Having already put the manual D-Max Utility to the test, how does the automatic version compare?

LAST year, Isuzu introduced a totally updated D-Max pickup carrying over the previous version’s 1.9-litre diesel engine and manual six-speed gearbox. Everything else changed, including the automatic gearbox, so I was keen to try it out with the auto box. 

Isuzu was founded in Japan in 1916 and was brought to the UK in 1987 when it introduced the Trooper. Its first UK pickup was the TF in 1988, followed by the Rodeo in 2002. The D-Max pickup was introduced in 2012 when it featured a 2.5-litre diesel engine. This was then refreshed in 2017, downsizing to a 1.9-litre diesel engine meeting the latest Euro 6 emission standards without the need for AdBlue. Last year saw the introduction of a major update for the D-Max, as tested here, which does now require AdBlue, for which a 14-litre tank is provided.

Forestry Journal:

Isuzu has appeared pleased with buoyant sales for the new D-Max, no doubt helped by the exit from the UK market of competitors Nissan, Mercedes, Mitsubishi and, temporarily, Volkswagen. A strange market dynamic indeed. The Ford Ranger is the current market leader, with its 17,680 units accounting for 40 per cent of the UK 2021 pickup market. The Toyota is the other big seller, and Isuzu aims to shift 10,000 units annually by 2025 after selling 5,000 in 2021.

So the only engine choice is the familiar diesel engine, producing 164 hp and 360 Nm of torque (not exactly that powerful, then). Each new model comes with a 125,000 mile/five-year warranty and five years’ UK and European roadside assistance. With towing capabilities of 3.5 tonnes and a maximum payload of 1,120 kg, most models offer four-wheel drive. All feature a low-ratio gearbox. There are 110 dealers in the UK.

Forestry Journal:

I drove the manual version last year and was disappointed by the lack of power available at low speeds. Once on the move, it nipped along nicely. So I was keen to try out the D-Max fitted with the revised automatic gearbox to see if it got over the power gap – and yes, it does!

The six-speed automatic gearbox has been upgraded to enable up to 25-per-cent-faster gear changes. This supposedly reduces inertia and provides a smoother ride. It works very well and makes the D-Max an easy vehicle to live with. I like its shape and design.

A farmer noted that its sides are low enough to easily load or access the back from the sides. The back door drops down softly, being secured by a ram. And a step is situated below the rear number plate to assist with access.

READ MORE: Land Rover Defender 90 review: Forestry Journal checks out latest model

Isuzu offers a wide range of models featuring three body types: two-door single cab, two-door extended cab and the four-door double cab. Two-wheel drive is only available on the single cab. Then there is a choice of four trim levels: Utility, DL20 and DL40, and the fancy top-of-the-range V-Cross. Apart from Utility, all offer a rear diff lock. Utility can be had in all three body types, while DL20 is only available in extended and double, and V-Cross only in double cab. Eight colours are available and the fuel tank holds 76 litres.

Forestry Journal:

The top speed is 112 mph and it accelerates from 0–60 mph in 13 seconds with the auto box. Fuel consumption in my hands was about 31 mpg, while the book figure is 30.7 mpg for the auto and 33.6 mpg for the manual. The double-cab version weighs in at 2,000 kg.

A good deal of effort whas gone into keeping the vehicle tough and durable while improving its on-road manners. I certainly found it to be a likeable vehicle to drive and it cruises well at high motorway speeds. The auto box smooths out the power delivery, but it is still a slow vehicle off the line. Once you get moving, it speeds away happily.

However, as with all light pickups, the back can lose grip when exiting damp roundabouts, so you need to slow down for fear of ending up in a hedge. No doubt it settles down when fully laden.

The seats are comfortable and there are plenty of cup holders. The dashboard is neatly designed and the door pockets large and useful, as is the storage space behind the gear lever. Braking is via discs up front and drums to the rear. To protect key components when travelling off road, the underbody protection cover has been extended. There’s a 1.5 mm thick steel front skid plate, a 1 mm steel guard for the engine sump, transmission and transfer case, and a new 5 mm reinforced resin underbody air deflector.

Strength of the ladder-frame chassis has been increased thanks to an extra cross member and larger chassis rails.

Forestry Journal:

The 4WD system is controlled by a knob offering 2WD to high-power the back wheels, 4WD High provides drive to all four wheels in a high gear ratio and is used for slippery surfaces such grass and mud, and 4L provides drive to all four wheels in a low ratio for extra traction when extreme off-roading.

To further aid traction, a rear differential lock is standard on DL20, DL40 and V-Cross models. The diff lock will only engage when 4L is selected and speed is less than 5 mph.

It is activated by pressing the button by the gear lever. This locks the rear differential, meaning the two rear wheels turn at the same speed and the power cannot all exit via one wheel. ABS, ESC, traction control, hill start assist and hill descent control do not work when diff lock is activated. It automatically disengages when speed reaches 19 mph. Suspension is coil springs up front and leaf springs at the rear. Both systems were tweaked for this latest version with the aim of reducing noise and enhancing on-road driving dynamics.

During my time with the D-Max, the one thing that stuck out to me was the noisy engine under acceleration. It sounds a bit like a machine gun is under the bonnet, though once cruising in top gear it is refined and quiet. I don’t know how well it tows as I didn’t do any, but speaking to owners they seem happy enough with its performance.

READ MORE: Suzuki Ignis 4x4 review: Forestry Journal puts mild hybrid to the test

The vehicle in double-cab form is 5,265 mm long and has a useful 235 mm of ground clearance. Funnily enough, the Utility versions are 10 mm lower. Prices before VAT start at £21,009 for 2WD, and £23,009 for a 4WD version. A DL20 Double Cab 4WD costs £26,759 and the auto gearbox adds a further £1,800. The top-of-the-range V-Cross Double Cab Auto costs £32,759 plus VAT.

The D-Max keeps getting better. It is a well-designed, tough pickup and not too big.

Hopefully the next version will have more sound deadening or a new engine, but for now it is still a worthy workhorse – and a good-looking one, too.