The quietly achieving Isuzu D-Max
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THE ISUZU D-MAX HAS PATIENTLY PROVEN ITSELF A SERIOUS PLAYER IN THE BUOYANT KIWI UTE MARKET
If you're just a casual observer of the New Zealand ute market, you'd be forgiven for thinking there are only two brands in the Kiwi sales race: Toyota and Ford.
For the past couple of years these two manufacturers have been pitching their wellside wares (the Hilux and Ranger respectively) to the light commercial masses.
It's been a war of advertising words, accessories sales and fleet deals.
But away from the headline bunfight, there are plenty of other light commercial ute options. Mazda's BT-50 is an underrated beast. The Nissan Navara NP300 has been growing its sales ledger steadily after a quiet start. SsangYong has made huge inroads into the ute market with the Actyon, which has been priced very well.
And the newly updated Holden Colorado is packed with trick convenience tech and some serious towing power.
And speaking of General Motors Holden, former family member Isuzu is also quietly achieving good things in the Kiwi market with its D-Max.
Of all the brands of ute available to Kiwi light commercial buyers, the Isuzu D-Max is the only one manufactured by a specialist truck-maker. Where robustness and reliability is concerned, that surely counts for a lot.
Since Isuzu broke free of General Motors and reintroduced the brand as a standalone nameplate a handful of years ago, we've seen a couple of generations of the company's D-Max line-up on sale here.
The ute has had a bit of an exterior make-over of late as the brand becomes ever more visible.
There is a lengthy selection of body styles available in both 2WD and 4WD formats, spread across LX and LS grades in single cab chassis, space cab and crew cab configurations and with a mix of five-speed manual and five-speed automatic gearboxes.
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$98.01 p/w $392.05 p/m
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The top LS T model gets GPS, reversing camera, roof rails and leather upholstery among other tidbits as standard. But the LS grade ute I sampled still gets plenty of kit; 17" alloys, climate control air conditioning with a pollen and fine particle air filter, a multi-function steering wheel and cruise control.
The Isuzu D-Max LS also features Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, accessible through a simple-to-use 8-inch touchscreen.
Actually the audio set-up is worth noting as it features a unique SkySound speaker system, which is pretty cool. The system uses roof-mounted speakers to effectively amplify sound around the cabin. It's like the entire roof panel is one big speaker; add to this 6x9-inch speakers in each of the front doors and, whether it's talkback or Tchaikovsky, the sound is much deeper and lusher than you'd expect any regular ute's audio system ought to be.
Plenty of storage cubbies, drinks holders and power outlets complete the picture inside.
The rear bench will prove comfortable enough for kids and co-workers alike.
As you'd expect from Isuzu, the D-Max walks the talk off-road, with Terrain Command technology ensuring smooth transitions between two- and four-wheel traction. Thanks to the simple switch system, swapping into 4H can occur at any speed up to 100km/h.
Full traction control and stability control software is also standard on all models.
My Double Cab LS test ute also featured six airbags, including dual front, side and curtain airbags for passengers in the rear.
Harking back to that truck-builder rep, the solidness of the D-Max's build quality is apparent from the outset. The link back to the parent company's big truck division is most apparent in the D-Max's chassis set-up, which is made up of full-length heavy duty truck-style architecture, with seven cross members keeping everything nice and solid.
Dimensionally the D-Max is on par with its segment rivals, and with a body style-dependent load capacity of 1010kg and braked tow rating (for the automatic version) of 3000kg, this ute is as usable as you'd expect. With a tray load area of 1552mm in length and 1530mm across (or 1150mm between the wheel arches), the cargo-carrying ability of the D-Max is similarly competitive.
While the heavy-hitter brands fight it out for segment superiority at the top of what is undeniably a buoyant market (at time of writing, the Ford Ranger is the best-selling new vehicle in New Zealand right now, bar none), the Isuzu D-Max just sort of gets on with it.
It's a solid, well-built ute that ticks a multitude of boxes in terms of capability and kit, at reasonable prices.
Add to this a good warranty package and a model range that offers something for all, and for my money, the D-Max is probably New Zealand's best ute you haven't yet considered.
ISUZU D-MAX LS 4X4 DOUBLE CAB
Engine: 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel (130kW, 380Nm)