons as well as a new intake system and new electronically controlled variable geometry system turbocharger. This derivative engine boasts 10kW and 20Nm more than the old engine, with 140kW at 3600rpm and 450Nm of torque between 1600-2600rpm, although 400Nm is available from just 1400-3250rpm, and there’s 300Nm available at 1000rpm. Impressive.
And you notice that low-down tractability the moment you flex your toe on the throttle. There’s minimal lag and impressive throttle response making progress easy, comfortable and much, much quieter than before. It’s nothing like it used to be in the old D-Max where you traded smoothness and quietness for low-down grunt.
And the six-speed automatic transmission is a good one, showing that a well tuned six-speeder can be just as smooth and responsive as an eight speed automatic. Isuzu reckons the new auto shifts 0.2 seconds faster than the old transmission, but it feels much quicker and smoother than that. The X-Terrain is only available with a six-speed automatic; some variants can also be had with a six-speed manual.
The ‘new’ engine doesn’t make a whole lot more power or torque but it makes better use of what it’s got. But that’s not even the best bit. See, the new D-Max boasts the stiffest chassis of any Isuzu Ute with longitudinal and torsional rigidity improved by 26% and 20% compared to the old D-Max. The body is stiffer too, and there are new-style body mounts that are designed to spread the load and filter out the annoying jiggle and judder you get across broken terrain. And it works.
The stronger chassis has allowed Isuzu to raise the GVM to 3100kg on 4×4 models (3000 on 4×2). However the Gross Combination Mass (GCM) remains at 5850kg on 4×2 and 5950kg on 4×4 models. Front and rear axle capacities have also improved, Front: 1450kg (from 1350kg) and Rear: 1910kg (from 1870kg).
Part of a drive loop was a spirited run down a rutted and corrugated dirt road that tends to have dual cabs juddering, thumping and skipping along the road. Not the D-Max. It was smooth, comfortable and controlled. Improved insulation throughout the body has made the D-max much quieter across broken surfaces. The transformation from the old car to this new one is impressive.
And that improved unladen dirt road ride and handling carries over to the road where the new D-Max is now right at the sharp end of the pack. The whole package feels better balanced than before with excellent body control through corners. This is partly down to suspension improvements and the fact the wheelbase is now longer by 30mm.
Isuzu sent engineers to Australia to tweak ‘our’ D-Max for towing and load-lugging performance making our cars unique. Up front, new double wishbone suspension with new high-mounted upper-control arms and a thicker anti-roll bar have reduced body roll by 17%. And you’ll absolutely notice that when you’re driving the thing, it feels much sharper.
The D-Max’s three-leaf rear suspension setup is stronger and lighter than before thanks to the use of lightweight, high-strength steel. And new rear dampers have been mounted seven-degrees closer to “being perpendicular with the chassis and spring”. For off-roading the main benefit is an extra 30mm of wheel travel.
The steering is well weighted but slow…but that’s a good thing because faster steering would upset the balance, requiring constant adjustment which would become tiring.
Pedal feel and response is good with a progressive action for both, making it easy to modulate at high and low speeds. Isuzu has fitted bigger brakes to the new D-Max which is all part of its improved safety package. The new front discs measure 320mm and 30mm thick (bigger than HiLux), the rotors are vented and twin-piston floating calipers do the clamping. But, Isuzu has stuck with rear drum brakes for the D-Max…why won’t car makers switch to rear disc brakes because these are far safer on and off-road and when towing too.
All 4×4 models feature a 2.482:1 dual-range transfer case. You can shift into four-high on the fly at up to 100km/h. The engine air intake has been revised and now features a “labyrinth of sealed airways that allows the D-Max to wade through water up to 800mm deep, at a constant pace of 7km/h”. Unique for Australian delivered D-Max 4x4s, a prefabricated pathway has been installed making it much easier to fit an aftermarket snorkel. And unlike other brands, the D-Max features raised diff breather hoses that vent above the 800mm wading depth, so, no need for aftermarket jobbies. Noice.
And, after listening to Aussie buyers a rear differential lock is now standard on 4×4 D-Max variants, but it’s worth noting engaging the rear diff lock kills traction control on the front axle. That means in most off-road situations owners would be best off relying on the electronics which are now faster acting and smoother than before.
And there’s decent underbody protection too, with Isuzu fitting 1.5mm-thick steel and poly-composite protection for key components. The 76-litre polyurethane fuel tank has also been given an additional layer of aluminium shielding too.
The cabin floor is 20mm higher off the ground than the old model which has allowed Isuzu to tuck stuff out of the way and helped reduce the front and rear overhangs. Approach, Departure and Ramp-Over Angles are 30.5-degrees, 24.2-degrees and 23.8-degreexs respectively, on the range-topping X-Terrain. And overall ground clearance has been improved with the LS-U and X-Terrain boasting 240mm of ground clearance.
What about price, safety and ownership?
As mentioned above, Isuzu is offering driveaway pricing on the X-Terrain of $58,990 which is a good $6500 less than the sticker price of a Ford Ranger Wildtrak. This will increase to $62,900+ORC once the introductory period ends.
In terms of features, the X-Terrain is well equipped with dual-zone climate control, LED headlights, leather interior, the aero sports bar and roller tonneau cover, as well as walk-away door locking and remote engine start via the key fob which I’ve heard people raving about but I’m not a fan of this sort of thing.
Safety is another area where the new D-Max plants a flag. It boasts a stereo camera-based system, called Intelligent Driver Assistance System (IDAS) which is standard across its entire lineup. IDAS employs an Hitachi 3D Stereo Camera that “actively detects other motorists, pedestrians and cyclists” and includes autonomous emergency braking with turn assist (meaning it’ll stop you from trying to turn in front of someone). It’s a lot like Subaru’s EyeSight system and is essentially like having another pair of eyes constantly watching the road ahead of you.
Other active safety features include Adaptive Cruise Control, Traffic Sign Recognition, Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Lane Keep Assist. In addition, Lane Departure Prevention (LDP), Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Emergency Lane Keeping (ELK) systems will either alert the driver when the D-Max is venturing out of the lane or gently nudge the vehicle back into the middle of the lane if it’s detected the vehicle has wandered across the line unintentionally. It works at speeds above 60km/h.
All of these safety features put the D-Max right at the top of the class when it comes to safety and it will be interesting to see how ANCAP rates it. MotoFomo understands the D-Max is currently undergoing evaluation by ANCAP.
Beyond active safety, the D-Max boasts eight-airbags including a knee and first-in-class, centre airbag (which deploys from the roof forming a cushion in the middle of the cabin). And the windscreen has an infra-red cut film to block UV rays from entering the cabin.
The new D-Max offers a six-year or 150,000km warranty, seven years roadside assist and seven-years capped price servicing. Due to some mechanical changes, like the maintenance-free sealed hubs at the front, Isuzu said there’s been a 12% decrease in the seven-year capped price servicing cost, down to $3373. Servicing is expected every 12 months or 15,000km with prices ranging from $299 to $749 depending on the service.
2020 Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain Specifications
Price $58,990 driveaway Warranty six-years or 150,000km Safety Not Tested Engine 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel Power 140kW at 3600rpm Torque 450Nm from 1600-2600rpm Transmission six-speed automatic Dimensions 5280mm long 1880mm wide 1810mm high 3125mm wheelbase Ground Clearance 240mm Angles 30.5-degrees approach; 24.2-degrees departure; 23.8-degrees rampover Weight 2130kg GVM 3100kg Payload 970kg GCM 5950kg Towing 3500kg Towball Download 350kg Fuel Tank 76 litres Thirst 8.0L/100km claimed combined