ROAD TEST: Isuzu D-Max

So let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first: the Isuzu D-Max is the same ute that we have known and loved here in New Zealand as the Holden Rodeo. And then as the Holden Colorado.
The whole Rodeo/D-Max thing was a collaboration between Holden and Isuzu, until a few years ago when Isuzu told Holden bugger off and make its own ute, which they are doing, but in the mean time have re-named and re-faced the Rodeo as the Colorado until they have built one.
Now Isuzu have decided to have a crack at it here in their own right, so have released the D-Max into the New Zealand market. And they are fairly serious about diving into the crowded ute market, as the specced-up D-Max has got its elbows out and is already jostling its way deep into the crowd, if Isuzu’s recent strong start to sales at the Fieldays is anything to go by.
The D-Max is currently only available in New Zealand as a double cab 2WD or 4WD with the 3-litre turbo diesel engine that pumps out 120kW and 360Nm when hooked up to the five-speed manual transmission or 333Nm when hooked up to the four-speed auto trans. Single cab versions are coming shortly.
Everything that has been said about the Colorado can apply to the D-Max – handsome (although the up-spec D-Max’s chromed grin divides opinion on this…) in a rugged, proper-ute kind of way, tough, strongly capable off the road – but the D-Max also adds extra under-body protection and a noticably better interior build quality than the Colorado.
While it  lacks the brand-loyalty that the Holden name brings the Colorado, having the Isuzu badge on the nose brings a fair bit of proper-truck street cred to the D-Max, so that probably balances things out a bit…
So on a direct comparison with prices and equipment levels, you would have to say the D-Max is at least as good, if not a bit better than its Holden twin. But it’s when you move you attention away from the Colorado and start comparing the D-Max to other utes in the class that things start going a bit wobbly.
You see, things have moved on a bit since the Rodeo/D-Max of today was originally launched. They’ve moved on quite a bit since the re-faced Colorado was unveiled about 2 years ago, actually, and the D-Max feels like it is a generation behind the likes of the Navara, Triton and the Ranger/BT50 twins. Which it essentially is.
This is especially noticable on the road, where the D-Max feels like a ute. Slightly wallowy, likes a bit of an oversteer when unladen, a bit slow… No surprises there, you may say, but the problem there is that apart from the Hilux, the others don’t really anymore. Fast, capable, stable and increasingly car-like in their handling is where the leaders in the ute market are these days, while retaining all the expected ruggedness and offroad capability.
So while the D-Max is a long way from being bad – and is arguably better than the Holden – it is still a good distance from the top of the class.

This article first appeared in New Zealand Company Vehicle magazine.

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