Pumped up D-Max gets grunt and gears

By: Matt Wood

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Isuzu Ute Australia has just launched the 2017 update of its D-Max Ute and MU-X SUV range. Matt Wood takes the revamped range for a spin at the launch.


If the Isuzu D-Max had a Tinder profile it would most likely be wearing a bomber jacket and high-viz in its profile photo.

But, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing going on underneath the skinned knuckle and bush hat image of the Isuzu Ute. This latest Euro 5 update has seen the Isuzu workhorse gain a little more grunt and some extra kit.

The venerable 3-litre 4JJ1-TC turbo-diesel traditionally found under the bonnet of the D-Max now sports an active regeneration Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) system to comply with Euro 5 emission regulations. The new diesel Particulate filter (DPF) is located in the engine bay itself and relies on post injection from the fuel system to fire up the burner when it becomes full of soot.

This is an auto regen system that doesn’t have the option of a parked DPF regeneration like some other commercial vehicles out there.

The drive train update however, does come with some goodies. The 3-litre donk now gets more torque, 430Nm up from 380Nm. And that torque is on hand between 2,000 and 2,300rpm. The power plant also holds 380Nm up to 3,500Nm.  Power output remains at 130kW and peaks at 3,600rpm.

Inside the venerable 4J engine is a new piston design, a revised injection system fuel pump and the addition of a Variable Geometry (VGS) turbo-charger. The 3 litre also shuns timing belts, retaining a steel timing chain set up. Those familiar with the Isuzu N-series light truck will be familiar with this engine and accordingly the 4J donk has been used by the truck business in Euro 5 guise locally since 2011.

The use of this Euro 5 engine in the D-Max is actually a world first as Isuzu opted to use a twin-turbo 2.5 litre Euro 5 engine for the European market. It now offers a rather punchy yet cleaner twin-turbo 1.9 litre in other markets, including Europe.

However, according to Isuzu Ute’s customer research Aussie’s want to stick with the tried and trusted 3 litre donk.

Behind the revised engine sits a new 6-speed Aisin torque converter auto or a 6-speed manual Isuzu ‘box. The auto features a lock up torque converter like many of its competitors.

The result of all that tinkering under the bonnet has led to Isuzu Ute claiming a 5% fuel economy improvement.   

The D-Max and its SUV stable mate, the MU-X has also had a subtle styling freshen up to make it look a little more aggresive. The styling cues have allegedly been taken from the killer whale, maybe if you kinda squint you may just be able to see the likeness.

Inside, SX and LS-M variants now get a 7-inch touch screen for the multi-media audio system. LS-U and LS-T variants get an 8-inch screen. Unfortunately a reverse camera remains an option across the 15-model ute range, excepting LS-M and LSU where it is standard equipment. SX and LS-M variants now get an 8 speaker sound system and LS models get 3 USB ports.

Outside, LS-U and LS-M Crew models get daytime running lights as standard and the cosmetic restyle has seen new look fog lights and headlights. The fancy pants LS-T also gets 18-inch alloys while LS-M variants get 16-inch alloys and LS-U models get 17-inch alloys. The rest of the range makes do with 16-inch steelies.

Towing remains at 3,500kg (braked) across the range except the base SX low –rider 4x2 (2,500kg). Payload ranges from 1249kg for the base SX down to 924kg for the LS-U 4x4 Crew. Gross Combination Mass ranges from 5,350kg, again for the base SX 4x2 up to 5,950kg for the 4x4 range.  

Isuzu is also celebrating a century of automotive manufacturing this year. And to celebrate Isuzu Ute Australia has also launched a limited edition D-Max X-Runner, just 600 examples will be available. This truck features a bit of stripey cosmetic treatment using gunmetal grey, on all the shiny bits. It also gets a tub liner, sports bar, black and red seats, climate control, rearview camera, parking sensors and a special steering wheel. The X-Runner has a drive away price of $46,990.

It’s also worth mentioning that all D-Max models get hill descent control as standard, even the base 4x2 workhorses. And while the prestige bar is being raised with posh 4x4 utes Isuzu is still kicking butt relatively speaking, in the 4x2 market running 3rd behind Ranger and HiLux in the meat and potatoes tradie, cocky and fleet market.

As I’ve noted in the past, the biggest strength of the Isuzu ute is that it just works. So with that infernally catchy Go Your Own Way jingle still rattling around in my head we headed out to sample a cross section of the updated range on and off the beaten track. To see if it still…er…..works.

Isuzu Ute is also claiming improved reduced engine noise from behind the wheel. Initial impressions are that it has….a little. The 4J engine still emits a diesel clatter that is at odds with downsized power plants now on offer from its competitors. However, some may find this a comfort rather than an annoyance.

But the work put into the D-Max’s drivetrain has paid off. While the new 6-speed auto is not the most sophisticated unit on the market it gives the ute a whole new level of finesse both on and off road. A fatter torque curve means that the whole ute feels more relaxed when working hard in hilly country and rarely does the tacho needle reach the breathless levels of the past in ordinary on road driving.

The new 6-speed manual is also a nice thing. The shift was a little stiff in the lower gears, between 1st and 2nd, but I’d also add that these utes were also brand spanking new so you’d expect the shift to free up a little with some more kays on the clock.

Isuzu’s Terrain Command selector dial is the standard fare you’ll find on most 4x4 vehicles in this market. Switch from 2H to 4H on the fly is a twist of the dial. And 4L requires a dead stop and a shift to neutral.

A squirt along the beach at Evans Head didn’t pose much of a challenge to the D-Max’s off-road capabilities at all. But a nice tight little off road course just down the road was a good opportunity to test the Isuzu’s mettle a little more.

On the dirt and in the bush again the drivetrain improvements come to the fore. The 4J donk is very flexible off-road and negotiated all obstacles in a very civilized manner. There was rarely any need to get revs up above 2,000rpm as the D-Max picked its way through the scrub.

I also spent quite a bit of time in the mine spec dual cab variant. This thing is a cracker as a work truck. A basic durable interior, cloth seats and a decent steel tray certainly made the ute look the part. The manual ‘box has an excellent spread of ratios for low speed driving which I reckon are perfect for a paddock, a mine site or wombling through traffic while muttering at other road users.

Out on the open road the D-Max hasn’t ended up ‘over-geared’. While 6th gear is still quite tall, the Isuzu will still sit in what is effectively a double overdrive gear quite happily when unladen.

This D-Max update hasn’t changed the formula that has proved successful for the brand to date. The company is on target to deliver its 100,000th vehicle by the middle of this year. I’m not a big fan of EGR as a way of dealing with exhaust nasties, but there are plenty of LCVs and even passenger cars that have been using it for a long time. In Isuzu’s case though this EGR engine has already proved itself the light truck range.

A factory rear diff-lock across the range would give it more appeal in the work-focused market while still being handy for dual-purpose owners. The 1.9 litre twin-turbo engine launched for overseas markets would also be a nice option for lower spec models and fleet 4x2 models.

Amongst the 3 letter model acronyms and hyphens the guts of what the D-Max has built a reputation on still seems to stand. The gutsy yet understated Isuzu ute remains a good value bread and butter work truck. It’s now got just that little bit more grunt where it’s needed and that can only be a good thing.

If it sticks in people’s minds as much as that torturous Go Your Own Way jingle does, they’ll sell lots.  


2017 Isuzu D-Max Pricing:

From $28,500 rrp (D-Max SX 4x2 manual Cab-Chassis) to $54,200 (D-Max LS-T auto 4x4)

Warranty: 5 year/130,000km. 5 Years Roadside Assist. 5 year/50,000km Capped Price Servicing.

Service Intervals: 12 months/10,000km













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