Road tests / 11 March 2019, 5:12pm / Pritesh Ruthun
Johannesburg - More than a year has passed since Isuzu Motors South Africa became a standalone entity, with no ties to Chevrolet or Opel (the old GM guard) in South Africa. Ok, so you might see a couple of dealers cross-selling brands, but as far as head office operations go, and as far as manufacturing goes, Isuzu is now doing it on its own in SA.
A couple of weeks ago, we had the opportunity to drive one of the latest new products to roll off Isuzu’s local (Port Elizabeth) production line, the D-MAX, which replaces the legendary KB nameplate on the Japanese brand’s LCVs.
Over the past 40 years of local production (spanning six generations), the Isuzu KB bakkie has, arguably, remained a key player in creating and fostering South Africa’s love affair with the ‘pick-up truck’ - both as a workhorse and, as an all-encompassing day-to-day leisure and lifestyle vehicle. But, a change was needed.
The new D-MAX nameplate originated in Thailand, with the ‘D’ originally referring to the 2000 model year Isuzu bakkie that boasted the flush ‘Dragon Eyes’ headlamp design.
It also represents Isuzu’s legacy in producing of diesel engines, the use of direct injection, as well as design and durability.
The ‘MAX’? Well, that’s said to signify the company’s maximum approach to design, size, comfort, performance, safety and durability.
So, now known as the Isuzu D-MAX, in line with international markets, the range spans a wide portfolio comprising 30 models for South Africa and 13 models for export markets.
Isuzu’s LCV line-up has been revised to make the D-MAX more appealing and competitive, and the high-spec models do raise the bar for pick-up in terms of luxury and quality.
Visually, the biggest styling changes for the refreshed Isuzu D-MAX make their debut on the range-topping 3.0-litre LX models, available in single, extended and double-cab body styles.
We tested the double cab.
Central to the new look is a striking, chrome radiator grille that dominates the front end, along with tapered chromed accents extending across the full length of the sleeker L-shaped headlight clusters.
In addition to the new projector-type Bi-LED headlamps and LED DRLs introduced on the extended and double cabs, there are restyled fog lamp bezels framed by chromed vertical accents that give the LX a distinctive and aggressive look.
It’s different to the KB that it replaces, but not re-styled in a way that it becomes unrecognisable as an Isuzu pick-up truck.
When you climb into the cabin, you’ll immediately notice a more upmarket look and feel in the LX models courtesy of soft-touch materials for key touchpoints around the cockpit. You also get a new, more attractive, high-quality grain for the dashboard and door trims, along with a piano black finish on the air vent grilles and window switches. In contrast, the door handles, locking knob, and air vent knobs are picked out in chrome.
The shiny trim pieces add a sense of ‘premium-ness’ to the vehicle, and even though the piano black in particular is a nightmare to keep dust-free, it’s a welcome touch.
Occupants also benefit from the inclusion of a decent infotainment system, incorporating a full colour touch screen with rear-view camera support, Bluetooth connectivity, and media streaming capability. Should you want a more ‘thumping’ system, you can tick the box that says ‘Premium Alpine Infotainment System’. This system debuted in the Isuzu mu-X SUV and boasts built-in navigation, as well as USB, Aux and HDMI video inputs. You will also appreciate USB ports scattered around the cabin that offer a higher 2.1A rating (up from 1A) to charge essential things like smartphones, and larger multimedia devices such as iPads. It also supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (once it is officially made available in South Africa).
Smooth diesel engine
Featuring a slick-shifting six-speed auto transmission, the 3.0TD LX we test drove swopped cogs like a large premium sedan; smooth, without hunting, and quickly too. There’s also a manual shift postiion for off-roading, or when you need to hold onto a gear during overtaking.
The 3.0-litre, four-cylinder, intercooled, turbodiesel engine, which produces 130kW of power and 380Nm of torque is ‘grunty’ low down, and if you’re not careful in wet weather, you’ll easily light up the rear tyres when unladen. A nice wide torque band also ensures you aren’t revving the life out of the engine when in the rough stuff.
Shift-on-the-fly all-wheel drive can be accessed through a rotary switch on the centre console, between the seats, and we got to test the 4-Low capability along a tricky mountain route in the Magaliesburg region.
Torrential rain ensured tons of mud, and slip, while sharp rocks and chassis twisters meant crawling was essential. The D-MAX simply gobbled up the obstacles, and being an automatic, all you really need to do is aim in the right direction and squeeze gently on the loud pedal.
I particularly enjoyed the way it thundered along the route without creaking and rattling, or fussing.
On the safety front, the ABS brakes on all D-MAX LX models are now equipped with Isuzu’s Brake Override System (BOS) for the first time. The system restricts accelerator input if the brake pedal is applied simultaneously, thereby reducing stopping distances in an emergency.
The standard Electronic Stability Control (ESC) with Traction Control has also been tinkered with, with the addition of Trailer Sway Control (TSC) that detects and minimises the effect of a trailer or caravan beginning to sway from side-to-side. You also get Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Hill Start Assist (HSA) and Hill Descent Control (HDC).
Isuzu Complete Care comes standard with every new Isuzu D-MAX and this package is said to embody Isuzu’s unwavering commitment to after-sales service and customer satisfaction.
To this end, you will get a comprehensive five-year/120 000 km warranty and roadside assistance, as well as a five-year unlimited distance anti-corrosion warranty. In addition, a five-year/90 000 km service plan is included in the purchase price, with services pegged at every 15 000 km or annually, whichever comes first.
Through Isuzu Mobility, if you use your bakkie as a workhorse, customers even have the option of extending the standard service plan up to a maximum of six years or 200 000 km.
Alternatively, your new D-MAX’s service plan can be upgraded to a fully comprehensive maintenance plan that covers the vehicle for any planned and unplanned maintenance up to six-years/200 000km.
While it’s not the cheapest way to get around town, the D-MAX 300 TD LX Auto is certainly a different way to do it.
You ride high, you sit in comfy seats, there’s ample power, torque and responsiveness in the vehicle to give you a relaxed confident feeling, and you aren’t restricted from sticking to the tarmac. If you’re a bakkie fanatic, and you want something that’s a little different to the sea of Hiluxes and Rangers on the road, you won’t go wrong with the D-MAX. We like it for its quality, its solid feel, and its striking looks. Isuzu says it is committed to growing the brand in South Africa, and that its focus is to ensure customers are on the road with maximum uptime, whether its for work or for play.
We’d recommend a black D-MAX, kitted with beefy black wheels and some decent off-road rubber...Yummy.