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REVIEW: What it’s like to drive the new Isuzu D-Max

Published Apr 14, 2022

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Launch review: New Isuzu D-Max (2022)

Qgeberha: Thanks to a number of pandemic-related complications, South African bakkie fans have had to wait for the new Isuzu D-Max, but the good news is that it is finally rolling off the local assembly line in Qgeberha and into a showroom near you.

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But was it worth the wait? Isuzu Motors South Africa is confident that its new bakkie contender has what it takes to compete with the heavy hitters in the market, like the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger. It was with great anticipation that we flew down to the Eastern Cape recently to get to know the newcomer on its own turf.

While the sixth-generation Isuzu D-Max soldiers on in its more basic forms as an entry-level offering, the new one is available in a comprehensive range of 33 models, comprising Single Cab, Extended Cab and Double Cab body styles, 4x2 and 4x4 configurations, two new engines and five trim grades in the form of Standard, L, LS, LSE and V-Cross. Prices range from R401 700 to R814 700 - see full specs and pricing here.

It’s a bold-looking bakkie with its ‘dragon-eye’ headlights, large grille and more purposeful stance, thanks to its 5mm higher bonnet and 10mm lower roofline. It looks particularly racy in V-Cross trim, which goes up against the likes of Wildtrak and Legend with its gun metallic finishes and distinctive hooped sports bar.

The new model is bigger and more spacious in all key areas, Isuzu says, and a quick sit-behind myself on the launch confirmed excellent legroom, although taller-than-average rear occupants might find the headroom a little tight – something not uncommon in the bakkie world.

From behind the wheel, the new Isuzu D-Max is a revelation, at least compared to its predecessor which had fallen behind the times. The redesigned bakkie shares its cabin architecture with the new Isuzu MU-X, and it’s a far cleaner and classier design than before; it’s also easier to get comfy behind the wheel as the steering wheel is adjustable for height and reach.

The newcomer plays technological catch-up too, with a fresh 9-inch touch screen infotainment system in the LSE and V-Cross models. The LS gets a smaller 7.0-inch touch screen system, while the lower-spec variants receive a traditional radio complete with a CD player and Bluetooth. You remember CDs right?

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The interior is a big improvement overall, but the new infotainment systems are a bit basic in terms of what they offer, with no fancy features or apps, although that might not be a problem for your more traditional bakkie buyer.

Isuzu has, however, upped its tech game when it comes to advanced safety features, at least in the range-topping V-Cross, which comes with gizmos like Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Prevention, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Autonomous Emergency Braking.

But what’s it like to drive the new Isuzu D-Max?

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As mentioned, there are two new engines. A 1.9-litre turbodiesel takes the place of the previous 2.5 unit, and it produces 110kW at 3600rpm and 350Nm from 1800 to 2600rpm. Topping the range is an upgraded 3.0-litre turbodiesel that thumps out 140kW at 3600rpm and 450Nm from 1600 to 2600rpm. Depending on the derivative you’ve chosen, the engines can be paired with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

After leaving the Qeberha launch venue, we hit the N2 southbound in a D-Max 1.9 Ddi LS double cab manual. We were impressed with the level of refinement offered by the new engine and although overtaking acceleration isn’t necessarily effortless, meaning you will have to work the engine at times, overall performance is par for the course in this segment.

We were initially worried that the new Isuzu would be plagued by a hard ride quality, given how rough it is in the BT-50 that Isuzu builds for Mazda (read our road test here). However, thanks to several suspension tweaks, the Isuzu is noticeably more comfortable over bumps than its Mazda cousin. Granted, unladen it feels a bit rigid at times, and I wouldn’t call its ride class leading, but by bakkie standards I would deem it acceptable.

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Local engineers have done some fine-tuning to make the Isuzu suitable for local roads. The vehicle also has a new rear suspension system, with three leaf springs in place of the previous model’s five. This doesn’t come to the detriment of payload, which is as high as 1265kg on the single cab.

But Isuzus are made for rough roads too and there was no shortage of these on the launch route, which took us through the spectacularly scenic Prince Albert’s Pass, a narrow dirt path that winds its way from Avontuur to Knysna. The pass can get a bit scary at times, given the long drop-offs in places, but the Isuzu 1.9 Ddi LS automatic model we’d upgraded to felt comfortable, composed and practically unflappable despite the mostly rough terrain and huge potholes. This is what you call Isuzu country.

We also got to experience a 3.0 Ddi V-Cross on a tarred section and it proved an able open-road companion with little to fault it in terms of performance or refinement.

Although the launch route didn’t include any hardcore trails, there was no reason to doubt its off-road ability as all the necessary 4x4 hardware is in place, including an electronically activated rear diff lock and a shift-on-the-fly part-time four-wheel drive system with 2H, 4H and 4L modes.

Ground clearance is up from 235mm to 240mm and the Japanese bakkie specialist has also increased the vehicle’s wading depth from 600mm to 800mm. Clearance is improved all round, and the approach, departure and ramp-over angles are listed at 30 degrees, 24 degrees and 22.5 degrees respectively.

In a nutshell, the new Isuzu D-Max is a much-improved on-road vehicle, perhaps not class-leading but certainly decent, but it feels tough as nails when the going gets rough. We certainly like it, but the newcomer does have its work cut out with the new Ford Ranger on the horizon.

ISUZU D-MAX PRICING (April 2022)

Single Cab

1.9 Ddi HR – R401 700

1.9 Ddi HR L – R421 000

1.9 Ddi HR L A/T – R439 200

1.9 Ddi 4x4 L – R506 200

1.9 Ddi 4x4 L A/T RHD – R528 800

Extended Cab

1.9 Ddi HR - R433 600

1.9 Ddi HR L - R448 500

1.9 Ddi HR LS - R477 000

1.9 Ddi HR LS A/T - R496 200

3.0 Ddi HR LSE A/T - R595 100

3.0 Ddi 4x4 LSE A/T - R670 300

Double Cab

1.9 Ddi HR L – R498 900

1.9 Ddi HR L A/T – R517 100

1.9 Ddi HR LS – R520 800

1.9 Ddi HR LS A/T – R537 500

1.9 Ddi 4x4 L – R575 900

1.9 Ddi 4x4 LS A/T RHD – R629 300

3.0 Ddi HR LSE AT – R716 400

3.0 Ddi 4x4 LS – R679 400

3.0 Ddi 4x4 LS A/T – R697 200

3.0 Ddi 4x4 LSE A/T – R771 100

3.0 Ddi V-Cross HR A/T – R760 100

3.0 Ddi V-Cross 4x4 A/T – R814700

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