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Driven: Isuzu D-Max XTR. Image by Isuzu UK.

Driven: Isuzu D-Max XTR
Looks like itís wearing an ice-hockey mask, has fancy suspension and brakesÖ but is the Isuzu D-Max XTR all mouth and no trousers?

   



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Isuzu D-Max XTR

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Good points: nicely appointed cabin, decent suspension upgrade, D-Max is always likeable

Not so good: strange front-end face mask, not that cheap with VAT, still woefully underpowered

Key Facts

Model tested: Isuzu D-Max XTR
Price: D-Max range from £17,414 (exc. VAT); XTR from £34,594 (exc. VAT) or £41,512 (inc. VAT)
Engine: 1.9-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: six-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Body style: four-door one-tonne pick-up
CO2 emissions: 183g/km (VED Band 171-190: £870 in year one, then £475 per annum years two-six of ownership, then £150 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 40.4mpg
Top speed: 112mph
0-62mph: 12.7 seconds
Power: 164hp at 3,600rpm
Torque: 360Nm at 2,000-2,500rpm
Load-bed max payload: 1,136kg

Our view:

You kind of know where you are with the Isuzu D-Max. Well, you do unless you've got a massive pile of cash to get rid of and you buy the confounding yet undeniably wonderful Arctic Trucks version. But otherwise, it's the 'value' pick-up truck. The unpretentious one. The one which business users and farmers and company fleets actually buy, because it's cheaper to purchase than all the others.

This second generation of D-Max got its big change in 2015, when the old 2.5-litre turbodiesel engine, with 164hp and 400Nm, was replaced by a more advanced turbodiesel engine... with, er, 164hp and 360Nm. Strangely, there's always a bit of a lag between something happening to the D-Max in Thailand (not its home market, we might add, but a key global sales battleground for the truck) and those changes filtering over here, so really we received the significant facelift and 1.9-litre engine in 2017. It's a similar story with the all-new Mk3 D-Max, which is landing in 2021 in Europe but which debuted in Thailand at the end of 2019.

So, to some extent, this XTR represents something of a watershed moment in the ongoing D-Max story. Admittedly, the Arctic Trucks model has its own in-built desirability factor, thanks to the consideration that it can go plodding off into extreme, frozen conditions with little difficulty, but in reality the XTR is the first overtly lifestyle-oriented truck that Isuzu has put out. You see, while it can qualify as a CV and it can still take more than 1,100 kilos in its load bed and it can haul 3,500kg of braked trailer and you can buy models in plain white with black plastic bumpers and steel wheels for considerably less than £20,000 if you use them for work without the VAT, this XTR is squarely aimed at people who are using these pick-ups as personal forms of conveyance.

The headline changes are probably obvious from the pictures, although we'll go over them for you nonetheless. The most glaring addition to the XTR is much in the way of black plastic cladding. The wheel-arch extensions, grid-like side steps, tailgate spoiler and rollover hoop in the load bed are all fairly indiscreet giveaways as to XTR-dom within the D-Max family, but in truth the thing you won't fail to notice is that Jason Voorhees face-mask it's wearing at the front. We mean, on-point timing and everything, what with the corona pandemic forcing us all into nasomaxillary PPE attire during 2020, but even if the XTR were some kind of prophetic pick-up (it launched in 2019, after all, before Covid and its new way of life had properly sunk in), we're not sure we like that overtly aggressive front end. It turns what is a perfectly pleasant and attractive truck into one which is... not so pleasant and attractive, in our opinion.

The inside's much better, what with its leather-and-suede combination clothing the seats and a rather fabulous steering wheel. There are XTR logos here and there, most notably on the seat backs. And these, along with the stitching, are finished in searing lime-green. Indeed, if we drop back outside for a moment, there's more green splashed around on the exterior of the XTR, such as for the brake callipers and the suspension gear. And this tells bystanders that the lifestyle D-Max is not just a load of extraneous plastic frippery on the outside and snazzy seats within; oh no. It's had suspension and brake upgrades, too.

Pedders, a UK specialist outfit, is responsible for the springs and dampers. Revised upper arms and redesigned shock absorbers are said to give 'a longer suspension articulation', a move which Isuzu hopes will maintain the D-Max's undoubted off-road skills but which might also improve its on-road manners. To complement these technically impressive underpinnings, full under-body protection is drafted in and the XTR is jacked-up compared to other D-Max models, offering fully 250mm of ground clearance. Added to the springing and damping, performance front brake discs are vented and slotted for stronger stopping power and pedal feel, with Kevlar-ceramic pads supposedly doing even more for retardation. Finally, 17-inch six-spoke alloys specific to the XTR are painted black and then shod in 265/70 R17 Pirelli Scorpion All-Terrain Plus tyres. These, says Isuzu, have been specifically designed to suit the Pedders suspension mods, and they're not off-road-specific; the Scorpions are again supposed to make the D-Max more civil on tarmac while keeping it brutally gifted away from metalled roads.

It all sounds fantastic. Except for the fact that, for all its butch posturing, this XTR has exactly the same 1.9-litre engine as those boggo D-Max models you'll see flitting around in farmyards, caked in cow dung and other unspeakables. True, Isuzu dealers could offer you sanctioned upgrades that took the motor to 200hp and 400Nm, which are the sort of numbers these one-tonne lifestyle trucks need these days, but it's a shame such power upgrades weren't part of the standard XTR specification. Especially when this machine is beyond £40,000 with VAT lumped in, so it's not cheap to buy and it's not cheap to tax as a civilian vehicle, either.

Because, otherwise, this is a truck which simultaneously shows promise, and one which also lets you down. That engine just does not have the gumption to match the brazen appearance of the XTR. It's fairly torquey so that you don't have to mercilessly work it to keep up with traffic flow, but should you need anything more than 2,500rpm it becomes noisy and raucous, betraying its commercial origins far more readily than motors in similar vehicles from rivals; we think the Ford Ranger Raptor's 2.0-litre biturbo unit is strangely on the conservative side for what it's installed in, but compared to the Isuzu's 1.9 then the Ford's lump is an absolute gem. Furthermore, the D-Max's six-speed automatic isn't great, either, although it's also not terrible and we suspect its relaxed mannerisms are somewhat exacerbated by the drag brought into play by the chunky Pirelli tyres.

Which is not to say that we disliked driving the D-Max XTR. Strip the gargling engine noises out of the equation and it's a surprisingly refined vehicle to roll along in, with relatively low wind and tyre noise for one of these pick-ups. Admittedly, the Pedders suspension can't totally eradicate the occasional hop, skip and jump that an unladen one-tonner will always have on rougher lanes, but actually its overall ride quality is one of the better efforts in the class. To the extent that we covered 403 miles in the D-Max across the week, with almost 11 hours at the wheel, and we never grew tired of its general rolling refinement. It was the drivetrain which nagged at us more than the noise suppression and suspension settings.

Although it must be said that an overall 28.5mpg and a best of 31.7mpg on a gentle A-road run is disappointing for a smaller turbodiesel like this. And that comes down to fine balances; the idea of downsizing might seem tempting, but once you go too small then a supposedly frugal engine simply ends up struggling too much to move the mass it's asked to deal with. Frankly, we got 28mpg or thereabouts out of both of the now-defunct V6 pick-ups, in the form of the Volkswagen Amarok and Mercedes X 350 d, with little effort. And we'd much rather have a 258hp 3.0-litre V6 up front if we're only going to get a return of around 30mpg - so that for those times we weren't conserving fuel then we could call on its mega performance - instead of a 1.9-litre that, well, doesn't really offer anything worthwhile in terms of speed.

So the XTR left us feeling bemused and conflicted. In certain departments, it's the best D-Max yet seen. The suspension and interior styling, in particular, felt about bang on brief for the target market. The styling is more contentious, as some will like the menacing face and lime-green accents (steer clear of the white paint, though, which accentuates those crazy 'mud-splatter' graphics - a dark grey is a better finish for the ultra-Isuzu), but robust pricing is breathtaking in all the wrong ways and, for 40-grand-plus as a personal truck, the primitive engine lets the rest of the package down. Which is weird, because the engine is passable enough in other D-Max models, including that Arctic Trucks behemoth we mentioned earlier. Ah well; maybe what Isuzu has done here is laid the groundwork of a new lifestyle-brand badge in the outgoing Mk2 D-Max, and therefore we'll soon see a new and improved XTR for the incoming Mk3. Here's hoping the Japanese company can build on the clear potential seen in this weirdly appealing yet flawed truck.

Alternatives:

Fiat Fullback Cross: sort of an unusual one here, as it's nothing more than a rebadged Mitsubishi L200 with some black addenda on it. Looks nice, though, and operates sweetly enough.

Ford Ranger Raptor: we're not big fans of the Raptor's oddly specified drivetrain, but it's better than the D-Max's unit. And the wild Ford is just a terrific truck, through and through.

Nissan Navara N-Guard: the Nissan has the looks, yet none of the XTR's suspension or brake mods, but a far preferable 2.3-litre 190hp engine by way of compensation.


Matt Robinson - 13 Jul 2020



  www.isuzu.co.uk    - Isuzu road tests
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2020 Isuzu D-Max XTR. Image by Isuzu UK.2020 Isuzu D-Max XTR. Image by Isuzu UK.2020 Isuzu D-Max XTR. Image by Isuzu UK.2020 Isuzu D-Max XTR. Image by Isuzu UK.2020 Isuzu D-Max XTR. Image by Isuzu UK.

2020 Isuzu D-Max XTR. Image by Isuzu UK.2020 Isuzu D-Max XTR. Image by Isuzu UK.2020 Isuzu D-Max XTR. Image by Isuzu UK.2020 Isuzu D-Max XTR. Image by Isuzu UK.2020 Isuzu D-Max XTR. Image by Isuzu UK.








 

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