The Isuzu D-Max has now become a far more credible pick-up segment contender. Jonathan Crouch looks at the lightly updated version of this 'RG'-series model.
Mazda no longer sells a pick-up truck in the UK but that Japanese maker has had quite a hand in this one, the third generation version of the Isuzu D-Max. It's the first time these two brands have collaborated together and the partnership seems to make a lot of sense. Isuzu can deliver the rough, tough practical design that pick-up folk need; Mazda can imbue that product with the smarter, more car-like cabin and better tarmac drive dynamics that most of them want. This 'RG'-series model first went on sales in Thailand (where it's built) back in October 2019, but sales didn't really get underway in our market until 2021, two years on from which Isuzu treated this model to a light facelift, creating the version we're going to look at here.
Previous D-Max models served up a pretty crude drive experience on tarmac, but it's immediately obvious at the wheel that this 'RG'-series version has sharpened up its act. Isuzu has made lots of suspension changes for this generation design to try and reduce body roll, improve stability and better absorb vibrations. Plus the chassis is stiffer and the brand has introduced a modern electric-powered steering rack - which allows the installation of a class-leading portfolio of camera safety features. No contender in this class can properly replicate the car-like drive dynamics of an SUV and in this one, there remains plenty of body roll at speed through tighter turns as you slide around on the flat-bottomed seats. But on the plus side, thanks to all those changes, there's certainly now a lot less back end floatiness when the load bay is empty and with a bit of weight in the back, it's possible at times to forget you're in a pick-up - until you lurch into a corner or clump over a speed hump. Under the bonnet, this 'RG'-series model uses the same 1.9-litre turbo diesel powerplant as the previous generation model, offering 164PS and available with either manual or auto transmission. This is a smaller capacity engine than you'll find with direct rivals and its 360Nm torque output is lower too, though a 3.5-tonne towing capacity is retained. This relatively light powertrain though, enables the kerb weight of this Isuzu to dip below the government's 2,040kg weight limit that separates Goods Vehicles from passenger cars so, unlike other pick-ups in the segment, this one can be driven at passenger car speed limits. Refinement is slightly improved with this generation D-Max, though still hardly car-like. And, as before, off road prowess is really impressive, helped by a quick-shifting 4WD system, decent suspension articulation and the lockable rear differential you get on most models. Ground clearance is rated at 235mm and the fording depth at 800mm.
Not too much has changed with the look of this 'RG'-series model in its latest form - just a lightly updated front grille and some different alloy wheel designs. As before, the grille is flanked by distinctive U-shaped LED headlamps - more sophisticated Bi-LED lamps feature on plusher models. At the rear, there are vertical tail light clusters and an integrated step is built into the bumper. Under the skin, the chassis structure does what it can to shed weight thanks to a prop shaft fashioned from aluminium and high tensile steel plates. Compared to the previous generation D-Max, these measures cut weight by 80kgs and enhanced rigidity by 20%. Inside, there have been a few cabin changes, with smarter cloth or leather upholstery, depending on the variant you choose. From its original launch, the Mazda influence on this third generation D-Max has always been clearly obvious with a much higher quality cabin than the previous generation version, a cabin featuring smart contrasts between the hard and soft materials used. The layered dashboard looks modern and, if you can avoid the two least expensive variants, it'll incorporate a central infotainment touchscreen display incorporating 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring and voice control. This will be 7-inches in size on the mid-range 'DL40' variant - or 9-inches in size on the top 'V-Cross' derivative. What's it like for rear passengers in this Double Cab model? Well once inside, there's slightly more passenger comfort than is provided by some rival models, thanks to an increase in wheelbase length for this generation model, all of which has been used to the benefit of rear-seated folk. There's also decent room for head and shoulders. And you'll appreciate the way that the seat back angle has been slightly set to make the backrest less vertically inclined, which gives noticeably greater comfort on longer journeys.
The emphasis here as usual will be on Double cab 4x4 model sales, but Isuzu has also designed this pick-up in 2WD form and with alternative single and extended cab body styles. There are four main trim levels - 'Utility', 'DL20', 'DL40' and 'V-Cross'. At the very top of the range is the rare extreme Arctic Trucks AT35 variant which has larger wheels and a raised ride height, but that costs nearly £50,000. More mainstream D-Max variants sell primarily in the £24,000 to £35,000 bracket; which means that you can expect ithis pick-up to undercut some of its segment competitors by up to several thousand once you take spec and equipment into account. All models get auto headlamps, air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth and a six-way adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support. If you can stretch to 'DL40'-spec, you can expect to find a reversing camera and a 7-inch central infotainment screen with 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring. At the top of the range, the top 'V-Cross' variant gets Gunmetal painted 8-inch alloy wheels, an auto-dimming rear view mirror and a 9-inch central infotainment touchscreen, your access point to an 8-speaker audio system. Safety has taken a big step forward with this MK3 model, thanks to a comprehensive 'ADAS' package that includes Autonomous Emergency Braking, Traffic Sign Recognition, Intelligent Speed Limiter and Lane Departure Warning & Prevention on every model. The D-Max is the only pickup in the UK to have a rear radar fitted as standard on all double cab variants and this enables even more ADAS functionality. All double cabs have three additional ADAS systems: Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Blind Spot Monitor and - for the first time in the pickup segment - Emergency Lane Keeping.
The load area hasn't changed much with this third generation D-Max. It remains exactly the same width as the previous generation MK2 design (1,530mm) but has become a little deeper (1,490mm). It's a little longer too (1,495mm), but still remains one of the shorter cargo bays in the segment. Payload is just over a tonne, as is typical in this segment. There are four tie-down points to stop loads from moving around, which is just as well as this vehicle doesn't offer a ladder rack behind the cab to protect the driver if all else fails and something really heavy slides forward. The good news is that Isuzu continues to offer one of the best warranties in the pick-up segment - a five year / 125,000 mile guarantee. Plus there's three years of roadside recovery and assistance, a three-year paint warranty and six years of anti-corrosion cover. Fuel economy is much improved, as are emissions. For the DL20 version we tried in 4x4 Double Cab form, the combined cycle fuel figure is 33.6mpg and the CO2 reading is 220g/km. And the diesel engine cuts NOx with use of the AdBlue additive. What else? Residual values for the previous version of this model were strong, suggesting that after 3 years and 60,000 miles of use, your D-Max would still be worth around 40% of what you originally paid for it. We don't expect that showing to change much this time round.
You'll probably have preconceptions about the Isuzu D-Max. Possibly positive ones if you're a farmer or commercial user who needs something tough, rough and ready and have tried a D-Max in the past. By and large though, previous versions of this Isuzu have never had the polish - primarily in ritzy looks, cabin design and tarmac drive quality - to appeal to the broadest spectrum of the pick-up market. But this rejuvenated 'RG'-series D-Max just might. It's now got a good deal more pavement presence and though the interior and the paved surface drive dynamics still aren't quite on a par with its Ford Ranger or Toyota Hilux arch-rivals, the gap in these two areas has now closed considerably. To the point where you might really want this Isuzu, because it now has attributes its rivals simply can't match. Primarily, class-leading safety levels that set a new standard for the pick-up segment. This D-Max is also better off road than a Ranger and can ford deeper water than a Hilux. It's not quite as cheap as the other segment contender, SsangYong's Musso, but it's a much higher quality product that'll save you plenty over the prices Ford and Toyota want to charge.
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