Isuzu D-Max makes a big move upmarket: watch out Ranger Wildtrak?
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Isuzu New Zealand hasn’t forgotten its working-truck roots, but with the all-new D-Max it’s also looking upward towards the big-money “lifestyle” ute market more than ever before.
The days of D-Max being the simple, inexpensive one-tonne alternative are gone. In the third-generation range only one model gives you change from $50k (the base-spec LX 2WD double cab), the volume-selling LS has risen by $9000 and the lineup is topped by a new flagship called X-Terrain, which goes head-to-head with the Ford Ranger Wildtrak – obvious from its “sail plane” wellside garnish (above) and roller cover for the deck. It costs a heady $75,490.
The move upmarket has come directly from the factory, which has gone to town on active and passive safety equipment in an attempt to establish D-Max as a technology benchmark in the segment – and that costs.
So while the entry-level LX might have steel wheels and vinyl lining on the cabin floor, it also comes as standard with eight airbags (including a segment-first “far side” restraint to separate driver and front passenger in a side collision), stop/go adaptive cruise on the automatic, blind spot detection, lane departure warning/assist, forward collision avoidance, drive attention warning, automatic high-beam lights, rain-sensing wipers and a reversing camera.
The D-Max is one of only two utes that’s been tested under the very latest ANCAP protocols; the other is the sister Mazda BT-50. The Isuzu just beat the Mazda on the Vulnerable Road User score (69 per cent versus 67), so it’s officially the safest one-tonne ute on the market right now.
All that considered, Isuzu NZ general manager Sam Waller is betting on buyers being happy with the sums: “Yes, there’s been a significant price increase. But when you look at all the added specification, that justifies it.”
Isuzu NZ says the class-leading safety of the lower-end models will attract fleet buyers, but will Kiwis really accept a showy $75k D-Max?
“There have been a number of pre-sales [around 100], which has been encouraging,” says Waller. “Around 50 per cent of those are X-Terrain, so people are definitely looking at the upper end initially. But we’ll watch that over the coming months.
“We’ll continue with the key messaging around rural NZ, but of course the new ute will have far greater appeal to metro buyers.”
D-Max is still tough: a rear differential lock is now standard across the 4WD range and wading depth has increased 200mm to a deeply (literally) impressive 800mm. For high-mileage users, Isuzu says maintenance costs have reduced by 20 per cent over the previous model.
There's no shortage of choice in the new range: by the time you mix and match body configurations with powertrain options (a revamped 140kW/450Nm 3.0l turbo diesel, manual or automatic, 2WD or 4WD), there are 105 individual variants.
But the short version is single, space or double cab, with four specification levels.
The LX (above, in blue) and LS-M remain the working trucks: heavy duty suspension and basic interior. The LS-M ($61,990-$63,990) simply adds a few more features and styling enhancements, including alloy wheels in place of the LX steels.
That LS-M designation is a little confusing, because the next model up – traditionally the volume seller – is called simply LS (above, centre in white). It has more chrome, higher-quality interior trim and more luxury equipment (carpet!), including an upsized 9in touch screen for the infotainment system.
The X-Terrain (above, right in grey) is whole new territory for Isuzu: a luxury “lifestyle” ute to rival the Ford Ranger Wildtrak or Toyota Hilux SR5 Cruiser, with the price to match.
It certainly looks the part and apart from the exterior warpaint, it boasts leather upholstery, “Dark Gunmetal” exterior detailing, roof rails and a tray liner.
The D-Max’s market share has been declining since its 2017 heyday, when it was sixth on the charts. Despite – or perhaps because of – the major increase in specification and price, the third-gen model is the way back, says Isuzu NZ.
A substantially increased nationwide dealer network will also help, with 34 full outlets and another 14 service centres. A dozen of the new dealers are ex-Holden – so they should know a thing or two about selling utes. Waller argues that utlimately D-Max could be a top-three sale contender, right up there with Ranger and Hilux.
We've just been driving the new D-Max range on and off-road in Canterbury. Watch this space for the full story.