Long Term Test: Isuzu D-max

Date: Monday, September 30, 2013   |   Author: James Dallas

James Dallas looks at the pros and cons of our long-term D-max as we bid farewell to our rugged pick-up.

After putting in a shift of more than six months on the What Van? fleet, our long-term D-max Yukon signed off with a trip to the Glastonbury Festival.

Its covered load bay provided protection from the elements and plenty of room for all the camping gear and supplies (most of which came in cans), and, obviously, the threat of rain churning up the ground on arrival perturbed the vehicle far less than the festival- goers inside the double cab.

Isuzu continues to beat the drum about how enthusiastically the market has embraced the D-max pick-up range. Fuelled by the March plate-change, the brand sold a record 1173 vehicles in the first quarter of 2013, according to the SMMT, and had moved on to 1740 by the end of May – a whopping 191% increase on the previous year when the Rodeo was on run-out, and well on the way to the full-year target of 3500 units.

William Brown, Isuzu‘s UK boss, reckons the D-max is now appealing to a wider range of buyers, building on the initial success of the vehicle after its mid-year launch in 2012. He says the figures are all the more impressive when you consider that a large proportion of sales are to retail buyers – which is what the brand terms owner/drivers – particularly farmers in its traditional agricultural stronghold.

“With a renewed focus on the fleet sector as we enter Q2, we are confident that Isuzu will continue to build a strong presence in the pick-up sector throughout the year,” says Brown.

So what did we make of our Yukon having lived with it for half a year? Well, its off-road capabilities were never in doubt. It coped with aplomb whenever we ventured onto track or field, which is why all those farmers love it so much, and they will have been further enamoured by the recent accredited increase in towing capacity to 3.5 tonnes. All-wheel drive mode is engaged via an easy-to-reach central dial.

On the road, the 163hp 2.5-litre diesel engine provides plenty of muscle (max torque is 400Nm at 1400rpm), especially on long motorway journeys where it bowls along contendedly in sixth gear while imparting the sense that there is lots of poke in reserve.

We spent a lot of time driving our Yukon in the city and found the gear changes from the unusually long stick could be hard work under the typically stop-start conditions while sharp corners demand a lot of arm work on the steering wheel. Excellent wing mirrors and a partial view through the tailgate helped all-round road awareness and made reversing in cluttered environments less hazardous. This was fortunate because the rear-view camera we had fitted (it costs £934 bundled in with the satnav) does not instil confidence. It has no reassuring audible alert to accompany the image, and the camera view itself is distorted and lacks precision. Objects appearing far away loom suddenly close and it takes practice to safely gauge distances. In the dark the camera is virtually useless as a parking aid, providing practically no rearward view at all.

Another bugbear was the Pioneer entertainment system. We had no complaints about the sound quality from the radio/CD, but the iPod connection did not function. Also, the buttons on the fascia are tiny, fiddly to use and compare badly with the factory systems installed in rivals such as the Ford Ranger, Nissan Navara or VW Amarok. Some drivers never did work out how to do something as simple as storing radio presets.

On the plus side, the satnav can be operated quickly and easily by touch-screen controls. We found the system to be reliable and accurate with clear visual and audible instructions. The cruise control – simply operated via steering wheel-mounted buttons – is also a welcome feature. The cabin itself is fairly spacious, offering sufficient legroom to rear-seat passengers.

The Yukon coped admirably with the long cold winter – there was never any fear of getting stuck in the snow that seems so long ago now – but the heater did take a long time to warm up the cab, and if you want heated seats you’ll have to upgrade to the flagship Utah trim level.

The D-max range is split into two groups, Utilitarian and Premium, with the Yukon sitting below the Utah in the latter category. It falls short of rivals in the luxury stakes, which is hardly surprising with a price tag (excluding VAT) of less than £20,000.

Overall, the Yukon’s workhorse credentials are more impressive than its refinement or drive, but the competitive pricing of the D-max line-up is likely to be the key to it continuing to conquest sales from more well-upholstered pick-up trucks.



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