The Magazine for LCV Fleet Operators
As competitors pull out of the sector, Isuzu looks set to increase its pick-up share, says Dan Gilkes Market Opportunity: Isuzu D-Max

While other manufacturers have walked away the pick-up sector recently, at least for the time being, Isuzu has been working hard to broaden its appeal, particularly in the high-specification segment. The company is certainly not forgetting its strong customer base of working truck users, but models like this range-topping V-Cross are squarely aimed at the dual-use and leisure markets, as much as fleet users.

The truck certainly looks new, with a 30mm higher bonnet line and shorter overhangs. With this V-Cross model you also get a gunmetal grey grille and side steps, bi-LED headlights and those black 18” alloys.

Powertrain

It may be a case of revolution when you look at the exterior or the cab interior, but under the bonnet things have taken a more evolutionary path. Isuzu’s proven 1.9-litre diesel engine now meets Euro 6D emission standards, but pumps out the same 164hp and 360Nm of torque as before.

That’s enough for decent performance on or off the road and the engine is relatively smooth and quiet most of the time. Things can get a little bit noisier and harsher when you ask for maximum acceleration though.

The six-speed manual gearbox on lesser trim level models is unchanged, but this top specification six-speed automatic has been upgraded. Isuzu claims improved response and a 25% faster gearchange time, which should keep the engine thrumming along in its most efficient power band.

You can slip the lever to the right and make manual gear changes if desired, when slowing for a roundabout for instance, but the auto does a good job of being in the gear that you need most of the time.

Mid and high-range trucks also now come with a rear differential lock as standard, improving off-road performance, while all models benefit from bigger brakes. The launch of this generation D-Max was held in a quarry in Dorset and I can confirm that the D-Max will do things off-road that very few customer will ever attempt.

Load carrying capacity 

Both the cab and the load bed have been stretched slightly, to provide more room in the cab and increased carrying capacity in the rear. This is partly due to a 30mm longer wheelbase, though overall the truck is in fact slightly shorter.

The V-Cross model is only offered as a double-cab, though lower trim Utility level trucks can be had with single and extended cabs too. Even in this top specification, the D-Max can haul up to 1,070kg in the back, so it is possible to recover VAT for those companies that are registered. D-Max models can all pull a 3.5-tonne trailer.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that all of the D-Max models have an unladen weight of less than 2,040kg, which means that they can be driven at car speeds on major A-roads and dual carriageways.

In the cab

If the exterior looks new, the interior is even more of a departure from the previous model. This top of the range V-Cross gets all of the toys thrown at it. All, that is, except satellite navigation.

You do get a 9” colour touchscreen, with Bluetooth and DAB, but you have to hook up a smartphone, through the standard Apple and Android connectivity, if you want to use a map.

The V-Cross comes with heated leather upholstery, with an eight-way electric adjustable seat for the driver. You get dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.

This latest D-Max has adopted electric power assisted steering, which makes it possible to add a host of driver assistance and safety systems. Unlike some competitors, Isuzu has not felt the need to leave these ADAS systems on the options list. 

Standard equipment includes Forward Collision Warning, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Traffic Sign Recognition, Lane Departure Warning and Prevention, Blind Spot Monitor, Emergency Lane Keeping and Rear Cross Traffic Alert on every model. Trucks with the automatic transmission also come with Adaptive Cruise Control.

On the road

The latest D-Max offers a comfortable working environment, particularly in V-Cross trim. That new steering system provides reasonable feedback and it’s easy to place the truck on the road, as it remains one of the most compact in feel.

The revised automatic transmission is exceptionally smooth when changing gears and it keeps the 1.9-litre engine working in its most efficient rev range. 

As mentioned, there are a host of new systems in the cab, some of which are more intrusive than others, with various beeps and flashing lights warning of lane markings and speed signs. Despite the high trim level, you can feel that this is still a working truck at heart, one that you would be happy to tackle a muddy track or a construction site in without fear of dirtying its tyres.

Conclusion

Isuzu has high hopes for its Adventure range of trucks, currently made up of just the V-Cross model and we can expect additional high-trim trucks, like a new XTR or an AT35, in the near future.

Traditionally only 20% of Isuzu’s sales have been at this top end of the market, 50% were the hard-working Utility trim models and 30% mid-range fleet pick-ups. However, the market is changing, with some manufacturers leaving the sector completely.

Isuzu is hoping that the Adventure line will make up 30% of sales going forwards and the V-Cross model is leading that charge. In many ways it looks set to succeed, as it certainly lifts the D-Max line to a new level. We particularly applaud the inclusion of so many safety and assistance systems, which contribute to the truck’s Euro NCAP five-star rating.

However, there is a group of customers that have become used to even higher specifications, accompanied by higher performance engines. While the 1.9-litre diesel can certainly hold its own in the middle of the market, it would need more than 200hp to really compete with those other top-line models.

VanUser rating: 4.5

For another Road Test, read our review of Iveco’s Daily 4×4.