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First drive: Isuzu D-Max Mk2. Image by Isuzu.

First drive: Isuzu D-Max Mk2
Smarter looks, a much-improved cabin and better NVH insulation for the new Isuzu D-Max… but the same old 1.9-litre turbodiesel engine, too.


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Isuzu D-Max Mk2

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The new Isuzu D-Max is here and it looks smarter than it ever has done before, both outside and most definitely within, where a new cabin puts the Japanese contender at the top of its class. However, retention of the agricultural old 1.9-litre turbodiesel engine isn't such good news, but Isuzu stresses that it has done much to improve the refinement of the vehicle overall in other areas, so is this now the go-to pick-up truck in its class as a result?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Isuzu D-Max V-Cross Double Cab Automatic
Pricing: D-Max range from £21,009 exc. VAT as commercial vehicle, V-Cross from £37,444.80 inc. VAT as private vehicle, Automatic with metallic paint as tested £39,844.80
Engine: 1.9-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: shift-on-the-fly all-wheel drive with low-range transfer case and rear differential lock, six-speed automatic
Body style: four-door one-tonne pick-up truck
CO2 emissions: 241g/km (VED Band Light Commercial Vehicles: £275 flat rate)
Combined economy: 30.7mpg
Top speed: 112mph
0-62mph: 13.0 seconds
Power: 164hp at 3,600rpm
Torque: 360Nm at 2,000-2,500rpm
Load bed/towing: 1,070kg max payload, loadbed 1,495mm L x 1,530mm W x 490mm D, tows 3,500kg of braked trailer

What's this?

An all-new Isuzu D-Max and timing, as they say, is everything. It would appear in this instance as if the Japanese commercial-vehicle specialist has timed the launch of this new one-tonne pick-up truck to absolute perfection. While the market for these vehicles is in no way diminishing in terms of overall units sold, it is most certainly contracting rapidly when it comes to the numbers of manufacturers who operate within it. Isuzu will be up against the Toyota Hilux and the Ford Ranger, two sales titans in this particular arena, but beyond that, pretty much everyone else of note has gone. The Volkswagen Amarok is on a hiatus, although it will return at some point as a co-developed vehicle with the next-generation Ford Ranger. Similarly, the Nissan Navara has dropped by the wayside due to production facility issues with its home plant of Barcelona due to close down this year, but it too is supposed to be making a return at some indeterminate point in the future. However, the posh model that was based upon the Navara, namely the Mercedes X-Class, has gone for good, undermined by being too high-priced and never quite shaking its obvious Nissan origins from the minds of potential purchasers (that really undersells how good the most Mercedes-y model was, though, that being the X 350 d), while the departure of Mitsubishi from these shores means the excellent L200 is no longer available and, by extension, Fiat's L200-based and short-lived Fullback has also been pulled from sale.

So, aside from a SsangYong Musso, which probably won't please the lifestyle set as much as that bunch of choosy buyers demand, you're looking at the D-Max, the Hilux or the Ranger for now. This is why Isuzu has set itself what looks like an incredibly ambitious sales target of 10,000 units per annum by 2025. Since 2012, when the D-Max originally launched, the best year the company had was in 2015 when it sold 6,220 examples of the truck in the UK. But with sales generally hovering in the 2,000-5,700 units range for every other year since the D-Max's arrival, almost doubling your market in four years would appear to be an impossible ask. However, opportunity is there with the removal of many of the aforementioned key rivals and orders for the new Isuzu truck are outstripping supply at the moment, meaning the marque fully expects to meet a target of 5,000 D-Max models shifted by the end of the sales year. Which isn't a full calendar 12 months, either.

Like any good pick-up these days, the new D-Max's line-up is split between the workaday, bog-basic models at one end of the scale - these designed to be the first choice for business owners, fleet managers and commercial purchasers - and then a swankier, upmarket array of models at the top of the tree, these carefully curated to appeal to the kind of customers who use these trucks as an alternative to an SUV, rather than as the alternative to a JCB. Isuzu calls these inter-D-Max divisions by different names. First up, we have the Business Range, which has a plain trim level called Utility and access to Single Cab, Extended Cab and Double Cab bodies, all of which run on steel wheels and which have black plastic bumpers. In the middle is the All-Purpose Range, populated by the DL20 and DL40 models. These look much more 'civilian', coming with at least 18-inch alloy wheels and, in the main, Double Cab bodies (the DL20 is also offered with the Extended Cab, however). The 'DL' bit refers to the fact these variants get the rear differential lock feature as standard, with the 40 being far more plush to look at than the 20 - it gains luxuries like LED lights all round, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, more chromework exterior detailing, silver side steps, leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and go, and also a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Then, at the top, there's the Adventure Range, which features the ultimate V-Cross model. This has gunmetal styling details on the outside - for its radiator grille, its side steps, its folding door mirrors, its door handles and its 18-inch alloy wheels - while it also chucks in a larger nine-inch infotainment screen, automatic headlight levelling, an ancillary CD player (remember those?), an eight-speaker stereo system, illuminated vanity mirrors in the front sun visors, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and 'V-Cross' branded floor mats.

Because customer preference in the UK pick-up market in recent years has skewed towards luxury, high-spec vehicles with powerful engines, it's perhaps no surprise that Isuzu predicts that a D-Max V-Cross Automatic, the most expensive model there is, will be the top-seller. In fact, we're only going to mention prices including VAT, on the assumption you're reading this as a potential private buyer rather than the person who must buy all of the Forestry Commission's vehicles for the 2021/22 tax year. Therefore, ignore the Business Range and the new D-Max kicks off at £31,144.80 for a DL20 Extended Cab manual. The DL20 Double Cab is only £900 more at £32,044.80, while stepping up to the DL40 Double Cab sees the ticket swell to £35,644.80. The top-dog V-Cross, which comes as a Double Cab only like the DL40, starts from £37,444.80 and really, all these prices you see are pretty much what you'll pay, because the only option is metallic paint (at £600) if you don't fancy the only standard colour of Splash White. The figures quoted here are for the six-speed manual variants, by the way, but on any of the All-Purpose or Adventure Double Cab models, you can optionally fit a six-speed automatic gearbox for an additional £1,800, which means the car we've driven here - a D-Max V-Cross Automatic in Spinel Red mica - is the most expensive model of all at £39,844.80. And also the most desirable, according to Isuzu.

We should perhaps now take the time to point out that the same 164hp/360Nm four-cylinder, 1.9-litre turbodiesel engine as used in the old D-Max is carried over here. This doesn't please us much, as the 1.9 was always the weak link of the previous family, having tried it very recently in the last-of-the-line XTR, Blade and AT35 models. We'll come back to this issue in the driving section below but, elsewhere, we were told that '30 is the magic number' with the new D-Max. In that, its waistline has been jacked up by 30mm, which gives it stronger styling and a bit more presence than the old model, while simultaneously also making the loadbed deeper by 30mm in the process. The wheelbase is also stretched by 30mm, although the overall length of the truck has reduced by 30mm, because the front end is more vertical on the new model than it was on the old.

There's absolutely no complaints from us about the way the D-Max looks, although it is more attractive in DL40 or V-Cross guise than it is as a DL20 so we suspect most private buyers will avoid the latter spec, and then we must praise the cabin of the Isuzu to the utmost. The transformation in here is incredible, as far as one of these workhorse trucks goes. Sure, there are still a few cheaper plastics used here and there, while the infotainment system isn't resetting the industry in terms of the advanced nature of its human-machine interface, but in general this is the best interior in its class, bar none. Neither the Hilux nor the Ranger can match it, and nor even can the Musso with its Rexton-derived passenger compartment, as the D-Max's smart climate controls (physical buttons, folks! Yay!), the plush-feeling steering wheel, and the use of nice textures and materials really lifts it. Not only that, but the 30mm-stretched wheelbase is all to the benefit of rear-seat passengers, who not only get bigger rear doors through which they can climb into the cabin, but also the most spacious, accommodating seats in the back of any one-tonner we can think of. Even better, there are storage compartments and clever touches everywhere in the D-Max's cab, while on this V-Cross there are no fewer than ten - count 'em, TEN - cupholders dotted about the place, which means every occupant of the truck can be 'double-parked' on their drinks if they so wish. Before you've turned one of its 18-inch wheels so much as a millimetre, it's already a very strong start from the new Isuzu pick-up.

How does it drive?

Before we get onto the engine and whether it's going to hole the entire D-Max enterprise below the water line, Isuzu has gone through the truck's underpinnings with a fine-toothed comb in order to dredge up greater refinement and comfort from the vehicle. For instance, its shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive system has a new actuator for faster and smoother transfer between 2H, 4H and 4L modes, while the ladder chassis has larger rails and a new cross-member to increase the vehicle's strength and rigidity. As well as the pre-existing 1.5mm steel skid plate and 1mm steel guard for the engine sump, transmission and transmission case, there's a new 5mm-thick reinforced resin underbody air deflector fitted in the middle of the pick-up. The automatic gearbox has been revised for 25 per cent faster shifts, so that it reduces inertia loss and provides a smoother drive. The front suspension benefits from upper control arms to reduce body roll and vibration, as well as increasing wheel control to maximise the tyres' contact patches at all times, while the rear suspension has new leaf springs which aim to improve ride comfort even when the D-Max is unladen (which it will be if you're buying one of these Adventure models). There are also bigger brakes (discs front, drums rear) and revised chassis-cab mounts to absorb more noise, vibration and harshness on the move.

All sounds very noble. And yet that 1.9-litre engine remains. When Toyota recently added a 2.8-litre engine to the Hilux because it said all luxury pick-up buyers in the UK want more than 175hp, and when Isuzu itself is putting more of a lifestyle emphasis on this generation of the D-Max than it ever has before, sticking with the noisy and slow 1.9 seems like an incredibly risky move. Especially as the Ranger is also moving over to using the majestic Raptor's powerful biturbo 2.0-litre diesel in all of its models, as well.

But Isuzu explains why it has stuck, rather than twisted, when it comes to motive force, and it makes for interesting reading. First up, it's a tiny manufacturer, one that doesn't have a wide range of models which can keep its fleet-wide CO2 figures down if it decides to ramp up the D-Max's power output. We were told that the 1.9-litre engine can make considerably more than 164hp and 360Nm, but if it did then it would push the company's emissions up across all models to a level where it would be subject to EU fines, so it's just not possible. Second, Isuzu cites all the changes we've listed above that should go to aiding refinement and masking any detrimental effects brought about by that turbodiesel revving right out to 4,000rpm.

The third reason is the key point, though. Every single model of the new D-Max range, even the V-Cross Automatic, weighs less than 2,040kg unladen. This is a significant figure for private buyers, because there's a weird loophole of the UK law which means that dual-purpose light commercial vehicles (i.e., ones which can carry multiple passengers as well as cargo) must adhere to full-sized commercial-vehicle speed limits if they weigh in excess of this figure. This means a maximum of 60mph on dual carriageways and motorways, and 50mph on A-roads or in national speed limit zones. Apparently, digital speed cameras do link to DVLA data coupled to registrations and in rival trucks, you can unwittingly end up with a speeding fine if you're caught doing 70mph in a model which weighs more than 2,040kg. Isuzu also says that its D-Max is a good 200-300kg lighter than its chief rivals, which means not only is it the only luxury truck in the class which is subject to passenger-car speed limits (70mph and 60mph), but that its modest 164hp is better employed by the lighter pick-up so that it feels just as quick as competitors and is just as good on fuel.

This would all be OK, if it weren't for the fact that the vulgar 1.9 continues to remain the biggest drawback of the new D-Max. In the V-Cross Auto, it's just too noisy and if you ask for full acceleration, even with the new, smoothed-off transmission, the resulting bellow from up front and the relatively tardy-feeling acceleration will both conspire to leave you wondering why Isuzu didn't look into any other powertrain options it could. Furthermore, on our test route, we struggled to achieve 28mpg with the D-Max automatic and so the engine, regrettably, is still the party-pooper here. We will at least soften the blow slightly by saying we drove a DL40 manual model later in the day and much preferred the way it sounded and felt during acceleration. While it has one of those wand-like, tall gearlevers, the D-Max's H-gate shift is precise and pleasant to use, and weirdly there's more of a sporty 'burr' to the engine between 2,000-3,500rpm with the manual fitted than there is on the auto. Also, we easily achieved 34mpg from the DL40, so if you don't mind pumping a clutch pedal on a regular basis, we'd say the V-Cross manual at £37,444.80 is a better bet than the dearer automatic.

Beyond the unrefined and underpowered engine, and when you boil everything else right down, this is an otherwise damned fine truck. Aside from the traditional unladen-pick-up's 'shimmy-and-shake' making itself known on the absolute worst rural back roads (which would upset the composure of most SUVs, to be fair), this is a wonderful wagon to roll along in. The ride quality is most definitely much better than the old D-Max, while noise suppression in the luxurious cabin is exceptional. At motorway speeds, it feels assured, calm and comfortable, and the new speed-sensitive electronic power steering is superb; it provides agile manoeuvrability at low pace with steadfast, solid responses at higher velocity. It also doesn't feel slow and loose, like the steering in so many other pick-ups, and so aside from the sometimes-raucous engine (which is at least acceptable if you keep it below 3,000rpm) then the on-road manners of the Isuzu D-Max Mk2 are right up there with those of the Hilux and Ranger.

Off-road, it's unstoppable. Around a testing course laid out in a live Dorset quarry, the D-Max in 4L breezed its way through mud, 800mm water-wading sections, up 31-degree ascents and down ridiculous descents, and through sections of extreme axle articulation. Indeed, on one of these our instructor told us to deliberately get it stuck, just to show off the rear diff lock (with it engaged, the Isuzu smoothly pulled away despite the fact two of its wheels were dangling uselessly in the air) and its capabilities. Before he then added that the D-Max didn't really need the rear diff lock, apart from very testing off-road circumstances. Hard to disagree with his point, when a V-Cross model like this on road-biased tyres picked apart fairly rough scenery with such impeccable and effortless disdain.


While we always liked the old D-Max, there's no doubt this one is going to delight upmarket, private buyers of trucks like this to a far greater degree than its predecessor ever did. Isuzu has done a such a wonderful job on it overall, then, that it just leaves you gnashing your teeth in frustration that the one clear area which needed the most remedial work - that old-fashioned engine - has been left well alone. With plenty of other D-Max derivatives likely on the way, in the form of successors to the XTR, Blade and AT35, here's hoping the company works out some way of improving the motive power for these luxury-oriented models in the same way it has polished the rest of this thoroughly likeable pick-up truck - because, while it is currently operating in a market sector denuded of a wide spread of comparable rivals, any one-tonner that launches into this segment in the future will need to match or beat the D-Max in the areas of interior finishing and ride comfort, as at the moment it feels genuinely class-leading in these respects. If you never thrash the life out of the 1.9-litre engine, this is definitely the truck you should be looking at, first and foremost.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

5 5 5 5 5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Driving Dynamics

3 3 3 3 3 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 14 Apr 2021    - Isuzu road tests
- D-Max images

2021 Isuzu D-Max V-Cross Automatic. Image by Isuzu.2021 Isuzu D-Max V-Cross Automatic. Image by Isuzu.2021 Isuzu D-Max V-Cross Automatic. Image by Isuzu.2021 Isuzu D-Max V-Cross Automatic. Image by Isuzu.2021 Isuzu D-Max V-Cross Automatic. Image by Isuzu.

2021 Isuzu D-Max V-Cross Automatic. Image by Isuzu.2021 Isuzu D-Max V-Cross Automatic. Image by Isuzu.2021 Isuzu D-Max V-Cross Automatic. Image by Isuzu.2021 Isuzu D-Max V-Cross Automatic. Image by Isuzu.2021 Isuzu D-Max V-Cross Automatic. Image by Isuzu.


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