Monthly Archives: March 2013

Ford Australia has added a new model to its popular PX Ranger one-tonne 4×4 ute range in response to strong customer demand for a mid-range offering between the entry level XL and upper level XLT.

The new Ranger XLS is aimed at private and small business customers that will hit Ford showrooms in May with a Manufacturer’s List Price of $48,090.

The XLS is based on the 4×4 XL Double Cab Pick-Up 3.2-litre model with six-speed manual transmission.

The mid-level XLS comes equipped with a locking rear differential, 16-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, carpeted floor coverings and additional exterior trim highlights.

This brings to 22 the number of Ranger combinations available for Ford customers, including the range-topping Wildtrak.

Since its Australian launch in October 2011 the PX Ranger one-tonne truck has been doing good business for Ford, with the 4×4 XL and 4×4 XLT series the two most popular variants for Australian buyers.

The 4×4 XLS has the following additional features as standard equipment compared to the XL:

4×4 XLS Double Cab Pick-Up 3.2L 4×4 XL Double Cab Pick-Up 3.2L
16-inch alloy wheels 16-inch steel wheels
Front fog lights N/A
Accent painted radiator grille in silver Black radiator grille
Body coloured mirror housing Black exterior mirrors
Carpet floor coverings Vinyl floor covering
Locking Rear Differential Open Rear Differential with Traction Control System

Engine: 2.2 litre four cylinder common-rail turbo-diesel

Power: 110kW @ 3700rpm    Torque: 375Nm @ 1500-2500rpm

Trans: six-speed manual or six-speed automatic

Construction: Body-on-frame

Suspension: (F) coil-over strut/upper & lower wishbones (R) leaf springs & live axle

Payload: 1166 kgs max

Towing: 3.5 tonnes max (braked)

Economy: 8.1 litres/100 kms (manual)

Price: $47, 986

Overview

We like trucks with a simple and honest work ethic. Toyota’s 70 Series WorkMate is a good example. Just big, basic and strong with no frills. Designed to do a tough job and not afraid to get dirty doing it – on the outside and inside.

Ford’s Ranger XL is another hard worker in the 70 Series mould. Built with a back-to-basics approach with none of the bling found in its more glamorous and expensive XLT and WildTrak stable-mates.

And it’s that minimalist, no-frills persona that makes the entry level Ranger XL Double Cab a smart buy for a variety of potential customers. Beyond the obvious appeal for government and private fleet buyers, it’s also got plenty of appeal for farmers, tradies and even urban families that value low maintenance practicality.

Park the Ranger XL alongside the XLT and its lack of eye candy is immediately apparent. However, beyond such a simple visual comparison, there are a number of financial and performance reasons why the Ranger XL might well be a better buy depending on your intended usage.

Our test vehicle

Our typically plain white Ranger XL Double Cab 4×4 Pickup was fitted with the 2.2 litre Duratorq TDCi four cylinder turbo-diesel engine and six-speed manual gearbox.

The 16 valve, common rail, direct injection 2.2 is the smaller of the two turbo-diesels available for this model, with the other being the five-cylinder 3.2 litre Duratorq unit.

Both are from Ford’s ‘Puma’ engine family and according to Ford the 2.2 litre is the same engine fitted to the current Transit Van.

XL vs XLT

So what do you miss out on? Well, where there’s chrome on the XLT you get flat black and body-colour. Where there’s carpeting, you get vinyl flooring. Where there’s alloy wheels, you get painted steel rims. And where there’s a tubular chrome sports bar in the load bed you get a body-coloured load rack/window protector.

Have a look at the standard equipment lists for both models and the XL buyer also misses out on some of the more useful stuff like the XLT’s cooled console box, third power point in the rear of the console, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, tow bar (although our test truck was fitted with one), side steps, auto headlights and fog lights.

XL buyers also miss out on the XLT’s rear parking sensors, locking rear differential, protective bed-liner with 12 volt power socket, dual-zone climate control, larger 4.2-inch multi-function dashboard display monitor and four speaker sound system.

However, even with the 2.2 litre engine – which has one less cylinder and is 1.0 litre smaller in capacity than the XLT’s five cylinder version – you do get everything else that makes the Ranger XLT 4×4 such a formidable competitor in the one-tonne ute market.

These including air-conditioning, front, seat side and side curtain airbags, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) incorporating ABS, Hill Launch Assist, Trailer Sway Control, Emergency Brake Assist and Hill Descent Control. And you get a bigger payload than XLT as well.

What will it carry?

The 2.2 litre XL with six-speed auto or manual transmission matches the 3.2 XLT’s peak towing capacity (at least on paper) of 3.5 tonnes of braked trailer, 750 kgs without trailer brakes, 6.0 tonne Gross Combination Mass (GCM) and 800mm fording ability.

However, because the XL is 125 kgs lighter in kerb weight (XL 2034 kgs vs XLT 2159 kgs) it’s rewarded with a corresponding 125 kgs greater payload (1166 kgs vs 1041 kgs). That’s about six bags of cement, so it’s a fair difference.

And in manual form, Ford claims that it also drinks less diesel than the XLT (8.1L/100 kms vs 9.4L/100 kms) but we always take these factory supplied figures (from any manufacturer) with more than a grain of salt.

We averaged 9.7L/100 kms during our time with the XL, which was a combination of stop-start city driving and sealed and unsealed rural roads, with and without loads. The best we saw was 8.4 after a long freeway run, so it shows how ‘ideal’ these quoted figures are.

Even so, with one less cylinder and one litre less cubic capacity than the 3.2, it has to be more economical which is another plus.

The Double Cab’s load floor length is 1549mm and the width between the wheel housings is 1139mm, meaning standard 900mm-wide builder’s sheets of plywood, gyprock etc will lay flat between them with the gate down, but the wider 1200mm sheets and up won’t.

The standard 1100 x 1100mm Asian pallet, which is increasingly common in this part of the world, will slot neatly between them. There’s also plenty of stout tie-down points in the box to secure your load.

What we found particularly useful at the front of the pick-up bed was the painted frame that serves as both a load frame and rear window protector.

Sure, it doesn’t look as sexy as the XLT chrome tubular roll bar but it’s a lot more useful if you’ve got long lengths of wood, electrical conduit, concrete reinforcing mesh or PVC pipes you need to carry. The pivoting brackets mounted on each side swing up and lock into position to stop these long items from falling off the sides after you’ve strapped them in place.

What’s it like to drive?

You may be thinking that being smaller in engine capacity, the 2.2 litre four-pot XL would feel a bit sluggish compared to its more powerful 3.2 litre five-pot sibling. We can happily report that’s not the case.

The 2.2 produces 110kW @ 3700 rpm compared to the 3.2’s 147 kW @ 3000 rpm – a deficit of 37 kW. Of more importance to us though are the torque figures; 375 Nm  @ 1500-2500 rpm for the 2.2 compared to 470 Nm @ 1500-2750 rpm for the 3.2 – a difference of 95 Nm.

37 kW less power and 95 Nm less torque seems like a lot on paper, but as we discovered with our recent test of the Isuzu D-Max Crew Cab one-tonner, power to weight ratio makes a big difference to a truck’s throttle response and overall agility despite having less cubic engine capacity and torque than some of its competitors.

When Ford confirmed that the Transit Van and XL 2.2 turbo-diesels were the same, it put an instant smile on our dials because having driven the latest Transit Van we were already aware of the excellence of this 2.2 litre four as a light truck engine.

It not only has an abundance of low down torque and pulling power, but it’s the way the torque is delivered that is impressive. The response is instant whenever you get back on the throttle pedal. It’s a smooth and unrelenting surge with none of the turbo lag or comparatively sluggish response we have experienced in other small bore turbo-diesels.

We didn’t get a chance to do any heavy towing during our brief time with this truck, so we can’t comment on how the 2.2 performed with a big load hanging off the tow-ball. We suspect that the 95 Nm difference between the 2.2 and 3.2 would be more noticeable when towing, so we would appreciate any feedback from people that have towed big loads with the 2.2.

You don’t need to rev the 2.2 beyond 2500 rpm between shifts, because when you pick up the next cog it’s generally in that 1500-2500 rpm maximum torque band.

The six-speed manual gearbox is light and precise to use, well matched to the engine’s torque characteristics with a useful selection of ratios for everything this truck needs to do. The overdriven top gear is handy on the highway too, where you can sit at 110 km/h with only 2000 rpm on the tacho.

We didn’t venture too far off road in the XL, largely due to the road tyres fitted to our test vehicle. They don’t tend to grip very well, particular when you strike mud and the shallow treads quickly clog up. Given the amount of rain at the time, we decided not to get too adventurous.

The fact that the XL doesn’t come with the XLT’s Locking Rear Differential (which is not available as an option) shows where Ford is aiming this workhorse and what its typical buyer needs.

Conclusion

If you want a hard working Ford Ranger that can do pretty much everything the XLT can do without all the bells and whistles, the 2.2 litre manual XL Double Cab Pickup represents a massive saving of around $10,000 in purchase price over the 3.2 XLT version (XL $47,986 vs XLT $57,768 based on Ford drive-away estimates).

Even if you fitted an aftermarket tow bar and replaced the ‘poverty pack’ appearance of those steel wheels with a nice set of Ford Accessory or aftermarket alloys and chunkier off road tyres, you’d still be way ahead.

And you never have to worry about scratches on your premium metallic paint. Or muddy boots, beach sand or sticky kids’ stuff ruining your carpet. There’s a lot be said for back-to-basics in this market segment. TJ

Recently revealed images of Holden’s new VF Commodore Ute, which will be part of the technologically advanced VF range to be launched mid-year, made us feel more than a little nostalgic at Truck Jungle.

The VF will be the last Commodore Ute to be built on the Aussie designed and engineering ‘Zeta’ rear wheel drive platform before Holden switches to GM global vehicle architecture for the VF’s successor in about four years’ time.

Therefore, as far as we’re concerned, the VF will be the last truly ‘Australian’ Holden Ute, which has a lineage that can be traced back more than 60 years to 1951 when the company launched the original 50-2106 or FX Holden Ute.

This six decade bloodline was severed only once. That was back in the 1980s, between the end of the much loved WB Series commercials in 1984 and the beginning of the Commodore-based utes in 1990. Even so, the Holden Ute has become an Australian motoring and cultural icon that has played a huge role in the post-war development of our nation.

So, as the last of the truly Aussie Holden Utes, the VF is sure to be something of a collector’s item for true blue Ute lovers – and the queue starts here!

Holden has confirmed that all three VF Commodore body styles – sedan, Sportwagon and Ute – will go on sale at the same time, as it  ramps up customer quality and on-road engineering evaluation programs around Australia.

As part of VF’s ongoing development, Holden engineers will conduct more than 1.4 million kilometres of local and overseas validation testing before the first VF Commodore reaches Holden showrooms.

This includes 350,000 kilometres of customer verification testing of early production models by Holden employees across the business over the coming months.

Since the program’s inception in 2009, Holden has introduced a range of new measures to ensure the 2013 VF Commodore exceeds customer expectations.

With a focus on the needs of Australian car buyers, Holden has mined customer feedback dating from 2003 to define program quality targets and develop vehicle functionality, content and features.

Holden Chief Engineer Brett Vivian said customer experiences of Holden and competitor products were front-loaded into VF program planning from the start.

“Our aim with VF was to challenge people’s perceptions about our cars and get them excited about large cars again,” he said.

“The insights we’ve gained from customer feedback have played a critical role in shaping the VF program, resulting in a fantastic-looking car that is the most refined Commodore we’ve ever engineered.

“It’s also packed full of features and technology that take the driving experience to new levels.

“We’ve put VF through its paces around the globe, from Sweden to North America to the Middle East, but the most critical testing is the thousands of evaluation kilometres we cover on local roads in Australia. Whether sedan, Sportwagon or Ute, the new VF is a car we can all be very proud of – it’s a truly great drive.”

We have no doubts about that, but what on earth will the boys at the Deni Ute Muster drive when there’s no more Holden Utes? TJ

Mitsubishi’s Sport Utility Truck (SUT) design concept ‘GR-HEV’ that was unveiled at the recent Geneva International Motor Show is a good indicator of where the Japanese giant is heading with its next generation Triton one-tonne ute.

The company claims its latest SUT concept brings about further enhancements in environmental and driving performance, based on a combination of sedan or SUV-like comfort levels with the rugged practicality of its Triton Ute.

The exterior design sets it well apart from the current crop of one-tonne pickup trucks, combining flowing lines with a muscular look that provide good aerodynamics without compromising the functional elements of a pickup truck.

The GR-HEV certainly looks to be a more integrated and visually appealing design than the current model Triton, which continues to polarise opinions. It’s also 305mm longer than the existing Triton Crew Cab pickup and 130mm wider, but shares the same wheelbase and overall height.

Nice body detailing includes the company’s diamond motif applied to the LED headlamp system and LED rear combination lamp system.

The SUT concept uses a diesel-hybrid drivetrain with CO2 emissions of 149 g/km or below, aimed at achieving the highest levels of environmental performance in its class.

This comprises a 2.5 litre ‘clean diesel’ engine combined with an electric motor and battery that work together to maximise performance and economy like all hybrids do.

The drivetrain is Mitsubishi’s next-generation 4WD system that combines the company’s Super Select 4WD (SS4) and Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC) systems, which in people speak means switchable 2WD/4WD and dynamic stability control.

The SUT concept is also fitted with an AC power supply system to eliminate the need for carrying power generators in the vehicle, to enhance its convenience for use in leisure and work situations. We’ll watch these developments with great interest. TJ

Toyota has boosted the appeal of its love-it-or-loath-it FJ Cruiser 4×4 by more than doubling its fuel tank capacity and adding an off-road cruise control system known as CRAWL.

The Prado-based SUV’s fuel-tank capacity has been expanded to a total of 159 litres with the 72-litre main tank now supplemented by a new 87-litre sub-tank. Not too difficult a job, given that its Prado underpinnings were originally designed to carry two tanks anyway.

Toyota claims this extra tank results in a ‘theoretical’ driving range for its 4.0 litre V6 petrol engine of 1,060 kms in the city and more than 1,700 kms on the highway. Based on Toyota’s combined-cycle fuel economy figures of 11.4 litres/100km, that’s a ‘notional’ range of almost 1,400 kms. Impressive, although we wish it had a diesel engine option.

Off-road driving competence is also enhanced with CRAWL – a ‘feet-off’ control system that helps take the vehicle over severe or slippery terrain. It can assist in climbing or descending steep hills and freeing the vehicle if it gets stuck. It’s also helpful in mud, sand, gravel and when fording water.

CRAWL control engages in L4 (low-range 4×4) and temporarily disengages at speeds above 25km/h or above 10km/h when the rear differential is locked. A speed-selector dial on the overhead console provides the choice of five crawling speeds.

The system automatically maintains a low uniform vehicle speed uphill and downhill by controlling both engine output and brake hydraulic pressure, allowing the driver to concentrate fully on steering the vehicle.

It increases vehicle stability in extreme four-wheel driving conditions by minimising wheel spin and tyre lock-up. It also reduces load on the drivetrain by smoothly controlling engine output and brake application.

FJ Cruiser is Toyota’s fifth SUV and most recent addition to the LandCruiser family.  It’s 200kW, 380Nm 4.0-litre V6 petrol engine is matched to a five-speed automatic transmission, part-time 4×4, electrically activated rear differential lock and switchable ‘Active Traction Control’ technology to maximise off-road climbing ability.

Off road it features an impressive 36-degree approach angle, 31-degree departure angle and 29-degree break-over angle. The latter two dimensions are the best for any vehicle in Toyota’s local 4×4 range and make it damn near unstoppable in the rough stuff.

FJ Cruiser pays homage to several styling themes seen on the LandCruiser FJ40, of which more than 1.1 million were produced between 1960 and 1984.

These include some sharp angular lines, round headlights set either side of a wide mesh grille, an upright windscreen with three wiper blades, a white roof and wrap-around rear corner windows. Some like the styling and some hate it, but there’s no denying there’s a seriously good off roader under all that retro-inspired steel.

Offered in a single grade with a high level of specification, the upgraded FJ Cruiser is priced from just under $48,000. TJ

1972 was a big year for the Dodge Truck division in the US, breaking the 300,000 unit annual sales barrier for the first time with a staggering production increase of almost 60 per cent.

Pivotal in that success was the new light duty Dodge pickup range which was all new from the ground up, following more than three years of planning, designing, engineering and testing and a huge (at the time) $50 million investment.

The new Dodge pickups were called “Life Style” trucks because a growing number of American car buyers were starting to choose pickup trucks instead, because of their ability to serve dual purpose roles – an honest hard worker during the week and a fun and practical escape machine on the weekend.

Several decades later, the dual-purpose appeal of the pickup truck in the US (and one-tonne ute in Australia/New Zealand) is showing no signs of slowing down. The demand has never been greater and the level of competition between the brands never hotter.

This classic TV commercial shown on US television proudly introduced the new-for-1972 Dodge pickup line and its dual-purpose appeal and car-like comfort is certainly pushed hard in the dialogue from just about every angle.

It all looks very ‘Bonanza’ in its presentation and feel – including the host! It’s a great time capsule that captures the booming US automotive scene in the early 1970s before the world’s first oil crisis struck. Enjoy.

Toyota’s popular 200 Series full-size SUV, which can tow up to 3.5 tonnes, has become the first vehicle in the Toyota range to finally adopt the added safety of Trailer Sway Control.

The system, which is already available in a number of one-tonne utes from rival manufacturers, is integrated with the existing vehicle stability control systems to help the driver in the event that a trailer starts to swing from side to side.

It is designed to suppress swaying that can be triggered by factors such as crosswinds, bumpy roads and sharp turns of the steering wheel. It detects trailer sway based on information from the vehicle’s yaw-rate sensor, acceleration sensor and steering sensor.

If sway is detected, the system uses deceleration control and yaw-moment control to suppress the effects. It warns the driver via the slip indicator in the instrument cluster and alerts following drivers by illuminating the stop lamps.

The system operates seamlessly and does not require the addition of hardware or any change to the trailer. We only hope Toyota doesn’t drag the chain in adapting the same technology to its popular HiLux and 70 Series one-tonne trucks, which are also popular for towing.

Another safety enhancement for the five-star ANCAP safety-rated 200 Series is the addition of knee airbags for the driver and front passenger in GX and volume-selling GXL model grades, bringing the total number of airbags to eight. High-grade VX and Sahara have 10 SRS airbags, including rear-seat side airbags.

LandCruiser 200 models are available with a choice of V8 engines – a 4.6-litre petrol or a 4.5-litre twin-turbo diesel – mated to six-speed automatic transmissions.

The petrol V8, with variable valve timing on both the inlet and exhaust ports, produces maximum power of 227kW at 5500rpm and peak torque of 439Nm at 3400rpm. The twin-turbo common-rail diesel engine delivers maximum power output of 195kW and a thumping 650Nm of torque.

Engine: 3.0 litre four cylinder, common rail, direct injection, turbo-diesel

Power:  130kW @ 3600rpm   Torque:  380Nm @ 1800-3000 rpm

Transmission: Five-speed manual or five-speed automatic

Construction: Body-on-frame

Suspension: (F) upper/lower wishbones, coil springs (R) live axle, leaf springs

Payload: 1015 kgs

Towing: 3.0 tonnes (braked)

Economy: 8.0-8.3 litres/100 kms

Price: $27,200 (SX Single Cab-chassis 4×2) – $51,700 (LS-Terrain Crew Cab)

Overview

General Motors and Isuzu have a long history of model-sharing in work utes, going right back to the early 1970s when GM first bought a stake in the Japanese manufacturer and its local subsidiary Holden started importing the Isuzu KB ute, which was sold as the Chevrolet LUV (Light Utility Vehicle).

By 1980, the Chevy nameplate had been replaced by Holden Rodeo. And it stayed that way through four generations of Isuzu-built, Holden-badged workhorses sold by Holden dealers, until Isuzu and GM formally split in 2006 when Isuzu regained full ownership.

As part of the divorce, Isuzu established its own Australian dealer network (Isuzu Ute Australia) in 2008 and also took back its Rodeo nameplate, forcing Holden to switch to the ‘Colorado’ badge and (until 2012) sell in direct competition to the nearly identical Isuzu version on which it was based.

However, a solution for both brands was on the way, because back in 2006 GM and Isuzu had also agreed to a fresh joint venture to develop an all-new one tonne ute platform from which the two manufacturers could create their own distinctly different model derivatives.

So when the all-new Holden Colorado and Isuzu D-Max utes were launched in 2012, Holden and Isuzu made plenty of noise about major differences in drivetrains and body styling to change perceptions created by the previous models that Holden and Isuzu utes were one and the same.

These new claims of autonomy were certainly credible, given that the latest Isuzu D-Max features sheet metal that can no longer be confused with the Colorado’s latest styling direction.

Although the Colorado and Isuzu share the same chassis and cabin/interior architecture, the body work apart from perhaps the roof panel is unique to each truck. This includes the doors, which share the same frame structures but different outer skins.

Even though we love the latest Colorado’s bold Chevy Silverado-inspired grille design, we think Isuzu has done a better job with the styling overall. And that’s largely because the bulbous wheel arch flares front and rear give the D-Max a more broad shouldered ‘big foot’ stance than the Colorado’s more narrow, upright appearance.

The rounded D-Max grille and front end shape, with recessed fog lights and smooth polycarbonate headlight covers, is also designed to minimise injuries to pedestrians in the case of a collision.

And the D-Max/Colorado pair feature entirely different engines, manual gearboxes and automatic transmissions, which makes them more individual than the current Ford Ranger/Mazda BT50 duo which rely mainly on different body styling to tell them apart.

D-Max LS-U Space Cab 4X4 Hi-Ride

Our test vehicles

The latest D-Max range offers a big choice of models with 4×2 or 4×4 drivetrains and standard height or Hi-Ride suspension variants. These start at $27,200 for the 4×2 SX Single Cab manual cab-chassis workhorse and finish at the $51,700 4×4 LS-Terrain Crew Cab Hi-Ride auto with all the fruit.

Like its major competitors, there’s also a third body variant called the Space Cab which conveniently slots in between the Single Cab and Crew Cab.

In the 4×4 Hi-Ride models, which are available in Space Cab or Crew Cab, the D-Max buyer has a choice of four model grades in manual or auto starting at SX followed by LS-M then LS-U and finally LS-Terrain.

Truck Jungle tested two of these 4×4 Hi-Riders – the Space Cab LS-U manual and Crew Cab LS-Terrain auto – to sample what the latest D-Max has to offer the one tonne ute buyer.

Design & Features

The new D-Max ute is a big, strong truck. Riding on an all-new heavy duty ladder-type chassis with seven cross-members, it provides a 45mm increase in wheelbase over the previous model (now 3095mm) and a 50mm increase in track width front and back.

Independent front suspension features coil springs and upper and lower wishbones with the usual leaf springs (mounted above the axle on Hi-Ride models) and live rear axle arrangement.

The Crew Cab ute’s overall length of 5295mm and width of 1860mm (helped by those big wheel arch flares) is on par or slightly larger than its main competitors which has resulted in greatly improved cabin space, larger door openings and a more comfortable back rest angle in the rear seat.

Active and passive safety features were top priorities in the design of the new D-Max which now features six airbags, Electronic Stability Control and ABS with Electronic Brake Force Distribution which automatically moves a higher proportion of braking power to the rear brakes depending on payload.

The Euro IV-compliant 3.0 litre turbo-diesel produces 130 kW at 3600rpm, but more importantly has a nice fat 380 Nm serving of torque from 1800-3000 rpm (manual) and 1800-2800rpm (auto).  These figures represent a 10kW power increase and 20Nm boost in torque over the previous model.

Interior comfort and safety

Like its Colorado sibling, the interior is spacious with all controls easy to use and identify. The LS-Terrain cockpit is packed with features including full leather trim (we’re told the awful brown with charcoal leather combo will not be continued), satellite navigation with touchscreen, reversing camera, Bluetooth connectivity, USB input with IPod connectivity and MP3 compatible CD player.

Like its main competitors, the steering column is adjustable for tilt only but for some baffling reason the steering wheel in the top-shelf LS-Terrain is not equipped with the remote audio and phone controls available in some lower-spec models. Like the brown leather, this needs to be addressed.

The driver’s seat has enough adjustment for different shapes and sizes to get reasonably comfortable. There’s plenty of room on the rear bench seat, too, with generous window glass, head room and sufficient rake on the backrest for a comfortable seating position.

At the time of writing, the Crew Cab’s six-airbag survival cell was sitting one star short of the maximum five-star ANCAP crash safety rating due to its use of single seatbelt pre-tensioners, but Isuzu is addressing these shortcomings and aiming to achieve the five-star rating as soon as possible.

A glaring omission in the D-Max safety menu is the lack of rear parking sensors, which aren’t available as an option or even as a factory accessory. And the reversing camera is only available in the top-of-the-range LS-Terrain as it relies on that model’s touch-screen feature to function.

Even so, with its use of high strength steel side intrusion beams combined with driver/passenger front airbags and full length side-curtain airbags, it’s a huge advance in active and passive safety over the previous generation D-Max.

What will it carry?

The 4×4 models we tested can carry a 1000-plus kg payload and pull 3000 kgs on a braked trailer or 750 kgs without brakes.

In key dimensions, the load floor length of the D-Max Crew Cab’s load box is 65mm shorter and 25mm narrower than the current Ford Ranger benchmark. In practical terms, that can mean the difference between being able to close the tailgate with a pushbike or wheelbarrow laying straight or having to carry it across the load floor to allow enough room to close it.

The distance between the wheel arches inside the load area is 17mm narrower than the Ranger at 1122 mm, so standard 900mm-wide builder sheets will lay flat between them and the standard 1100mm x 1100mm Asian pallet will also just squeeze in there with 11mm each side to spare.

What’s it like to drive?

The D-Max has great build integrity and rattle-free operation. It feels like a lot of truck building experience has gone into it, which is not surprising given the sizeable amount of input Isuzu had in its shared platform design.

The D-Max’s Isuzu 4JJ1-TC Hi-Power four cylinder common rail turbo-diesel is a gem of an engine for this application and showcases the company’s expertise in truck engine design and refinement.

On face value that 380 Nm falls short of the 470 Nm peak torque figures quoted for its Colorado cousin and Ford Ranger/Mazda BT50, but you wouldn’t know when you’re driving it. This is helped by the D-Max’s more athletic kerb weight, which even in the heaviest model (LS-Terrain Crew Cab auto) is 1940 kgs or about 150 kgs lighter than the Ranger XLT Crew Cab pickup.

The D-Max engine is super flexible and very refined. It is quiet and remarkably smooth in operation without the noise, vibration and harshness we sometimes associate with small bore diesel engines. On or off road, there’s no shortage of torque where you need it most, bang in the middle of that 2000-3000 rpm sweet spot whether you’ve got a manual or automatic behind it.

Service intervals have also been doubled from 10,000 to 20,000 kms backed by a five year/130,000 km warranty, thanks to some robust hardware changes within.

Isuzu’s MUX five-speed manual is a sweet-shifting transmission with a good spread of ratios, although it can be a bit notchy when cold. The beefy 265mm diameter clutch has plenty of bite with a pedal weight that makes it easy to use.

The Aisin AW TB50-LS five-speed automatic is also a good unit, featuring a sequential shift option which is great for towing when you need to hold it in one gear at times and a fuel-saving lock-up torque converter on all gears from second to fifth.

The Adaptive Grade Logic Control also holds third gear in varied gradient descents and automatically selects third on steep descents to maintain your set speed using powerful engine braking.

The 4×4 drivetrain shared with the Colorado features what Isuzu calls ‘Terrain Command’ control which with the turn of a console dial allows shifting from 2WD to high range 4WD while on the move at speeds up to 100 km/h.

It’s an impressive performer off road, thanks to the outstanding flexibility of its turbo-diesel engine, well-matched gearing and supple suspension.  Both the auto and manual performed well during our test that included a variety of rugged terrain, although when the going got tougher in places we preferred the more direct control and throttle response of the five-speed manual.

It rides, handles and stops well on the bitumen but the D-Max’s ride quality when you venture away from sealed roads is remarkable for a ute. It is one of the best we’ve driven, particularly unladen, absorbing the kidney-rattling corrugations of rough dirt roads and chassis-twisting irregularities of narrow bush tracks with great composure and passenger comfort.

Across the board, the ride quality just keeps getting better in these one-tonne utes, but it will never be as good as a sedan given the weight of their live rear axles and leaf springs required to carry one tonne and tow more than three. You can’t have everything!

Conclusion

Overall the latest Isuzu D-Max is an excellent one-tonne ute that now stands proudly on its own. It is competitively priced, backed by a solid Isuzu dealer network and is every bit as tough and capable as its main rivals.

It’s only major drawback is perhaps lingering market perceptions of GM-Isuzu ‘badge engineering’ from the past affecting buying decisions, which is an injustice given its new-found individuality in styling and drivetrain. And particularly that great engine!

So if you’re in the market for a new one-tonner, make sure you include the D-Max on your list of potential purchases. We reckon you’ll be surprised and impressed by a vehicle you may well have overlooked.  There’s not much to dislike here. TJ

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