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The Isuzu D-Max pickup was first introduced into the UK in summer 2012 as a replacement for the previous Isuzu Rodeo pickup. It majors on tough capability and strong value, including a five-year, 125,000-mile warranty as standard – more cover than any other pickup.
It’s not the most refined vehicle to drive – even in pickup terms – but the D-Max is surprisingly manoeuvrable for such a big vehicle and offers impressive off-road credentials as well.
Major rivals include the Mitsubishi L200, Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger and Nissan Navara, though it’s unlikely to appeal to anyone considering the notably posher – and more expensive – VW Amarok.
The Parkers Vans pickup group test – every major model compared
From launch up until early 2017 the D-Max was powered by a 2.5-litre twin-turbo diesel engine, which produces 163hp and 400Nm of torque – a muscular but rather gruff motor, this excels at towing, as many in the agricultural sector can testify.
In April 2017 a new 1.9-litre turbodiesel engine was introduced as part of an overhaul for the entire D-Max range. This update brought a facelift and revised equipment levels in addition to the new motor, which with 164hp and 360Nm is quieter and more fuel efficient yet still able to tow up to a maximum of 3.5-tonnes, continuing to match the best in the pickup truck sector.
Both two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive versions are available, depending on trim level. An automatic gearbox is optional on some models.
The D-Max is available in three bodystyles – single cab, extended cab and double cab – and is divided into utility and premium trim levels.
The Utility models are designed as basic working trucks, with reduced creature comforts and agreeably low pricing – this is where you’ll find the single cab and rear-wheel drive only versions.
The premium models are split across a number of trim levels, aimed more at lifestyle buyers, and available mostly as double cabs, though you can get extended cab variants for added versatility in some cases.
Standard equipment is generous throughout, though often not quite so much as the Mitsubishi L200. Isuzu is fond of special editions, too, and these are worth considering for their added value.
A notable example of this is the limited edition Isuzu D-Max AT35, which was first introduced in 2016, and repeated after the facelift in 2017. Built in conjunction with off-road specialist Arctic Trucks, these feature enormous 37-inch tyres, wider bodywork and raised suspension.
The D-Max is a tough truck, ideal for heavy working operations – but the premium versions also polish-up well if you’re looking for a distinctive and capable lifestyle pickup, especially for towing duties.
It’s not as nice to drive as some rivals, but it has a charming honesty about it that allows it to function properly as a family vehicle as well as a working one.
Alternatively, for information about specific models we have the following individual road test reviews:
Isuzu D-Max 2.5TD Fury double cab 4x4 review – tested November 2015
Isuzu D-Max 2.5TD Blade double cab 4x4 review – tested November 2015
Isuzu D-Max 2.5TD AT35 double cab 4x4 review – tested July 2016
Isuzu D-Max 1.9D Blade double cab 4x4 review – tested April 2017
Isuzu D-Max 1.9D Utility double cab 4x4 review – tested May 2017
We've also had long-term test experience of the Isuzu D-Max Blade automatic - click here to find out how we got on.
The D-Max cabin is a plain place to be, but since it’s designed to cope with spending much of its time covered in mud that’s not necessarily a bad thing.It’s largely composed of tough plastic surfaces and the floor has an easy-to-clean vinyl covering on Utility models, carpet in more premium offerings. Utility versions aren’t luxurious in terms of kit but there is air-con, electric windows and a CD player. There is a bit more interior space than the old Rodeo, and the doors are longer so it’s easier to climb in and out. As for interior storage, there’s a decent sized cubby box between the seats but storage ahead of the gear lever is poor. You do get twin gloveboxes and some clever slide-out cupholders that double as storage drawers.Although there are two 12v sockets in the cabin, they don’t stay on when the ignition is switched off. Greater niggles include a steering column that doesn’t adjust and seats that are rather on the firm side - especially in the rear.
Higher-spec premium models are available with touchscreen infotainment systems, including sat-nav. But it wasn't until after the 2017 facelift that top-end versions became fully integrated; prior to this such duties were carried out by a fiddly aftermarket system with small buttons, still offered in lesser versions.
The facelift did also bring a moderate upgrade in material quality and cabin design - but the D-Max remains a thoroughly practical pickup, rather than a luxury item.
The Isuzu D-Max has always been a gutsy performer, the original 163hp 2.5-litre twin-turbo diesel making up for what it lacked in refinement with a chunky 400Nm of torque, available from just 1,400rpm – more than enough muscle to tow the 3.5 tonnes it’s legally allowed to.
This motor comes paired with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, while a five-speed automatic is optional.
In the manual ’box, first gear is very low, a little like a crawler gear for off-road work, while sixth is very tall to help make motorway driving quieter and more fuel-efficient.
As this suggests, the five-speed auto is therefore both less economical and noisier at speed – though you may feel this is worth the sacrifice given the notchy, long-winded shift-action of the manual.
Isuzu’s decision to downsize the D-Max to a 1.9-litre diesel engine was met with some concern by working operators used to the existing pickup’s torquey performance.
The announcement that the capacity drop also came with a reduction to 360Nm did nothing to reduce these concerns, no matter that it also produced 164hp.
But there was noreason to worry. The smaller engine is smooth and strong from low revs, and just as capable of towing the 3.5-tonne legal maximum, while also being quieter with it.
The new engine also arrived with new gearboxes: an easier to use six-speed manual as standard and an efficiency-improved six-speed automatic as an option.
Time will tell how the smaller engine fairs in tough working conditions.
Regardless of engine, both two-wheel drive (4x2) and four-wheel drive (4x4) versions of the D-Max are available.
In 4x4 models, a switch near the gearlever enables the driver to change from two- to four-wheel drive mode at speeds of up to 60mph. There’s also a low-range 4x4 mode for off-road use, but you should definitely stop before engaging that one.
Best practice is to use two-wheel drive on dry tarmac, as the four-wheel drive system is otherwise liable to ‘wind up’ and wear its gearing out much more quickly; driving only the rear-wheels on-road is far more fuel efficient, too.
Using all four wheels gives the D-Max plenty of off-road ability when required, however – something we discuss in more detail in an specific off-road test you can read by clicking here.
2017 Isuzu D-Max off-road review
Back on the road, the D-Max has a rather lurchy ride on its heavy-duty suspension but is otherwise relatively comfortable.
Sound proofing is better than the old Rodeo, but not on a par with the very best in the modern pickup class so the volume quickly ramps up if you’re in a hurry.
Body roll is well-contained, but you’ll never be in any doubt you’re driving a pickup. And while the steering is sharp enough to tackle most multi-story car parks without too much forward planning, faster corners are best taken at moderate speeds unless you really want to alarm your passengers.