The D-Max pickup has picked up numerous awards. But is it really award-worthy? Mark Stone finds out.

IT seems decades ago that the 4x4 was the preserve of the farmer, gamekeeper, builder and forestry worker. That was until someone decided adding some extra power and a hint of luxury would increase sales, little realising the success this move would have. But despite the transformation of the 4x4 into a fashion and lifestyle accessory (and the discontinuation of the original, now iconic off-roader) there has always been a continuing demand for a genuine, basic hardworking 4x4. A model that usually features somewhere in most manufacturers’ listings, it’s rare for motoring writers to give one any attention – at least until now.Forestry Journal: Isuzu’s D-Max Utility is a no-nonsense, no-frills, working 4x4.Isuzu’s D-Max Utility is a no-nonsense, no-frills, working 4x4.

To describe the Isuzu D-Max Utility Double-Cab as basic could well be an understatement. But that’s exactly what it is and the reason the model wins numerous annual awards. No frills, hardly any toys, no trickery, no gimmicks, no tinted glass, no fancy lights, not even any reversing aids, the Utility is a pure, no-nonsense, hardcore workhorse that expects to do nothing else other than graft for its living. In fact, if you try and drive it wearing anything other than steel toecap boots, the Utility may actually recoil in horror.

A large matte black plastic combined grille and bumper shroud clad the front of the Utility, curving as far round as the front arches, while the familiar if somewhat dim in dip D-Max profile headlights arch upwards and into the front wings. But from the high-cut front arches until the rear bumper, the only form of body protection is the driver’s ability to steer clear of anything that’s potentially damaging. The thick rear bumper is, like the front, clad in protective black plastic, the heavy tow hitch providing the more effective rearwards collision deterrent.

Forestry Journal: Nothing fancy – just 16” steel rims and 245 tyres.Nothing fancy – just 16” steel rims and 245 tyres.

Sat on 16” steel rims and shod with road-orientated 245/70 rubber, the Utility combines the usual pickup suspension format of coils, springs and shock absorbers on the front, shocks, leaf springs and a sizable anti-roll bar at the rear. One noticeable point is that Isuzu has been able to tune out the familiar light rear-end bounce when carrying little or no loads, and the rear’s propensity to skate on corners is now noticeably reduced. One of the squarest on the market and carrying the usual one tonne, the lined load bed offers four solid anchor points and dimensions of 1,485 mm in length, 1,530 mm in width with a depth of 465 mm. All of which means a Euro pallet (if we can still use that term) will slide neatly between the minimal rear-arch intrusion.

Off road, the Utility offers the same terrain-crossing capabilities of its more luxurious cousins. With approach, departure and ramp over angles of 30°, 22° and 22°, the Utility will cope with most off-road surfaces. Where this D-Max triumphs over those with larger wheels is that the smaller steel rims and narrower tyres give the vehicle greater wheel and suspension travel, while the thinner tyres have by their physical nature a greater ability to dig in to find more traction.

Forestry Journal: Apart from fabric trim, the cabin is clad in hard plastic and thick rubber mats.Apart from fabric trim, the cabin is clad in hard plastic and thick rubber mats.

Inside, the cabin has rubber mats, hard black plastic trim, hardwearing grey fabric and enough room for five adults. Instrumentation is minimal, although it relays everything the driver actually needs and there’s an AM/FM radio that allows you to Bluetooth your mobile device, two 12V outlets and a USB socket. Apart from that, there are four cup holders up front, various cubbies, two decent glove boxes and pockets in the rear of the front seats. Minimalism aside, it’s comfortable.

Guaranteed to get the eco brigade on their high horse, situated beneath the bonnet is one of the cleanest Euro6-spec diesel engines in production, to a degree it doesn’t require AdBlue. A 2-litre, 4-cylinder turbo unit, the engine delivers 164 hp along with 300 Nm of torque which, mated to a manual six-speed transmission, propel the Utility along at a reasonable pace. Completely academic, but this hardworking Isuzu will hit 62 mph in 12.7 seconds and onwards to a top speed of 112 mph, neither of which are at all relevant. What is pertinent is the constant 28.1 average mpg, carrying a light load or at least 400 miles per 76-litre tank of diesel.

Driving the Utility, you’re immediately aware that this D-Max is the most truck-like of the range in both feel and handling. The power steering assists rather than takes over, although the three and three quarters lock-to-lock can prove rather trying during tighter manoeuvres, especially when reversing with a trailer. Similarly, the clutch and manual gearbox are heavier than might be expected, the selection at times notchy. One plus is the low first gear, ideal when hauling a maximum load but a ratio you need to be out of more or less the moment the wheels are rolling.

Forestry Journal: Power comes from an ultra-clean 2-litre turbo diesel.Power comes from an ultra-clean 2-litre turbo diesel.

Running in the main in rear-wheel drive, the 4WD High and Low selector is the usual Isuzu rotary selector located just to the rear of the gear lever. The shift from 2WD to high-ratio 4WD can be made on the fly at lower speeds, while stationary, clutch down and in neutral is, from experience, the way to drop the all-wheel-drive system into low ratio. On or off road, the Utility is easy if commercial to drive, the all-round view and high driving position giving the driver an airy feel when behind the wheel, although the lack of a reversing radar at times means calling on the services of a disembarked passenger when backing up in restricted spaces. It also reminds you that basic really does mean basic as you poke your head out or open the driver’s door in the good old-fashioned way.

The D-Max Utility range starts at £20,228 for the 2WD single cab, rising to £24,907 for the Double-Cab 4x4 as tested, all prices inclusive of VAT. There’s also a 4WD extended or King Cab with the occasional rear seats. And while the more refined, big-wheeled lifestyle double-cabs will always turn the eye and appeal to those looking for something more ‘car like’, especially inside the cab, there’s a very obvious market for an out-and-out straightforward working 4x4 like the D-Max Utility. And if you can live without heated leather seats, satnav, apps and tinted windows, there’s a domestic market for vehicles such as these. It’s called the common-sense market!

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