All-new D-MAX lifts Isuzu’s game

Despite ongoing delays in the introduction of its seventh generation, Isuzu’s D-MAX managed to continue its sales success, regularly slotting in at a strong and consistent third place in the local bakkie sales race. Will the introduction of the all-new D-MAX – already receiving international acclaim by scooping Australia’s Best Dual Cab Ute of 2021 as well as the 2021 Drive Car of the Year titles – cause a shake-up on the sales podium? Anton Willemse Snr drove the new bakkie, proudly build in South Africa following a R1.2-billioninvestment by the Japanese brand.

The story of Isuzu in South Africa started in the early 1970’s with the launch of the Chevrolet Light Utility Vehicle (LUV). Imported from Japan, this was essentially Isuzu’s first vehicle offering and due to the brand’s instant success – especially within the local farming community – local production started in 1972 at the Kempston Road plant in the then Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha). By 1973 Isuzu Trucks was introduced to the South African market.

The first KB, which is unique to the South African market, was released in 1979.Essentially, this was a facelifted LUV, but for the first time it was branded Isuzu. By the following year we saw the introduction of the KB40, the first petrol and diesel driven four-wheel drive Isuzu bakkie from Japan. By the 1980’sIsuzu was leading the global industry in the field of direct-injection diesel engines for light trucks with the introduction of products that featured both high outputs and low fuel consumption. To date, Isuzu has built over 83 million diesel engines and their bakkies are available in over a hundred countries worldwide.

Although the new D-MAX – the seventh generation of the Isuzu bakkie – was already launched in 2019 in Thailand, the top brass at Isuzu’s Gqeberha operations decided to hold off the local introduction to fine-tune the new model for Africa’s unique conditions and challenges. This initial delay was further extended due to a multitude of unexpected hurdles linked to the global pandemic.

Bold new age

Isuzu launched the new Isuzu D-MAX with a whopping 24 new models spread across three body shapes, consisting of six single cab, six extended cab and 12 double cab derivatives. There are nine 4×4 models to choose from, all equipped with a diff lock and offering various driving modes to cope with an array of road conditions. With the new generation, two new powertrains have been introduced: a 1.9-litre turbo diesel option, alongside a fully upgraded 3.0-litre turbodiesel. Apart from an unchanged bore and stroke, it is effectively a brand-new engine with a new cylinder block, new pistons, new cylinder head and new fuel injection system.

But first, let’s talk about the look of the new Isuzu. We cannot argue with the brand’s launch positioning – it certainly is BOLD. The first thing you notice is the newly designed grille that creates the impression of a monster gape with double fangs that is ready to swallow up the air as it speeds along. Completing the picture are the redesigned headlights with their “dragon eye” motif, giving the new D-MAX a very aggressive look. The bonnet was raised by 15mm and the roof was lowered by 10mm, creating a very sporty side profile. The lines are sleek and clean and although the front windows are 20mm smaller, it is barely noticeable.

Isuzu has extended the wheelbase by 20mm and also increased the height of the load bin by 30mm. By extending the wheelbase,10mm have been added to the front doors and 20mm to the rear doors, giving ample space in the rear and making it easier to get in and out of the back of the cabin.

Inside the range-topping V-Cross cabin, the improvements are obvious. The new dash is clean and ergonomic, with everything in reach of the driver and easy to use. There are plenty of cup holders and ample storage space, but unfortunately there are only two USB ports available and no USB-C ports. On the 9-inch infotainment system, you have Apple Carplay and Android Auto(both wired and wireless).

The inclusion of class-leading safety features really impressed. Isuzu added their Intelligent Driver Assistance System (IDAS), which was designed to make your life easier and your journey safer. The key to IDAS is a stereo camera system that sits high on the windscreen and monitors and detects obstacle sin the front of the D-MAX, along with an array of state-of-the-art sensors along the side. Features like forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking make highway driving a breeze, with the system sensing what the traffic ahead is doing and applying the brakes when you get too close to the vehicle in front of you. I love the adaptive cruise control, now available on some of the models, which uses the stereo camera to detect the speed of the vehicle in front of you and automatically adjusts your speed to keep a safe distance. Another great IDAS feature is the inclusion of lane keep assist – if the cameras detect you veering out of your lane the vehicle will direct itself back into a centre lane position, making it ideal to hit the long roads.

The Drive

Driving the new D-MAX was a pleasure and we were able to test both engine models during the media launch from Gqeberha to Knysna via the scenic Prince Alfred’s Pass. The 1.9-litre Ddi really impressed and although it only provides 110kW and350Nm of peak torque, I never felt that it was lacking in power and the 9 litres/100km on the open road certainly makes it an attractive choice. From the 3.0-litre Ddi you get a respectable140kW at 3600rpm and ample torque, peaking at 450Nmbetween 1600 and 3600rpm. This motor was able to deliver decent fuel consumption on the open road and on gravel and we averaged about 9.5-litres/100km.

When it comes to driving comfort, there is a definite difference between the V-Cross and some of the lower-specced models. The 1.9-litre Ddi Double Cab HR L was definitely bumpier and harder on the road than the range-topping V-Cross 4×4 we drove. The road-holding of the V-Cross on a fairly wet and bumpy gravel pass was superb and it managed the corrugation and uneven surface brilliantly. The headlights could be a bit stronger, and the high beams were not as effective as I would like to have in a vehicle that I would want to drive at night on our roads here in South Africa.

So where does the new D-MAX fit into the South African bakkie market? The previous generation D-MAX was pretty outdated compared to some of the other brands. And although the new D-MAX now features ample safety systems and improved road handling, the fact remains that these upgrades were made almost two years after some of the other models in this market. This is definitely a big jump from the previous generation D-MAX, but with some of its competitors getting new generations within the next two years one could expect that the D-MAX will soon feel outdated. However, with Isuzu you do have six generations of reliability and class-leading diesel engine development and you can be assured that this engine will not let you down.

For me, the new D-MAX is one of the most attractive on the market today and the design will certainly age well. I enjoyed the time I spent behind the wheel and I would love to take it on the long road. And the fact that Isuzu actually offers you the V-Cross with real All-Terrain tyres in the General Grabber AT3’sis a welcome addition and something other manufacturers should consider! I believe this bakkie will serve drivers well in the urban jungle, on the highway and en route to those remote destination, where it will eat whatever you throw at it for breakfast!

What you need to know about the new D-MAX

The range

The Isuzu D-MAX range reflects the modern requirements of the LCV market. It features five single cab derivatives, all fitted with the 1.9-litreDdi engine, and available in Standard and L specification levels. Two of these are available with the six-speed automatic transmission and there are two 4×4 models. There is also a Chassis Cab derivative for commercial customers aiming to outfit the vehicle according to their specific business requirements.

The extended cab is available in six derivatives in standard and LS spec, matched to the 1.9 Ddi engine. The LSE models are paired with the 3.0-litre Ddi engine and automatic transmission, in 4×2 or 4×4.

With 11 models in the line-up, the double cab offering is extensive. Covering all specification grades, five of these make use of the 1.9-litre engine in L and LS models, and a choice of manual or auto, and two or four-wheel drive. Customers opting for the 3.0-litre Ddi engine can select LS, LSE or V-Cross specification. A single manual derivative is available in the LS model, with the rest equipped with the six-speed automatic and either 4×2 or 4×4 drivetrains.

Specification levels

Ensuring that there is a D-MAX model to cater to virtually every need and application, there are five specification levels, ranging from entry-level standard to upmarket V-Cross. Even in standard guise, the list of features is comprehensive and includes items such as an AM/FM radio with an integrated CD player and Bluetooth, manual air-conditioning, an immobiliser and tilt and telescopic adjustment for the steering wheel as well as follow me home headlamps. Safety features such as airbags for the driver and front passenger and anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and brake assist round off the package.

The next step up is the L specification level, gaining an anti-theft alarm, power windows and satellite audio controls on the steering wheel, to name but a few. Safety is further enhanced with the addition of ISOFIX child seat anchors in the Double Cab models. The list of features on LS models includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a 7-inch screen for the infotainment system which offers Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, six speakers, USB ports in the front and rear, cruise control, seven airbags, halogen daytime running lights, a rear-view camera and black side steps.

In LSE models the size of the alloy wheels is increased to18 inches, with a standard tyre pressure monitoring system. The infotainment system has a 9-inch screen and eight speakers, while a passive entry start system (PESS) is also added. Additional features include, among others, LED head and tail lamps, dual-zone automatic air-conditioning, front and rear park assist, a tow bar, roof rails and an attractive chrome tubular sports bar.

The jewel in the D-MAX crown is the V-Cross specification level. Key features include leather seats with eight-way power adjustment, Isuzu’s Intelligent Driver Assist System (IDAS) with latest-generation active driving safety features, eight airbags and automatic high beam activation. It is also differentiated from the rest of the range with gun metallic finishes for the grille, fender flares, door handles, mirror caps, roof rails and the distinctive hooped sports bar.

Aftersales support

Every new D-MAX comes standard with Isuzu Complete Care, which embodies the brand’s unwavering commitment to aftersales service and customer satisfaction. All newmodels are sold with a comprehensive 5-year/120 000kmwarranty and roadside assistance, as well as a 5-year/unlimited distance anti-corrosion warranty. In addition, a5-year/90 000km service plan is included in the purchase price, with service intervals scheduled at every 15 000kmor annually, whichever comes first.

Through Isuzu Mobility, customers have the option of extending the standard service plan up to a maximum of six years or 200 000km. Alternatively, the service plan can be upgraded to a full maintenance plan that covers the vehicle for planned and unplanned maintenance up to six years or 200 000km.

*The new D-MAX range is priced from R401 700 (for the 1.9-litre Single Cab HR) to the range-topping 3.0-litre Double Cab V-Cross 4×4 at R814 700.

The other players

South Africans just love their bakkies and the Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) segment is the most popular in the local automotive landscape, with over 10 000 new bakkies sold monthly. We look at some of the top performers in terms of sales.

Toyota Hilux

The Toyota Hilux is not only the most popular vehicle in this segment, it is the most popular vehicle in South Africa. The current GD-6 received a facelift in 2020, keeping it fresh and up to date. The facelift didn’t only update the looks – power was amped up, giving the already formidable GD-6 2.8-litre turbodiesel 150kW of power and 500Nmof torque. Alternatively, the 2.4-litreGD-6 is good for 110kW and peak torque of 400Nm. The current generation might be getting on in age, but remains the firm favourite. Pricing for the double cabs starts at R551 100 for the lower-spec2.4-litre RB Raider and goes up to R917 900 for the top spec Legend RS variant. This year, we can look forward to the Hilux GR Sport model, set to be introduced in the next few months.

Ford Ranger

The Ford Ranger has been the biggest challenger to the Hilux for quite a while. The current-shape Ranger is adynamic and modern bakkie, with a brand-new model set to hit the market before the end of 2022. The current range is being kept alive with a line-up of special editions and multiple options regarding power units, with the most popular being the 2.0-litre bi-turbo(157kW/500Nm) and single turbo, developing 132kW power and430Nm peak torque. The Ford double cab range is priced fromR404 700 for the most basic offering, topping out at R857 200for the fully decked-out Ranger Stormtrak. Of course, there is also the formidable Ranger Raptor SE, which is priced fromR979 650.

Mahindra Pik Up

Assembled in Durban, the Mahindra has consistently clambered up the sales ladder to become a regular feature amongst the top 5. Affordable and reliable, the Mahindra Pik Up –with a six-speed automatic transmission delivering 103kW and 320Nm of peak torque – offers a basic, but durable double cab option priced from as low as R349 999.The Dusk Special Edition, priced at R570 999, offers attractive added features such as an enhanced suspension, 16-inch alloys and an off-road front and back steel bumper.

GWM P Series

The GWM Steed has been a popular option for the commercial and agricultural sectors, but with the introduction of the P-Series the Chinese brand entered the realm of high-end luxury bakkies for the leisure market. The well-specced and well-styled P-Series is available with a 2.0-litre turbodiesel motor offering 120kW and a peak torque output of 400Nm. The most appealing part of the P-Series is its competitive pricing, starting at R397 900 to a modestR584 900 for the top of the range model.

*While not hitting the top sales notes, the all-new Nissan Navara remains an attractive package offering ample spec and power with a decently priced top-end Pro 4X (R740 000);as do the Volkswagen Amarok and Mitsubishi Triton. The new Mazda BT-50, revealed last year and sharing a platform with the Isuzu D-MAX, was not received particularly well, but itis said that suspension issues should be resolved in due course which should bring it back into the fold as an attractive option.

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