Two years ago I reviewed the at-the-time new Isuzu D-Max Blade and I rather liked it. Since then, I have driven and reviewed the XTR and two different versions of the AT35 Arctic Truck D-Max and, again, I rather liked them. Despite the D-max’s competitive pricing, sterling reliability and class-leading towing capabilities, you hardly ever see any on the road compared to the likes of the VW Amarok, the Ford Ranger and the always-popular Toyota Hilux. Isuzu has now launched an all-new D-Max and it wants to finally get its foot well and truly in the ‘Lifestyle’ consumer door.
So, what’s new? Well, the whole body has been changed, as has the interior, and it’s now full of gadgets and safety tech to try and align it with more of the ‘normal’ cars on the consumer market. The V-Cross that I drove is the top-of-the-line model that will almost exclusively sell as an automatic and comes with a plush leather interior, a big infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, cruise control and all sorts of automatic trinkets and a lot of safety tech that has come straight out of the Subaru parts bin. All of this is a welcome change from the agricultural and out of date feel the old Blade model gave off.
Outside, the D-Max has a whole new look with LED DRLs, new headlights, an aggressive front grill and some very smart 18″ wheels and to be honest, it’s a bit of a looker now. It’s not as shouty as the Ford Ranger, but it’s also definitely got something over the Toyota Hilux with its appearance. With my test model being finished in Pearl White, the black and dark grey accents in the grille and wheels really tied the whole aesthetic up nicely.
One thing the D-Max has always done well is excel in the mud. The new D-Max has a new repositioned air intake and a wading depth of 800mm, which is 100mm more than a Land Rover Discovery 4. It also has plenty of gadgets like Hill Descent Control and shift-on-the-wire four-wheel drive paired with a selectable high and low-range transmission meaning this hard-working load-lugger is rather remarkable off-road and it certainly holds its own very well against the Ranger and Hilux.
It’s not all roses, though, and when you leave the loose surface and hit the tarmac, there’s still a lot of improvement needed. The D-Max is powered by a 1.9 turbodiesel engine that packs plenty of torque meaning it has a class-leading tow capacity of 3.5tonnes, but that’s where it stops. The little inline-four feels very sluggish under load and even though the new automatic gearbox is a bit sharper than the old model, everything is still quite slow. 0-62mph in the Isuzu takes 13 seconds and unlike its rivals, it just doesn’t sit at speed as comfortably. If Isuzu wants to hit properly penetrate the ‘Lifestyle’ market, it needs to have a powerplant that can sit comfortably and quietly at motorway speeds. That’s not to say it’s all terrible, it’s a very good truck at slower speeds and it is surprisingly agile on narrow country roads.
The D-Max is also the only truck in its class to have a 5-Star Euro NCAP rating. It has achieved this with its various safety tech, strengthened chassis and larger airbags. Some of the features are included in the Advanced Driver Assist Systems with front impact prevention, speed sign recognition, and a whole host of other clever aids.
The pick-up market is going through a strange transition at the moment, with the Mitsubishi L200 and Volkswagen Amarok pulling out of the race, so the choice has been dramatically reduced, and this might just play into the had of the Isuzu. For all its flaws as a conventional ‘car’, the D-Max is still a solid, reliable, and very impressive workhorse. It is as perfectly suited running bricks and cement from site to site as it is scrambling across the fields with a bed full of hay and few other vehicles will take it on when the surface starts to get slippery. At its price point, it’s probably the best site/farm manager-spec truck you can buy, pound for pound.
It does definitely fall a bit short when it comes to a family truck, or lifestyle vehicle though. For it to really tackle this market, it needs to be much quieter and have much better road manners. Users want something they can load the kids in, fill the back up with paddle boards, tents, mountain bikes and a host of other activity items and then cruise from London to Scotland with ease and it’s that crucial part on the motorways where, no matter how many option boxes are ticked, the D-Max lacks that extra bit of refinement needed to make it a really good lifestyle truck.
Having said that, with the truck market getting smaller and smaller, and the prices for crossovers and SUVs constantly on the rise, there isn’t much in the form of alternatives in the £30k-£40k price bracket that the D-Max V-Cross falls into. And you’re not going to find an SUV with half as much space for that price. So, all in all, the D-Max V-Cross is a very capable, very likeable and very good truck, and it is perfect as a tool. Would I buy one? For value for money alone, I’d certainly be tempted.