review: Isuzu D-Max ute is more Taranaki than Takapuna

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Words by Rob Maetzig

It's not very often that it is acceptable to log in to an internet site and accept an invitation to get dirty.

But you can if the site is the one operated by Isuzu Utes New Zealand. There, you can select a photograph of one of its fleet of D-Max utes, choose a paint colour to see what it looks like, and then choose Get Dirty - and the ute will get covered in virtual mud.

And why would anyone want to see what a ute looks like in such a filthy state? Because that's the original ute tradition. Their original intent was as a rugged four-wheel drive carry-all that could go almost anywhere. It's only in recent years that utes have morphed into urban transport with more bling than US entertainer Flavor Flav.

Interior is clean and spare in its design - as a good workhorse ute should be.

Of all the utes now available in New Zealand, it seems it is only Isuzu that is resisting this urge to dress up and gentrify. Nope - those D-Max utes are keeping themselves restrained, leaving it up to the other brands to go all flash-Harry. The only material that's going to adorn the D-Max flanks is mud.

Well - that's not quite true. There is a list of accessories for the D-Max range, including such things as a canopy, bull bar, roof rails, side steps and tow bar. But all these items are offered to enhance the ute's capability rather than give it extra street cred.

What all this means is that the Isuzu D-Max is more Taranaki than Takapuna, a ute that presents itself more for its sheer ability than for its looks, although it must be said it is a handsome-looking truck. But it's just that there are no adornments inside or out.

The D-Max has received a facelift this year. The LS double-cab version we've been driving has a new nose that's got a bit more chrome than before, new-style headlights, and there have been some upgrades to the interior, with the LS now getting such items as satellite navigation as standard. But overall the interior remains clean almost to the point of being sparse.

There's an 8-inch touch-screen that can be used for infotainment including a reversing camera and the sat-nav, under that there's the climate controls, then there's the shifter for the six-speed automatic, and south of that there's an efficiently-located Terrain Command dial which is used to select 2WD, or 4WD High and 4WD Low.

And that's about it. Well designed with all the essential designs nicely grouped, this D-Max interior is a model of simple efficiency. Oh - and talking about simple efficiency, the back seats in our double-cab version split and fold 60/40 so help store more in the security of the cabin.

Let's go back to that Isuzu Utes New Zealand website. We've Given It A Tickle-Up, it says of the D-Max. Obviously the company isn't talking about the minor cosmetic changes made to the ute. Nope - it's talking about some significant improbvements that have been made to the vehicle's powertrain.

The engine under the ute's bonnet continues to be its well-known J Series diesel, in this case the 4JJI-TC Hi-Power, which features electronic common rail direct injection and a variable geometry system (VGS) turbocharger with intercooler.

Thanks to such changes as installation of new-design pistons, revisions to the turbocharger and a new fuel pump and injection system, the torque has been improved by 50 newton metres so it is now 430Nm. That torque peaks at lower revolutions too - it's now down to 2000rpm.

In addition, the vehicle's automatic transmission has been upgraded from five to six speeds. It all adds to the understated efficiency of this ute. Despite the facelift it might remain a little noisier than the opposition, and it certainly doesn't have the bling often associated with the latest one-tonne utes, but there's no doubting that it continues to be an honest and reliable truck - and improved too, which is what should be expected from any facelift.

It's worth noting that Isuzu has been building utes and other 4x4 product for more than half a century, and that it is the world's largest manufacturer of diesel engines. It's built more than 26 million of them - and if that doesn't underline the sheer reliability of the D-Max, then nothing will. But the company doesn't shout about it. Instead, it leaves it up to the product to do the talking.