Even the cheapest 2021 Isuzu D-Max is still an impressive bit of kit
The single cab D-Max SX is the cheapest model you can buy in the all-new range, and this tradie-favourite looks like it could well win Isuzu an even bigger slice of the 4x2 ute market.
What is it?
The cheapest version of the all-new 2021 Isuzu D-Max your money can buy. Offered in four model grades for the Australian market, the entry-level SX is primarily aimed at tradies and the like, with the one-rung-up LS-M more likely to be the entry point for private buyers.
The SX model is the only variant in the range offered in all possible body styles – Single Cab, Space Cab, or Dual Cab; and with either a typical ute tub or as a Cab Chassis model with factory-fitted steel or alloy trays – and can be had with either rear-wheel drive (4×2) or four-wheel drive (4×4) and manual or automatic transmissions on all body styles.
As such, this Single Cab Chassis 4×2 makes it the cheapest of the lot, with the manual priced at $33,200 retail, although offered at a set drive-away price of just $29,990. However, no such drive-away deal is listed for the automatic variant on test here, which retails for $35,200 but comes with an as-tested price of $38,556.40 by the time the cost of the heavy duty alloy tray and tow pack are factored in.
Why are we testing it?
So far, my experience with the new D-Max has been limited to the models at the upper end of the range – I drove an LS-U at the model’s Australian launch, took another out to Coober Pedy shortly after, and then endured a snap covid lockdown with a top-spec X-Terrain – and with these models all being aimed more at families than farmers and tradespeople, I was keen to see how the entry-level version stacked up.
Furthermore, Isuzu is a big player in the 4×2 ‘traffic controller’ ute space, with it holding a 16.3 percent market share last year and trailing behind only the perennial favourite Toyota HiLux, so with it clearly being a strong seller it’s undoubtedly worth giving a look-in.
What’s it like on the inside?
When compared with the lovely higher-spec’d models I’ve previously spent thousands of kilometres in already, this tradie special certainly feels more like exactly what it is on the inside. Gone is the soft leather and power assistance, and instead there’s a wider abundance of hard black plastic and hard-wearing cloth upholstery, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel is traded for a polyurethane one although it’s quite possibly the nicest-feeling of its kind. The carpet floor is also traded out for rubber, too, although this is all done with durability and easy-cleaning in mind, so it’s right on brand for a vehicle that’ll more likely see more muddy work boots on its occupants’ feet than stilettos.
The incredibly comfortable and heavily-bolstered seats found in other models are gone, too, with simpler ones in their place that don’t even offer height-adjustable head restraints, and even the trio of storage cubbies (two gloveboxes plus the dash-top compartment) normally fitted are dropped as a cost saving measure, with only the one glovebox and two basic storage trays instead. There are even some particularly odd bits of cost-cutting that can be seen as well – take, for instance, the fact there’s no defroster element in the rear window.
Even the terribly unmissable massive bezel around the smaller infotainment screen – which is just 7.0-inches diagonally, rather than the 9.0-inch unit found in fancier models – and lack of integrated satellite navigation serves as a constant reminder of the SX’s low price point. However, Isuzu hasn’t skimped where it counts as it still features wireless Apple CarPlay, wired Android Auto, and DAB+ digital radio. The simple four-speaker Kenwood stereo doesn’t sound too tinny, either.
Plenty of convenience features are still included as standard as well, such as automatic headlights with automatic high-beam (although they’re only halogen headlights rather than the LED units found on all other variants) and automatic windscreen wipers.
Most impressive of all, though, is all the active safety equipment that’s included on this tradie-focused model. With the drivers of vehicles just like this among those spending the most time on Aussie roads, its important that they’re offered the full suite of technology available, and the D-Max not only delivers, but delivers a lot in the regard. From modern day prerequisites for a five-star ANCAP rating – which the D-Max holds against the latest, most stringent testing criteria – such as forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking to even advanced technology like Level 2 semi-autonomous driving capability thanks to its lane-centring system (do note, this is only offered on automatic models), it’s impressive that there’s not a single bit of safety equipment missing even in the very cheapest model in the range.
All-in-all, despite some clear cheapening out, the D-Max SX still has an impressive cabin, and even if some losses – the additional gloveboxes and swish bucket seats – are sadder losses than others, its an interior that feels durable and perfectly focused on its target market’s needs.
What’s it like to drive?
Like all other 2021 D-Max models, the base SX features the same ‘4JJ3’ 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine with 140kW and 450Nm on tap – outputs that put it well ahead of tradie-spec competitors like the 2.4-litre Toyota HiLux Workmate.
The six-speed automatic transmission of the example you see tested here is a fairly slick and smooth operator, and although the standard six-speed manual offers great shifter and clutch pedal feel, its slightly uneven gear ratios mean the auto is probably worth the $2000 premium – although the base manual’s drive-away deal pricing that furthers that gap in its favour might convince you otherwise.
Unless you know you’ll be frequenting muddy worksites on a regular basis or you’re ordering a fleet of these to go down into a mine, you’ll be saving a healthy chunk of money by opting for this standard rear-wheel drive variant as four-wheel drive charges $8000 extra if you’re paying the list price.
Like all new D-Max models, its a good thing in the handling department, with its variable-ratio electric power steering feeling nice and easy around town and confidently weighty at higher speeds, and it remains nice and flat through the corners. Given this is a tray-back model with very little weight over the rear wheels when unladen, it does certainly want to get sideways in the wet, but that’s to be expected.
Unlike the more comfort-focused high-end D-Max variants, the SX model comes with a heavy duty suspension tune to help it better handle heavy loads in the back. Certainly, it is noticeably firmer when unladen than the comfort tune in other models is, but with it being a three-leaf setup in the rear rather than the five-leaf setup of the old model, it isn’t nearly as bouncy and overly firm as the old SX model was.
As far as payload is concerned, the automatic 4×2 model on test here boasts a 1300kg payload while the manual model offers 5kg more, although you should note that these figures don’t account for the weight of the tray fitted. With even a few hundred kilos in the back the ride is nicely smoothened out – and its likely that most of these will always have at the very least a little bit of weight from things such as toolboxes in the back – and there’s not too much suspension sagging to be detected either.
Braked towing capacity for all models is listed at 3500kg with a 350kg tow ball download, and we know it to be able to handle its own with a trailer on the back, too, although it should be noted that the GCM and GVM for 4×2 models is 100kg lower than it is for 4×4 models at 3000kg and 5850kg respectively.
Being in the cheap seats is no bad thing when it comes to the D-Max, then, as the fact it features the same engine as the rest of the range means there’s no lack of grunt where it’s needed, and even with the firmer suspension tune it’s still perfectly fine to live with on a daily basis.
How do the numbers stack up?
Certainly, the base Single Cab Chassis 4×2’s $29,990 drive-away price when equipped with a manual gearbox is an absolute steal when you consider some of the advanced technology that it’s packing, but the fact there’s no fixed drive-away deal for the $35,200 RRP automatic tested here is a touch disappointing but may prove to be a good point to haggle on if you’re after an auto. Normally, it’s been known that Isuzu dealers will indeed give you a list-beating price, but you may have a harder time haggling for one currently as a lack of stock has pushed Isuzu UTE Australia to raise the list price of all models by $1000 at the start of April, just days before the publication of this article. Regardless, the technology it features puts it head and shoulders above the competition when it comes to value for money.
Isuzu offers the D-Max with a six-year 150,000km warranty, which is impressive in terms of its time coverage – only the SsangYong Musso with seven years/unlimited km and Mitsubishi Triton with 10 years/200,000km offer longer coverage in the segment – although the mileage cap is bested by the market leaders Toyota and Ford that offer five-year unlimited kilometre warranties. Seven years of complimentary roadside assistance and seven years/105,000km of capped price servicing are included, though, with an average cost of $481.86 for those first seven visits to the dealership.
When it comes to fuel economy, the fact my tester was a brand-spanker with just 114km on the odometer when I picked it up meant that the 9.5L/100km fuel economy return after two weeks and 700km of testing isn’t entirely representative of what you’ll get once it’s been broken in, which is more likely to be around, if not lower than an impressive 9L/100km with an automatic model like this.
So, what’s the verdict?
While the Toyota HiLux might be the segment leader in the Aussie 4×2 ute market, the D-Max SX ultimately presents itself as the much better bet in its all-new and much-improved form.
With impressive levels of active safety and driver assistance technology, welcome convenience features like wireless Apple CarPlay, a punchier 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine, and a far more refined driving experience than you’d expect for a ute of its kind, I don’t doubt that if Isuzu was ever to have a chance at becoming the dominant force among ‘traffic controller’ utes like this, the 2021 SX gives the company its best chance at doing so.
This article originally appeared on drivesection.com on April 6, 2021. The vehicle tested here was provided by Isuzu UTE Australia. All noted prices are in Australian dollars (AUD).