Introducing the Isuzu D-Max ute. Look familiar? It should, you’re essentially looking at a Holden Rodeo from a few years ago.
You see, the Holden Rodeo was always built – in Thailand, like the majority of light commercial utes – under license to the Japanese Isuzu brand. Long story short, there was a bit of a bust up between GM Holden and Isuzu a few years back, which is why Holden no longer uses the Rodeo nameplate, opting instead for the current Colorado badge.
But essentially Holden’s very popular beasty and this are still the same thing. Now, this is where it gets a little confusing. The most notable difference being is that the Isuzu D-Max ute retains the old Rodeo styling circa 2005. No dramas, I always thought it was a pretty contemporary design, so even years on, this first of Isuzu’s new wave of vehicles since re-launching here this year is still pretty attractive.
That’s not to say it’s shy about doing the hard yards as a tow vehicle for the boat, caravan or fifth wheeler. The entry level two-wheel drive variations can still lug a hefty 2500kg; our top spec 4WD double cab competes with all the usual suspects by offering a three-tonne tow capacity. Testament to the D-Max’s durability, Isuzu New Zealand is touring a Thailand farmer’s 2004 model around the country, a vehicle that was grossly overloaded every day of it’s life, carting three to four tonnes of payload over its tray and driving 400km to market before coming back and repeating the journey the next day. Despite the abuse the D-max racked up 1.4 million miles and is still going strong.
Key to the D-Max’s renowned ability is a heavy duty ladder chassis, reinforced with eight high strength cross members to proportion load with less stress on the vehicle.
Underneath the bonnet lies the same reliable and potent 3.0-litre diesel engine that you’ll find in a Holden Colorado. It develops 120kW of power and 360Nm of torque if you opt for the five-speed transmission. To improve the life of those with an automatic transmission, torque is reduced slightly to 333Nm, but you’ll hardly notice the difference.
Let’s be honest, utes are pretty blunt instruments on the road and this remains a little uncivilised, the limited slip differential will be a benefit on soft or slick grounds, but day-to-day it does grace the D-Max with oversteer tendencies that can have the tail out unexpectedly if you have a bit of a lead foot. Once the weight of a trailer comes on though, you’ll have class-leading traction, which adds stability at speed. There’s also an excellent electronically-controlled 4WD systems that can switch between 2WD, 4WD and low ratio gearing at the push of a button.
Retail pricing isn’t where I think it should be. Our top spec tester starts at $54,990 for the manual, $57,990 for the two-pedalled option – sure, for that money you get the strong tow capacity and offroad ability, one of the more comfortable ute interiors around, MP3 compatible audio, fog lights, a 120 watt 12 v adapter – for additional coolers, etc – in the dash, a leather-bound steering wheel, cruise control and dual front airbags.
Disappointingly, and I criticise the Colorado similarly for this, you won’t receive side airbags to help protect you in a side impact – these are now increasingly available in D-Max’s competitors like the BT-50, Ford Ranger and Mitsubishi Triton.
And based purely on sticker price, Isuzu is asking several thousand more than Holden is for the Colorado. It would be nice if the brand could undercut more established brands in the market; still there is a reassurance here as actual transaction pricing is evidently lineball with Holden. Don’t be afraid to haggle with the dealer.
Speaking of which, there’s no concerns about after-sales support, Isuzu utes will basically piggy back off Hyundai New Zealand’s current dealer operations. So there are plenty of sales/service agents throughout the country.
See the Isuzu D-Max ute for sale.