d-max - Isuzu X Runner front quarter - Isuzu D-Max: Changes skin deep

What is it?

In this case it is a they. We had a chance to go back-to-back in two very similar vehicles.

Isuzu’s D-Max ute comes in 4×2 and 4×4 configurations, with each providing single cab, space cab, crew cab chassis and crew cab ute styles. The 4×2 range has hi- and lo-ride to boot.

We tested the four door utes in mid-spec LS-U and LS-T based X-Runner limited edition forms. 

Power for both comes from the venerable 3.0-litre diesel with 130kW of power and 430Nm of torque.

Transmissions fitted are the standard six speed auto, with manuals also available.

Fuel consumption is a claimed 7.9L/100km.

Towing with the auto is rated as up to 3.5 tonnes while the cargo capacity is just over 1000kg.

d-max - Isuzu D Max LS rear - Isuzu D-Max: Changes skin deep

What’s it cost?

Isuzu has the limited edition X-Runner at $54,990 driveaway.

LS-U is $47,990 driveaway, but our test vehicle was fitted with a few extras that takes the price to $55,889 driveaway.

Those options included $550 for metallic paint, $965 for a snorkel, a $2238 bullbar and pricey $947 LED driving lights.

Other than the accessories on the LS-U, and the sticker job on the LS-T finished in Pearl White, X-Runner gains red and grey colour highlights in the form of badging, door trims, and trim around the driving lights up front.

X-Runner rides on 255/60/18 wheels with All Terrain tyres, while the LS-U has 255/65/17s with Highway/Terrain.

Isuzu has given the D-Max a mild refresh but it’s is limited to cosmetic changes only. Slight redesigns to the wheels, roof rails, and side steps are essentially it.

Seats in the LS-U are cloth and manually adjustable, X-Runner are leather bolstered with power adjust for the driver.

The dash is identical apart from console trim: piano black for the X-Runner and silver in the LS-U.

Both have the same dreary looking 8.0 inch touchscreen with AM/FM for radio, no digital audio. Bluetooth, 3.5mm AUX, and USB feature, as does a CD and HDMI.

No apps from Android or Apple but satnav is standard.

The upper dash still has the “will I/won’t I?” upwards hinging cover that workd less than intermittently.

The test vehicles had heavy rubber mats fitted for carpet protection and this came in handy later. 

The rest of the interior is unchanged from the previous model, with the front seats having no heating or venting in X-Runner.

There’s the same centre console stack with a large rotary dial for temperature and a circular housing for minor aircon controls.

The driver dash display is a pair of analogue dials with a small info screen between them, accessed via push tabs on the ends of the indicator and wiper stalks.

The wipers aren’t rain sensing nor are the headlights Auto on. The driver has the only one touch up/down window switch too.

Out back is a sports bar for both, lockable roller cover for the LS-U that refused to roll back once pulled forward, and tub lining in both.

The exterior stays untouched with the same angular headlights with LED driving lights and side steps linking front and rear.

In regards to ingress and egress, the LS-U is manual all the way. X-Runner has keyless entry with one-touch door handle opening.

Safety? Apart from the basic airbags, reverse camera, and electronic aids there is nothing.

No Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), no Blind Spot Alert, no Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and no adaptive cruise control.

There is Hill Start and Hill Descent Assist, but only the LS-T has parking sensors and these were at the rear only.

d-max - Isuzu X Runner river - Isuzu D-Max: Changes skin deep

What’s it go like?

The 3.0-litre is down on torque compared with the smaller 2.8-litre diesel found in the similarly styled but supposedly no longer related Holden Colorado.

It’s less refined and bloody noisy under load. From a standing start there is a momentary, stereotypical, diesel pause before it launches lazily forward, complete with tractor rattle.

Under acceleration that rattle remains, but off throttle it subsides to a quiet background rumble, not unlike a jet airliner in cruise mode. 

In normal driving the D-Max has a relaxed, almost “stoner” like attitude.

It simply lopes along, unfussed, untroubled by much as it sits around 1800rpm for freeway cruising.

It’s a comfortable enough ride and doesn’t tire the driver unduly.

Off road the X-Runner’s rubber mats came in handy when taken through some river crossing exercises.

The mats make such an exercise less taxing with regard to clearing dirt from shoes and boots.

The utes have an electronic low range system that requires a stop, switch to neutral, and the dial pushed and rotated before it engages.

With low range locked in the X-Runner powered easily through sand and water to a depth of around 25cm.

We also took the ute to Thredbo, but the snow normally seen roadside a few kilometres from the village wasn’t there this time around.

As a result, high range four-wheel drive wasn’t needed until just a few hundred metres out, and that’s available at speeds of up to 100km/h.

On tarmac the ute has a predisposition to nose wide with a soft, heavy steering ratio that is not all that communicative.

Climbing through corners, the nose has a tendency to lift too, lightening the steering and occasionally needed a lift from the throttle and a dab of the not so good brakes.

The rear springs are leaf, the front suspension coil over shocks.

On tarmac they’re adequate. On rutted surfaces with a gap they’re barely adequate. On tighter ruts, it’s a mix of skips and nervousness when it comes to handling — confidence inspiring, it is not.

Off road though, it’s more a case of “this is where it belongs”.

The transmission is mostly smooth, with some flaring between gears depending on throttle input, and will happily drop a gear or two for engine braking on a downhill run. 

On a 1260km drive to the Snowy Mountains, Bega, and return, we averaged exactly 8.0L/100km, a decent return given the quoted 6.9L/100km for the extra-urban cycle from a 76-litre tank and a dry weight of just under 2000kg.

d-max - Isuzu D Max dash - Isuzu D-Max: Changes skin deep

What we like?

  • Easy going nature in a highway drive
  • Simple to use dash controls
  • Good economy on the highway

d-max - Isuzu D Max LS U snorkel - Isuzu D-Max: Changes skin deep

What we don’t like?

  • Woeful looking touchscreen
  • Excessive diesel chatter
  • Uninspiring handling

d-max - Isuzu D Max touchscreen - Isuzu D-Max: Changes skin deep

The bottom line?

Cosmetic upgrades are one thing, proper mechanical upgrades are another.

The 2019 D-Max is a lovely and relaxed highway cruiser on flat roads, but on anything else it rapidly loses confidence.

The engine is lacking refinement and noise insulation, the touchscreen would look out of date in the 1980s — if they had touchscreens back then — while the feel of the cabin needs a bit of a lift.

On the upside however they both look great fitted with options and driver fatigue levels are really quite low.

d-max - Isuzu D Max X Runner wheel - Isuzu D-Max: Changes skin deep

CHECKOUT: D-Max does a runner

CHECKOUT: Isuzu D-Max: Modern day Bellett

Isuzu D-Max X-Runner, priced from $54,990 driveaway
  • 7/10
    Looks - 7/10
  • 6/10
    Performance - 6/10
  • 5/10
    Safety - 5/10
  • 8/10
    Thirst - 8/10
  • 7/10
    Practicality - 7/10
  • 8/10
    Comfort - 8/10
  • 6/10
    Tech - 6/10
  • 7.5/10
    Value - 7.5/10
6.8/10

Conole

Dave Conole hails from Perth where he co-hosted a car show on one of the city's major community radio stations. Although he's had formal training in stage, TV, and film, it's his face for radio that gave him his start in the automotive field, both reviewing and motorsport commentary. After moving to Sydney in 2004, Dave has worked for some of Australia's biggest media groups and is the anchor commentator at Sydney Motorsport Park. This has lead to anchoring major events such as the Top Gear Festival (and, no, he didn't get punched by Jeremy).