Japanese LCV maker Isuzu has kicked off its 2017 with a revitalised drivetrain under a re-sculpted – for the D-Max at least – nose.
The three-litre four-cylinder remains the only power plant on offer despite smaller 1.9-litre and 2.5-litre turbodiesel offerings in other markets, but it now comes bolted to either a six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.
Isuzu hasn’t ruled out other engine variants but stands by the choice of engine, claiming the three-litre in Euro5 guise was deemed the best option for Australian conditions and consumers.
The brand believes its focus on listening to customers and providing reliable workhorses has worked, the result has them second only to Lexus for customer satisfaction in Australia and recording an 11 per cent increase in sales last year.
Price increases have accompanied the model updates, with the asking prices up by around $1000, although some are increasing by $1700.
The 4X2 D-Max range now starts beneath $30,000, but getting into a 4X4 model begins with the EX single cab manual cab chassis from $34,800.
The next level up is the SX in a similar guise for $38,000, or there’s the option of the new six-speed automatic, which adds $2100 to the price tag across the range
The space cab models in SX trim start from $40,700 for the manual, with the dual cab model starting from $43,200 in manual form.
Buyers looking for the ute body style are denied access to the single-cab in the entry-level SX, which is available only in dual-cab form from $43,900 for the SX manual.
The space cab ute is an LS-U only proposition, starting from $46,200 with the six-speed manual; the LS-M dual-cab starts from $46,200, the LS-U starts from $48,300 in manual guise and the flagship LS-T is an auto-only model priced from $54,200.
The updated pricing keeps the D-Max in the same dollar ballpark as Holden’s Colorado, the Nissan Navara and Mazda’s BT-50, as well as staying within sight of the Ford Ranger.
A full range of accessories is again being offered by the Japanese brand, ranging from steel and alloy rear cab-chassis trays, hard and soft tonneau covers, nudge and bull bars, ladder racks and rear canopies.
Pricing for the MU-X seven-seater 4X4 SUV with the new power train have risen by $1300 to start from $47,000 for the manual LS-M, with the auto adding $2100 across the range.
The LS-U starts from $49,000 and the auto-only LS-T is priced from $54,800,
The drivetrain update centres around the upgraded three-litre power plant, which is making its debut in Australia-bound D-Max ute and MU-X SUV product.
The engine update is headlined by a new variable geometry turbocharger, new ceramic glow plugs and piston design, new fuel injectors for the high-pressure common rail fuel system which is fed by a new fuel pump.
The exhaust system has been updated with a new exhaust gas recirculation cooler and updated bypass valve design, as well as a new diesel particulate diffuser system to clean up the emissions and meet the Euro5 emissions requirements.
The cleaner engine’s peak torque has risen 50Nm to 430Nm, available from 2000 to 2200rpm.
It’s previous incarnation offered a torque peak of 380Nm and that amount of force is on offer across a broader revolution range – from 1700rpm through to 3500rpm, which is 100rpm earlier and 700rpm later.
The Japanese brand is claiming its Thai-built models have a five per cent fuel economy improvement as well, due to engine and gearbox changes.
Developed specifically for Isuzu, the new six-speed manual has triple-synchros for cleaner sharper shifts (something our brief drive suggests has been achieved), as well as a gear-shift indicator on the driver’s instrument panel for gear recommendations.
The automatic – an Aisin unit – is shared with Toyota’s Prado, Fortuner and HiLux models and the rear differential has been upgraded to cope with the increased torque, although there’s still no option of a rear diff lock.
The six-speed auto lays claim to adaptive learning abilities to read the driving style, as well as an improved torque converter lock up for better fuel economy that claims to reduce the amount of output loss through the drivetrain.
The brand has retained the five year warranty with roadside assistance, as well as a five year 50,000km capped price servicing program, which at the time of writing ranged in price from an extraordinary $50 for the final five year / 50,000km service to $590 for the four-year 40,000km.
The brand is conscious of retaining the characteristics it says has made it popular with those looking to get properly off road.
The 4X4 D-Max has 230mm of ground clearance, a 30-degree approach angle, ramp over of between 21.7 to 22.4 degrees and departure angles ranging from 22.7 to 27.4 degrees depending on body style.
The off-road prowess is backed by the reassurance of a steel front bash plate, steel sump and transfer case guards as well protection for the fuel tank.
Isuzu has also added (in both 4X2 and 4X4 models) the electronic assistance of hill hold and hill descent control, which is of particular assistance in automatic models, which tend not to possess the same engine braking ability as the manual models.
The new feature is adjusted in descent speed by braking to the desired speed, the result being a relatively subtle descent with less of the noise than that sometimes generated by the electronic traction aids in other brands.
A mild facelift for the D-Max utility signifies the presence of the new drivetrain, with a new bonnet and grille (inspired in early design sketches by the look of the Orca or Killer Whale) punctuated by an updated head light and fog light design, as well as the appearance of LED daytime running lights for LS models.
Entry-level EX and SX models also get a new headlight design with halogen lights.
The safety features list has been upgraded only for the LS models in the Isuzu ute and SUV range to include a reversing camera.
In a move seen as below par for the marketplace, EX and SX buyers will need to consult the option and accessories catalogue for a rear camera that displays in the centre rear vision mirror, an extra $333 for vehicles now equipped with the touchscreen and $516 for the lower-spec models that will display the image within the centre rear vision mirror.
Airbags number six and the safety features list extends to six airbags, stability and traction control, hill hold and descent control, but the option of a diff lock is sadly also absent.
The cabins of both models have been upgraded with a 7-in touchscreen for the SX ute and LS-M models, while the LS-U and LS-T models get an 8-in screen with integrated satellite navigation within the infotainment system.
Dual cab SX and LS-M models are also upgraded to eight speakers delivering audio for all occupants: two roof mounted speakers in addition to the two front door mounted speakers, two dash mounted tweeters and two rear door mounted speakers.
As with D-MAX, MU-X LS-M variants now introduce a 7-inch touch screen display audio system, with LS-U and LS-T variants receiving the 8-inch touch screen display audio system with in-built satellite navigation, seen by the brand as preferable to smartphone integrated sat nav that requires phone network coverage.
The number of USB ports for charging and sound system input have been increased to three in the LS models within both the ute and SUV ranges, although access to the USB ahead of the transmission selector is difficult.
The brand is launching the new ute with the return of a popular limited edition model – the X-Runner – to celebrate its centenary of automotive manufacturing and on sale from $46,990 drive away, although the sales and marketing team believe the limited-edition model will sell out before the end of the first quarter.
Taking features from the top-spec LS-M model but sitting on the LS-U/LS-T suspension tunes, it will be available in only black or white, the D-Max X-Runner ute will be limited to 600 units with climate control, rear sensors and reversing camera, grey interior trim, red stitching on the leather-wrapped steering wheel and red and black seat trim.
The exterior has been differentiated by red Isuzu badges, a 100 years logo, a grey grille, matching grey alloys and side steps, a tub liner and a black sports bar.
There’s an evolutionary feel to the under-stressed three-litre drivetrain, which benefits from the addition of six-speed transmission options in two and three-pedal guises.
The automatic picks up where the five-speeder left off, delivering smooth if not super-swift shifts and holding gears when the driver’s demands and the terrain warrants, while still offering a manual shift mode.
The broader spread of torque doesn’t stretch far enough for the new auto’s ratio choice when highway work is being undertaken, with the engine revs sitting just above 1500rpm when being obedient in a 100km/h zone.
It feels a little low and the transmission holds top gear – probably for fuel economy benefits – but it is more comfortable cruising at 110-120km/h with the engine sitting in the bottom of the turbo’s boost band.
Extra insulation in firewall and wheel arches has had some impact on the noise from the engine and the road, making it quieter at cruise but only a little quieter under the load of acceleration, when the updated engine does generate more induction noise.
Some beach driving on the launch showed the D-Max benefits from the better torque outputs and decent spread, ploughing through softer sand without becoming bogged down despite retaining road tyre pressures.
Some off road exercises demonstrated the aforementioned hill descent control, as well as the good wheel articulation – particularly from the rear end of the MU-X – and the D-Max’s robust off-road attributes, with little body creaking over undulating terrain, but the option of a diff lock would be a useful back-up.
The Japanese brand has opted for a slow evolution of its ute and SUV product, with more than a hint of not fixing things that aren’t broken; the increased ratio count to six in both transmissions will also be welcomed.
The brand is aiming to work its way up the sales charts to overtake its former bedfellow in the Holden Colorado, as well as continuing to grow its sales – the updated range offers it the chance to do so.
Stay tuned for more on the 2017 Isuzu Ute range. David will be taking a close look at the unique DPF and Hill Descent Control solutions that Isuzu has introduced with this update.