What Car? says...
Selling pick-up trucks used to be simple. All you needed was a hefty payload, a frugal diesel engine and decent reliability to get your truck on to farmyards and building sites across the land. Times change, though, and so has the Isuzu D-Max.
You see, having a tough truck in your dealership is no longer enough. More and more people are choosing them over SUVs – partly for the attractive company car tax rates – so it also needs to be comfortable, safe and smart enough to impress the neighbours.
Fortunately for Isuzu, safety is a D-Max strong suit. It has clever autonomous driving aids that you might struggle to find on some luxury cars, and that helps it to achieve five stars – the top score possible – under the latest (and most stringent) Euro NCAP crash-test regime.
That doesn’t mean Isuzu has forgotten its traditional market as a building site load-lugger, though. There's a selection of D-Max configurations available to suit all needs, including a single cab with a long bed to carry the maximum payload (1205kg), an extended cab and a full five-seater double cab (the weekday work pick-up that can also serve as a weekend family hauler).
Alternatively, if you like to spend your time driving on the sides of volcanoes or across arctic glaciers, there’s also the extreme Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35. That version comes equipped with massive knobbly tires, wider arches and a 50mm lift kit, so that it can take on anything. Read more about that version in our dedicated first drive.
Anyway, back to the standard version. Isuzu gives you the choice of two and four-wheel drive and there’s also the option of an automatic gearbox. In other words, the D-Max should have all it needs to go toe to toe with rivals including the Ford Ranger, Ssangyong Musso and Toyota Hilux.
Over the next few pages of this review, we’ll tell you all you need to know about what the Isuzu D-Max is like in terms of performance, practicality, interior quality, running costs and more. We'll also tell you how it compares with those rivals and which engine and trim combination we favour.
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Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Discussing the choice of engine for the Isuzu D-Max doesn’t take long because there’s only one: a 162bhp 1.9-litre diesel. That might not sound like enough, but even in its bulkiest double cab form, it can take a heavier maximum payload than the equivalent Ford Ranger.
The Isuzu engine pulls from low in the rev range, but quickly runs out of puff. It doesn’t feel any more sluggish than an entry level Toyota Hilux, but the most potent versions of that and the Ranger whip up to motorway speeds far faster. The D-Max also has a very short first gear on manual models and the six-speed automatic is hesitant before it kicks down.
You’re allowed to drive all D-Max models except the Arctic Trucks at the same speed limits as every other car. That’s because they weigh less than the 2040kg threshold for dual-purpose and light commercial vehicles that requires you to drop your speed by 10mph on dual and single carriageways. It just takes you a while to get there...
The D-Max's ride is much more sophisticated than in pick-ups of years gone by, and far better than the previous-generation model. However, it still feels rather bouncy without a load in the bed, and sends shudders through the body when you hit something sharp. The Hilux has tighter control while a Ranger is an altogether more supple and comfortable vehicle.
The Ranger is also happier in the bends. Although it’s easy enough to guide the D-Max along, the Ranger’s more precise steering gives you greater confidence and is less affected by mid-corner bumps.
Engine refinement is never the strong suit of a pick-up, and the D-Max is no exception. Any demands for a bit more speed result in a cacophony of noise not helped by the engine’s lowly output. You’ll also hear plenty of wind whistle around the big mirrors and a fair amount of road noise, too. The Ranger and Ssangyong Musso engines are smoother and quieter.
Suspension noise is well contained, which helps explain why the D-Max feels right at home clambering over deeply rutted off-road terrain. In fact, it copes almost as well as the Hilux thanks to lots of suspension articulation to keep its wheels on the ground, plus a lockable rear differential (standard on DL20 models and above) to provide maximum traction in difficult situations.
If serious off-roading is your thing, you’ll want to take a look at the Isuzu Arctic Trucks AT35 variant. It's been developed to take on anything.
The interior layout, fit and finish
When you climb into the Isuzu D-Max, you find a well laid out interior with a decent driving position and lumbar support on the driver’s seat in all versions (manual for single and extended cabs, electric on double cab). Some might wish the steering wheel would come out further from the dashboard, though.
Visibility out of the front is good thanks to the lifted driving position, sizable door mirrors and relatively slim side pillars. Rear parking sensors are standard from DL20 models, while the DL40 gets them at both ends, along with a reversing camera.
A 7.0in infotainment system comes as standard on DL40 D-Max models, with an upgraded 9.0in version reserved for the top-spec V-Cross. It responds swiftly enough to your commands, but the graphics are not particularly attractive and it’s not as intuitive as the system you’ll find in the Ford Ranger.
Unlike a lot of pick-ups, the Isuzu D-Max has some soft-touch plastics on top of the dashboard, and there are painted trim highlights on higher-end versions around the gear lever, infotainment screen and door cards to visually lift things.
All the buttons and toggles have a very robust feel, although the central armrest is a bit flimsy. If you want the best quality, we’d point you towards the Ranger Wildtrack, while the Ssangyong Musso is impressive too.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
As you might expect in something as big as the Isuzu D-Max, there’s enough head, leg and shoulder room for even the burliest of builders with oversized tool belts to get comfortable.
Isuzu gives you four cup holders up front and two bottle holders in the doors, a cubby in front of the gear lever and a centre console bin under the armrest. There are also two covered nooks in the dashboard and a decent glove box, although the storage nook above the glove box is mostly taken up with the disc reader for the navigation system in DL40 and V-Cross models.
Three average-sized adults should be able to sit across the rear bench in relative comfort in the double cab version, even though the back is fairly upright and the floor is raised. The two outer perches are more sculpted and supportive compared with the rather flat bench in the Ford Ranger.
There are two more bottle holders in the rear doors and a couple of cup holders in the central armrest. The back of the passenger seat has a fold-out hook that’s rated for 4kg, making it the sturdiest 'curry hook' in the business.
If you want to secure a valuable bike or other expensive kit inside the D-Max, you can flip up the seat bases in a 60/40 split or fold down the seat back. Doing the latter uncovers the vehicle jack and tool kit.
It’s the boot – or, rather, bed – that’s of most importance to pick-up buyers, though. There are three different lengths, which decrease as cab size increases (as they do with the Ranger and the Toyota Hilux). All bed sizes can take a standard pallet lengthways between the wheel-arch intrusions.
There are four tie-down hoops in the bed, one for each corner, and double cab models have a damped tailgate for ease of opening. The rear bumper has steps you can stand on to reach over the sides to get at anything in the bed of the truck.
All versions are capable of carrying more than 1000kg in the bed, and towing 3500kg, although not at the same time. The only pick-up capable of doing both at once is the Ssangyong Musso.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Running your Isuzu D-Max as a company car will be very affordable because every version is above the magical 1000kg payload threshold that enables you to classify it as a commercial vehicle.
Anyone buying a D-Max pick-up out of their own pocket should find that most models undercut the equivalent Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger. The Ssangyong Musso offers more kit for less money, although you'll have to go for the high-end Saracen version to get much of the safety tech the D-Max has on mid-range models. There’s little difference in terms of fuel economy between the D-Max, Hilux and Ranger, but the Musso is slightly less efficient.
The entry-level Utility gets all the basics, with air-con, auto lights and wipers, cruise control and Bluetooth, but we’d suggest going for the DL40. It adds a rear differential lock (standard from DL20 upwards) so you can tackle more serious off-road obstacles, and also has brighter Bi-LED headlights, the touchscreen infotainment system, leather trim, electric seat adjustment and dual-zone climate control.
The D-Max is backed up by a five years or 125,000 miles Isuzu warranty, along with five years of roadside assistance. That's longer than you get with a Ranger and more mileage than a Hilux. The Musso beats them all with seven years or 150,000 miles.
The D-Max is the best of the bunch in terms of safety, with a full five stars from Euro NCAP. The Hilux also holds five stars, but was tested under the old regime and its safety software isn’t as comprehensive as the D-Max's.
Automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-keep assistance and traffic sign recognition are standard across the D-Max range, while double cab models offer blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. If you spring for an automatic D-Max, the standard cruise control is upgraded to an adaptive version that will keep you a set distance from the car in front.
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The D-Max didn’t feature in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey but it comes with a five-year/125,000-mile warranty and five years of roadside assistance. Read more here
Yes. Every variant has the ability to tow up to 3500kg braked trailer weight and 750kg unbraked. That matches the Ford Ranger and the Toyota Hilux. Read more here
Every version of the D-Max is capable of carrying more than 1000kg. For maximum carrying ability, you’ll want the DL20 Extended because it’ll take 1148kg, the most of any D-Max. Read more here
It should be. The Isuzu D-Max DL20 or higher comes with a rear differential lock, switchable all-wheel drive and hill-descent control. The Arctic Trucks AT35 version will be the best off-road, given that it’s lifted 50mm higher than the standard version and comes with huge knobbly tires. Read more here
Choosing an engine to go with your D-Max is easy because there’s only one, regardless of which version you go for. That engine is a 162bhp 1.9-litre turbocharged diesel engine which has plenty of low-down torque but quickly runs out of puff when you get going. Read more here