New car review: Isuzu D Max SX Space Cab Chassis 4WD

Workhorse Isuzu ute now with more grunt and extra safety features.

Even in this tool-of-trade, entry-level SX grade, Isuzu’s new and substantially improved D-Max can teach many of its ute rivals a thing or two about safety. 

All 20 models in the new D-Max range are packed with a suite of class-leading advanced safety and driver assistance tech. 

This has enabled the entire range to achieve a five-star ANCAP safety rating, and to the latest and most stringent 2020 test regime. 

Aside from being the right thing to do in terms of road safety, embracing the latest ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) is also an astute marketing move from Isuzu, particularly given the increasing focus on workplace health and safety. 

Rivals, including Toyota and Mazda, have quickly followed suit.

Among the cohort of standard safety features, tick off AEB with turn assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, and no less than eight airbags, including a segment first centre front airbag, designed to prevent front seat occupants from crashing into each other during a side impact. 

Unsurprisingly, prices have risen over the now retired model. 

In the case of this SX 4WD space-cab-chassis with six-speed manual gear box, buyers must now find an extra $2700 to park it in their garage, bringing its price to $43,700, plus an extra $2400 for the heavy-duty alloy tray. 

A slightly more economical standard alloy tray is also available for $2275 with minimal differences between the two. 

Isuzu D Max SX Space Cab Chassis 4WD.

Both feature “tool-less” removal of the drop sides and tailgate, plus a headboard against which loads can be secured behind the cab.

The heavy-duty version has a round-tubed headboard (in lieu of the standard square headboard), welded mesh headboard protector and tail-light protectors. 

Tray length on single cab chassis is a useful 2400mm, or 2100mm on space cab chassis and 1,800mm on crew or dual cab chassis.

Isuzu’s new ute shares its DNA with the new and near identical Mazda BT-50.

However, Mazda’s entry-level XT space cab chassis (Freestyle Cab in Mazda speak) 4WD ute lists at the higher price of $45,050, plus a tray.

The extra spend for the Mazda is justified by the inclusion of 17-inch alloy wheels and LED headlamps in lieu of the D-Max’s 17-inch steel wheels and halogen headlamps. 

The Mazda also gets carpet floor trims instead of the Isuzu’s more practical vinyl matting.

The new D-Max cabin has a more contemporary and higher-quality look and feel than the old truck but there’s still plenty of hard plastic trim and barely any soft-touch materials in sight.

The steering wheel and shift lever knob are urethane-trimmed and the seats cloth-covered, meaning the SX is as determinedly blue-collar as the hi-viz shirts and steel-cap boots of its target audience.  

Isuzu D Max SX Space Cab Chassis 4WD.

The space cab’s rear seats have also been removed in this latest model, making it a two-seater only, with the extra space turned over to storage. 

There are also two handy oddment stowage holes in the floor panel. 

Isuzu has clearly built the cab chassis and space cab 4x2 models for work and not play, equipping them with heavy-duty rear suspension as standard.

While that suits them when carrying beefy loads, it translates into an unladen ride that’s harsher over rougher surfaces than other models in the range. 

The new electric power steering is well weighted both around town and out on the open road, though, and the steering column is now adjustable for both tilt and reach, making it easier to achieve a comfortable driving position.

Isuzu has also made significant mechanical updates to the proven 4JJ1 engine, now designated the 4JJ3-TCX, to produce 140kW (+10kW) and peak torque of 450Nm (+20Nm) between 1600 and 2600 RPM. 

With 400Nm available right through to 3250 RPM, the new engine feels torquey and responsive in the low and mid-range, just the way a working ute’s powerplant should. 

Mercifully, the engine is also noticeably quieter and more refined than was the old truck. 

The manual six-speed gearbox fitted to our tester also shifted easily, with sensibly chosen ratios.

Isuzu D Max SX Space Cab Chassis 4WD.

If an auto is more your speed, an extra $2k buys the updated six-speed self-shifter.

The new D-Max is more capable off-road than its predecessor with 4WD versions equipped with a rear diff lock as standard. 

The SX never raised a sweat while scrambling up a steep and badly rutted forestry trail on our off-road test loop. 

The range-wide 3.5-tonne maximum towing capacity and standard trailer sway control will be attractive for those who need to tow. 

Likewise, a six-year/150,000km warranty stands out as one of the longer warranties in the class, with capped price services for the same period.

Given the D-Max’s 12-month/15,000km service intervals, the first seven services total $3373.

The seventh-generation D-Max may cost a little more than its predecessor but its undoubtedly a better and safer proposition with enough significant changes to help put it back at the pointy end of buyer consideration in the ute segment.

Key stats

MLP: $43,700 (plus heavy-duty alloy tray, $2400).

ENGINE: 3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder.

ANCAP CRASH RATING: 5 stars (2020). 

FUEL CONSUMPTION (combined cycle, litres/100km): 8.0 (206g/km CO₂).

FOR: Class-leading safety, substantial improvements in new model, torquey engine.

AGAINST: Ride unladen on heavy duty suspension, more expensive than old model.