The upper end of the leisure bakkie market is jam-packed with manufacturer offerings all trying to be more ‘car-like’ in the approach to cab design, while throwing volumes of tech at the vehicles in order to eke out a sales lead.
Isuzu has trailed in terms of pace but on a visit to the factory in Japan some years ago, I was told by an engineer: “Isuzu paces within itself and will not be hurried by others”.
There is an element of profundity in that statement that makes even more sense considering Isuzu is a diesel-only manufacturer with no car range on which to draw when it comes to add-on tech equipment where volume makes a significant difference to pricing structures.
So, rather than an overload, Isuzu edges to giving its vehicles everything they actually need and not just what fashion trends dictate.
With Isuzu in South African having taken over the old General Motors’ manufacturing plant in Port Elizabeth, the profile of the company and its vehicles changed in 2018 when the KB designator was dropped and replaced by the international D-Max naming standard.
It also saw the first introduction of an automatic transmission where rivals Ford, Toyota and Nissan had long since made this move.
Still, Isuzu offers a range of more than 30 individual models for the local market as well as 13 for Sub-Saharan Africa.
The flagship of the range is the D-Max 300 Double Cab 4×4 LX automatic priced at R653 400 – somewhat more than close rivals on specification, the Nissan Navara 2.3D SE, Toyota Hilux 2,8 GD-6 Legend 50 and Mitsubishi Triton 2,4 DI-D – with all of those having smaller capacity engines.
The double cab, Isuzu, South Africa … the three have been synonymous in the local automotive landscape since the early 1990s when the Isuzu initiated and popularised this segment as well as introducing rack and pinion steering and independent front suspension to this class.
The chrome grille is a ready identifier of the LX models that come with a sophisticated lighting system with LED daytime running lamps and LED functionality on both high and low beam settings. All LX models irrespective of body shape boast LED rear lamp clusters.
Passive safety is enhanced on all LX derivatives through the inclusion of side crash bags mounted in the front seats, along with curtain bags for improved side impact protection.
The touchscreen-based audio system boasts additional functionality and acts as the display for the rear-view camera. There are eight speakers to pipe music all around the cabin and there is a rear USB port with a 2 Amp output for rapid charging of phones and mobile devices.
Customers can also opt for the optional Alpine high-end audio system that includes a larger nine-inch touchscreen display with embedded navigation, over and above the integrated Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality shared with the standard head unit.
Automatic climate control keeps the cabin at the desired temperature, while the 4×4 models boast full leather trim, along with six-way powered adjustment for the driver and front passenger seats.
The 4×4 models, unsurprisingly, have a tow bar fitted as standard. This heavy-duty item is capable of pulling a braked trailer weighing up to 3,5 tonnes.
The revised look of the D-Max gives it street cred without pandering to fashion trends that will quickly date, while the interior is neatly presented with all buttons, switches etc positioned for easy reach and simple to operate.
Taking inspiration from Steppenwolf, it is a matter of “Get your motor runnin’, Head out on the highway, Lookin’ for adventure, And whatever comes our way, Yeah Darlin’ go make it happen. . . “.
The vehicle boasts a turbo-charged 2 999 cc diesel engine that generates 130 kW of power at 3 600 r/min and peak torque of 380 Nm from 1 800 r/min for an overall average fuel consumption of 7,5 l/100 km and CO2 emissions of 206 g/km – this latter figure a bit higher than the Nissan and Toyota but lower than the Mitsubishi.
It also has less power and torque than the other vehicles mentioned and, while that may energise a bar discussion, the reality comes down to more about how it uses that combination as opposed to it just being a figure on paper.
I have to admit the petrolhead in me threw the word ‘lacking’ into the thought process until I actually started to get some kilometres under the belt in urban, rural and highway conditions on a road trip through the Eastern Cape.
No question, it does lose out a little such as, maybe dropping an extra cog on a long uphill compared to the others, it may be a tad slower in getting on the pace but, the power, and torque combination makes for an impressive and well-rounded work/leisure vehicle that relies purely on ability and no ‘flash’.
On the highway, it sits comfortable on the road and lopes along just eating up the kilometres – the front seats nicely proportioned for long-haul comfort and the sound system, well, music to one’s ears. On rural roads it maximises the 255/60 R18 tyres and the front coil over shock suspension and overslung rear leaf suspension to iron out ripples and bumps.
Off-road mode is engaged via a rotary knob in the centre dash and moving up through 4H to 4L really brings the vehicle into its own where it inherent stability gives confidence to the tackling of obstacles – having an approach angle of 30 degrees, breakover angle of 22,4 degrees and departure angle of 22,7 degrees. Wading depth is 600 mm.
No flashing lights and no ‘smoke-and-mirrors’ – the Isuzu has a comforting dependability written into its DNA and it comes with Isuzu Complete Care incorporating a 5-year/120 000 km warranty and roadside assistance, as well as a five-year unlimited distance anti-corrosion warranty.
In addition, a 5-year/90 000 km service plan is included in the purchase price, with service intervals scheduled every 15 000 km or annually, whichever comes first.