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2020 Isuzu D-MAX 70,000km Review

05 Jul 2023
2020 Isuzu D-MAX 70,000km Review

By David Wilson

Isuzu Ute Australia made a significant change to their fortunes in 2020 with the release of the all-new D-MAX and with the sales-hysteria that tracked in pace with Covid’s rampant run through the community, it was gravy days to be an Isuzu dealer. Gone was the seriously outdated RT series (2012-2019), and in, was this fresh-as-a-daisy, stylish new ute.

In the wilds of WA with a new D-MAX

Isuzu had big plans in place to deliver this vehicle to its dealer network and the press with plenty of hoopla via a rolling national roadshow, but good old Covid put the brakes on that and it was another opportunity lost. The car had to sell itself, and on its own merits, and that it did, these last nearly three years since its release, seeing orderbooks full and wait times stretched out to over a year.

I-Venture Club has a D-MAX parked in each capital and ready for duties. 

I’m in a unique position to comment on the past and present models as I own both and with one of the hats I wear, as Isuzu Ute Australia’s lead-trainer and brand ambassador for their I-Venture Club customer retention program, I’ve coached and listened to thousands of happy Isuzu customers, on their driver training and touring days.

In its ninth year and having served up training and touring programs to over 5,000 attendees, I-Venture Club is likely the most successful automotive training/customer retention program on the planet.

The observations written below are gleaned from thousands of hours of driving the new D-MAX, which I still believe is a great ute, but like all of them, nowhere near perfect.

The Devil’s Number

My black LS-U auto with the Devil’s number 666, was delivered to me in July of 2020 and one of the first batch delivered into the country. With full disclosure, its original life was as an Isuzu fleet car used for press and marketing purposes and delivering the SA issue of I-Venture Club. Now at just over 65,000 kilometres travelled and superseded by the new MY23 model and about to be replaced, I’ve decided to buy it outright for home duties because it’s been a good ute.

An early pic of 666 on the job in the Coorong NP with the Rhino.

Being a company car, it came with company accessories, something I wouldn’t personally do with a new vehicle purchase, as I believe the aftermarket offers kit, that for me, makes much more sense. As such it came with a genuine steel bull bar, snorkel, roof racks, canopy, a towbar and my number one peeve… a plastic tub liner. That little lot would add to your new vehicle purchase, dollars approaching $15k, enough to make your eyes bleed.

Driveline is Reliable

Let’s start with the driveline.

The newest iteration of Isuzu’s 3.0 litre turbo four diesel is called 4JJ3TCX and it’s a far-less raucous and more refined engine than the old 4JJ1 and with none of the vices that came with the Euro5 makeover that arrived in 2017.

That there is a 4JJ3TCX and so much better than the 4JJ1 Euro Trash 5 that came before it.

With the passage of time we learnt that the emissions-mandated exhaust scrubbing that needed to be done to meet Euro5 and via a new Diesel Particulate Diffuser (DPD), was pretty good in theory, until you clocked up 80-120K distance, when the sensors measuring the grunge would start playing up. Being essentially plug-n-play, the fix wasn’t especially onerous, more tedious, requiring a visit to your local dealer to have them swapped out. Great within the warranty period, not so hot afterwards.

The other funk, and this is way-more serious, was the repeated failure of the stock Mitsubishi variable-vane turbocharger, unique to the Euro5 motor.

It won’t matter how old the car is, the turbo will fail. It’ll go into over-boost and won’t come back, sending you into limp home mode with a dash-display full of warning lights and barely any go. Into the dealership again for the “fix”, with early symptoms sometimes referred to as sounding like a wailing siren. If you already own a 2017-2019 D-MAX or MU-X you likely know what I’m banging on about, because some of you have likely had two, three, four or possibly five replacement turbos fitted under warranty, but no truly final fix, because replacing like with like, isn’t going to make the problem go away.

Gremlins like this can erode confidence in a vehicle make. Even a brand with a reputation of traditional longevity… just ask the guys over there at Toyota! Their DPF funk cost them a multi-billion lawsuit here in Australia.

I personally drove three different Isuzu vehicles in that model/year range that failed on the job and each time I thanked my lucky stars that my old 2014 D-MAX and 2016 MU-X were pre-Euro5, non-DPD models and slow, yet honest plodders.

Luckily the engineers at Isuzu tipped all of that baggage into the bin, because the new 4JJ3TCX in my use, has been solidly reliable (Jeez I hope I haven’t just jinxed it). I can’t even remember when it last did a “burn”, the catalytic convertor (furnace) that turns to ash the particulate matter trapped on the DPD filter’s screens, because it is so unobtrusive. Maybe it’s my driving style? I don’t hang around and I’m not driving to conserve fuel. I need to get to places and often near a thousand kays away. That style seems to suit this vehicle. High-speed, high-exhaust temperature.

The neddies have multiplied over the years, but I still haven’t got to torque-Nirvana yet with an Isuzu and that is a minimum, I reckon, of 500Nm in this size and class of vehicle.

The 2012-2016 variants offered only 380Nm, not nearly enough, but reliably reliable. The 2017-2019 models jumped 50Nm, to 430Nm and still not enough. The new ones, 2020-on, trumpet 450Nm.

I do this a lot. Sometimes it’s two Grizzly 450s, sometimes the Rhino and a Grizzly or just the Rhino. At 2-2.5T with the trailer mass it should be easy but it’s not.

With a full-fat 500Nm in the new model, Isuzu would have really been able to push the “Born to Tow” banner, lobbing right slap-bang in the middle of the market leaders. At 450Nm I know mine isn’t a great tow-tug. It’s adequate. And please don’t get me started on the 3,500kgs tow capacity that Japanese ute makers reckon their products can pull, because it’s BS. It’s not safe and you shouldn’t be doing it. Learn to holiday with less.

You might want to do this, but you won’t like doing this.

I’m approaching my caravan years and I’m not going to be that guy holding everyone up, nor the one who’s just driven off the road and crashed. Nope, I’m going to be Captain Sensible and pick a single axle van with an ATM under 2.5T, because that’s where these utes can be profitable, any more and it’s a lottery.

A lot of folk talk-up getting a tune done and extracting bigger torques, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch, because mismanaged over-fuelling will eventually lead to piston meltdowns. Might not be tomorrow, next week or next month, but one day when all the stars are aligned and the vehicle is under serious load it’ll be snafu time and then it’ll be warranty-a-no-go. Isuzu won’t be helping you and good luck with the local guy with the corner tuning-house. Did he pay that last products liability insurance premium, supposedly there for your peace-of-mind?

Overfueling does this to pistons.

It's easier to play safe, and I know that from experience with the MU-X, because a muffler-delete pipe did an amazing job on getting the engine to spool up faster and with noticeably less lag. Taking that very simple philosophy I applied it to 666 and installed a Loaded 4X4 “King Brown” system in 3” stainless steel  and was pleasantly surprised I could replicate the results.

The dyno told us that there was a subtle 11kW increase in power and a drop in exhaust gas temperatures and driving it is the pudding-proof, because it is more-sprightly everywhere.

Whipping out the old and installing the new was easy and anyone, with some rudimentary tools and a set of ramps, can knock this job over at home as a DIY’er in an hour or so.

Aisin Auto Is Sweeter but Not Sweet

Owners of the previous Euro5 model likely thought their new six-speed Aisin auto trans would be the making of match in heaven, but the initial tune supplied was pretty awful, a transmission that once pointed at hills, couldn’t make its mind up whether it was coming or going! Isuzu weren’t alone at the time, because plenty of Hilux, Prado and Fortuner (sharing the same gearbox) that I drove all did pretty much the same thing, and in all cases, likely a product of not enough get-up-and-go to hold gears on hills.

The shifter on an Aisin offers a sports-shift function allowing manual control across its 6-speeds and you’ll want to use it in the hills.

The weight of complaints prompted a later transmission retune at the dealership with something a bit less manic, but despite the reprogramming, an auto Aisin was/is still nervous when pointed at a gradient. Despite the new 4JJ3’s extra pep it’ll drop gears without too much provocation, especially when you hitch the car to a trailer, heavy or light, and ask it to climb.

It’ll also get hot and bothered, either when picking the wrong range in sand (that’ll be HIGH range on a hot day and left in D (for dumb)) or when towing something heavy up them hills. That’s when a transmission flush followed by a transmission cooler will be a really good idea, because a “sealed for life” servicing regime is more BS.

Soggy Suspenders Don’t Suit Me!

Suspension is something you need to consider replacing whenever you take delivery of a new 4WD and irrespective of the maker. They are all dumbed-down to satisfy the want of some mysterious customer seen in a focus group, who clearly has no idea and likely drives a Camry.

I loathe a marshmallow ride, the one that crashes to the bump-stops on a spoon drain or a speed hump at walking speed and continues to pogo like a porpoise for a metre or three. I also loathe loading up a vehicle and seeing its arse sitting on the ground and nose pointing to the heavens.

Having a vehicle skip sideways halfway through a corrugated bend isn’t any joy either, nor being set so low that even over the mildest of ramp-over angles, it is dragging its belly and crunching the sidesteps into oblivion.

I crave a bit of clearance when I go bush and standard suspension height doesn’t cut it, whereas the Loaded 4X4 kit  gives me the ability to tackle trails comfortably with no anxiety.

That was all of my experience with the new ute (and the old ones too) and it needed fixing.

I see a lot of people opting for a band-aid solution, add-a-leaf, strut spacers, weight distribution hitches, the old cheap and cheerful solutions. They don’t work. The only effective method is to replace the lot. Now I know that’s going to be another $2.5K investment in the vehicle, but that and tyres are the two most important magic wands you’ll wave at the car. Decent suspension and a proper light-truck all-terrain tyre, WILL maketh the car.

I reached into the Loaded 4X4 parts bin and selected the 40mm lift kit with a spring rate designed for my loads AND, and this is the important bit, using the exclusive setup that comes with the Loaded 4X4 shocks called “Dynamic Tune”.

That beautiful strut comes with a weight-rated coil spring wrapped around our exclusive “Dynamic Tune" shocker, offering a really comfy ride.

I’ve been driving 4WDs for fifty years and in that time every single one of my vehicles has had its suspenders swapped out. I’ve used all the big names in suspension or driven them, and I can honestly say that every single one of them offering extra carrying capacity or height, is blighted with shocks that are too firm, shaking the Bejesus out of the car and passengers on any surface less than perfect.

That doesn’t have to be the case and it is possible to get a more compliant ride but usually only via spending a tonne of money and suffering added complexity with remote-reservoir and adjustable setups, none of which you’ll want. What works on the racetrack doesn’t necessarily work around town or in the scrub, because you won’t have the suspension tuner guy dialling in the changes as the surface changes. He also won’t be around when the adjuster knob gets torn off by a rock or the remote reservoir’s hose lets go and spills the shock’s lifeblood into the dust. This is a moment for the KISS principle, because it works.

When you drive things in isolation, you’ll start believing you’ve got the best or near it. You might think your fourbie fitted with a kit from Ironman, Tough Dog, Outback Armour or Bilstein is truly grouse, kidding yourself you’ve got the suspenders sorted, but nope, the Dynamic tune Loaded 4X4 setup is easily better in the ride and handling departments. No thump or bash, because the others are too firm, just a composed journey without the angst of corrugations or mid-corner bumps and able to carry a load.

Someone Forgot About the Brakes

The new model came with bigger brakes and I’m happy with that because that’ll mean shorter stopping distances. The trade-off in the first instance for me was I lost the opportunity for my favourite wheel and tyre size, a 16 x 8” wheel, coupled to an LT265/75R16 123R tyre. The inner radius of the 16” wheel won’t swallow up the disc rotor and brake caliper anymore. Trust me, I tried. I did have one set of CSA Renegade that had about 5mm of caliper clearance, but it’s not enough. I ran that setup for a couple of months until I got some alternatives, but it wasn’t sustainable.

Early on I found a set of 16” CSA Renegades from my old D-MAX fitted, just… but with not enough caliper clearance to ensure trouble-free touring.

So, 17” wheels it is for the future, and that is okay by me, but what’s not okay is the retention of a drum-brake back end.

My new go-to size for on and off-road rubber is an LT265/70R17 offering a little increase in height, but a much tougher carcase, around 40% stronger than stock.

Drum-brakes are fitted to Japanese, Thai-built utes, for a tax concession at the place of manufacture. What might be cheap for the maker, translates into crap for the end-user. The drum-brake apologists are likely to take issue with me here and talk up the greater swept area and supposed ease of servicing, to which I say crap, crap, crap.

I’ve been using utes for all of my professional driver training career (that’s thirty years) and a decade before it privately, and I can swear on a stack of bibles and tell you that drum brakes should have been pensioned off years ago.

Drums are not safe and they will fade under load, and they (the brake shoes) need to be renewed frequently with greater costs to ownership. At 40K I noticed the braking ability was starting to suffer and the shoes should have been swapped out, but were within “operational” limits. Now at 65K they’ve had it and chirping, telling me there’s minimum friction meat left, whilst the front disc pads have ages to go.

Please Mr Isuzu, swap the back end out of an MU-X and fix this evil immediately (except I don’t want the stupid electronic park brake).

You Call That a Bash Plate?

Speaking of things downstairs I can also attest to the unfit-for-purpose nature of the vehicle’s UVP, that’s Under Vehicle Protection. With a new D-MAX or MU-X you get three bits of 1.5mm steel up the front and a composite (AKA plastic) bit at the back. Imagine my surprise when on my first outing (and on a beach) I managed to high-crown a section of the high-tide mark (thanks to a lack of clearance) and grind to a halt. Simple solution was popping the car into reverse, whereupon the trailing edge of the engine plate decided it was easier to tear off, than hang on, folding it neatly.

These are the bits that come with the car from new and totally underdone.

Not good enough.

This section was peeled back on only sand, so precious-little protection on offer.

That little incident got me thinking about what could be better and the result is the Loaded 4X4 UVP for Isuzu D-MAX, MU-X and Mazda BT-50. Designed in collaboration with partners, Milford Industries, who have over fifty years engineering expertise and supply the automotive industry with OEM quality componentry, the Loaded 4X4 alloy UVP is the premium choice.

Using 6mm 5005 grade aluminium alloy offers plenty of advantages over steel and stainless steel, the biggest being weight-saving. The Loaded 4X4 6mm alloy kit, a four-plate design, weighs in at just 22kgs, whereas a set of three plates with similar coverage from Custom Off-Road in 4mm stainless steel weighs a whopping 37kgs! The Loaded kit is nearly half the weight and yet stronger.

The Loaded 4X4 6mm aluminium bash plates being installed on 666.

Strength is good, but UVP also needs to retain some measure of flexibility, because make it too rigid and you run the risk of cracking the chassis. I’ve seen the torsional flex required of a 4WD impinged by the installation of UVP that’s poorly designed and using the wrong thickness/and or material, resulting in chassis fatigue. The Loaded 4X4 kit is designed with that in mind.

Whilst stainless might look pretty, it’s stiffly inflexible and was discounted quickly by the Loaded 4X4 engineering team because aluminium is the better material for this installation.

Speaking of installation, fitting this kit is a cinch. Around 45 minutes on the garage floor with the car up on ramps will see the old crud off and the Loaded 4X4 kit on, and with simple tools. The vehicle’s maintenance has been thought through too, with drain points for serviceable locations obvious and a recess to hold the air-conditioner outlet in place too, along with longitudinal slots for dirt and water egress and ventilation.

When you are rock hopping you want to know that those crunches downstairs aren’t signalling a catastrophic impact that’ll leave you stranded.

It looks good and it’s tough, as I’ve dragged those plates over some serious underbelly-carnage-inducing high-points and with no detrimental scarring or disfigurement. Cheap insurance for your vehicle’s undergubbins.

Oh, and before I forget, cheapness is seen downstairs at the tow points too. Once-upon-a-time D-MAXs used to come with two tow points, on both left, and right hand chassis rails, but nope, no more, only one on the RHS, the wrong side. That’s dumb.

Newly Tractive with An Effective Traction Control System

The new D-MAX and MU-X have finally got some off-road nous going in the form of a traction control system that actually works in LOW range and the hallelujah moment… a rear diff-lock.

As I’d reported in my 2022 piece on the previous RT generations of Isuzu’s products  - The Ultimate Isuzu D-MAX 2012-2020 Buyers Guide - the off-road finesse of traction control was non-existent in LOW range, as the engine speed algorithm to bring it to action was set at 2,500rpm, twice as many revolutions than what was really required. It was the primary contributor to the often-reported CV failure in the front driveshafts of those vehicles. Get yourself into an off-road tangle, with suspension at full stretch, lose that all-important grip and spin a wheel and all the while you’re prodding the accelerator for a response and nothing. Hit 2,500rpm though, and the brakes come on hard and bang!

LOW range in a new D-MAX wakes up electronic traction control and a much-more sensible 1,100rpm for the rough stuff which will save your CVs.

The latest generation offers a lot more adaptation. In HIGH range it’ll still chime in at 2,500rpm and be right for a wet bitumen or loose dirt road moments of loss of grip and save your on-road bacon by tickling the brakes and trimming engine speed. Select LOW range and the engine speed trim is neutered and the brake function emerges at around 1,100-1,200rpm where it can do some good on harder surfaces. Unlike the old model you can’t turn it off completely, because all vehicle makers are singing to the same “safety” prayer book and once it senses you’re going a bit quick (at around 40-50km/h), you’ll notice the engine speed being trimmed again and brakes applied, just when you don’t want it to.

Lit up like a Xmas tree in LOW range, new D-MAX is a better proposition than the gen before it.

The only way to get around it is via tyre pressure reduction, finding a sweet-spot pressure that’ll mostly restore the grip and negate any autonomous braking moments that will cost you precious momentum (it’s worth mentioning for those unaware, that LOW range engagement turns off Vehicle Stability Control as it’s a high-speed function of the car).

The new electronic rear diff-lock is a boon, locking both rear wheels to turn in tandem instead of permitting the usual differential-a-go-go, where the power takes the path of least resistance, out the spinning wheel and ensuring a bog is on the way.

There’s the magic RDL button, but when you press it, make it deliberate.

The Isuzu diff-lock is activated by a long button depress (short stabs don’t work and only confuse the electronics, so be deliberate with your presses) and works only in LOW range and at speeds under 30km/h. If you are rolling when you engage it, you’ll usually get a clean and quick engagement. Be stationary and the light will just flash, signalling no connection. Similarly, getting it off on the other side of that ditch is best done whilst in motion and preferably whilst the steering is straight.

In the Japanese way of doing these things, turn diff-lock on and traction control goes to sleep, leaving your front wheels dangling with an open diff and the risk of plenty of wheelspin.

Another related poo moment is the plastic connector for the diff-lock’s wiring as it goes into the housing is unprotected (rectified on all MY23 models), and vulnerable to stone damage. Whilst mine hasn’t suffered that blow, plenty of others have. There are aftermarket guards to shield that point.

This is the “fix” for the MY23 D-MAX, a bent piece of tin with some ripper sharp edges and I reckon it’ll make a good mud trap too. Better than nothing.

Hill Descent Control is mostly a bit of frippery, electronically and autonomously applying the brakes in a descending phase. The problem with it is two-fold, one is that an application of the brakes will momentarily stop the wheels on softer/loose materials and start wrecking the track and digging holes, and two, leave it on long enough, with regular activation, and the brakes get really hot and fade.

At least the Isuzu system is intuitive in its speed setting, as a driver can elect to change the default speed (around 4km/h) to something else. Go slower by applying the brake and squeezing down to the newly desired speed and hold the brake pedal for a moment. The car learns that revised speed threshold and pulses the brakes to assume that speed. Now going too slow? Jump on the accelerator and bring the speed up to the new higher speed threshold and pause on the pedal, the car learns that’s where it needs to be.

Sweet Steerer

From the first time we started reviewing new D-MAX, we were in raptures over the new electric power steering system. Gone was the leaden and dull hydraulic system of before, and in was this thing that turned on a dime.

It is a sweet steerer, and all your on-roads and most of your off-roads will be easy-as-pie and with decent feedback (especially when you replace the standard tyres). I say most of your off-road moments, with one caveat, and that is with the vehicle sitting deep in sand or rutted mud, you’ll find solid resistance to articulate through its full range of travel, lock-to-lock. That negates some moments when a full turn is useful to get out of a bog or a moment when you’re stuck-fast. Minor point, but worth mentioning.

Love it or leave it off

An occasional hindrance off-road is IDAS and in particular, Forward Autonomous Braking.

The camera up in the windscreen has a height calibrated to observe peril headed its way and when it perceives some drama, it’ll stomp on the brakes. If the landscape has changed, say whilst doing a water crossing, and the horizon is now higher, there’s the risk of a mid-stream application of the brakes, just when you don’t want that to happen.

I’ve reliably driven through streams at 600mm deep with no drama, but taking full use of Isuzu’s claimed 800mm fording depth might invoke the safety Nannas, especially if you get a splash over the bonnet. By the way, don’t take the 800mm fording depth literally, because the car will likely be already afloat.

Another moment is when there’s trackside vegetation or rocks within close eyeline of the camera and again more FAB potential, that won’t be so fab if you’re hanging off the side of a hill. Not forgetting too, the proximity warning radar will be having a hissy-fit in the same terrain and chiming its alarm annoyingly so and needs turning off with a button depress near the gear lever. A deep dive into the menu settings will turn FAB off, but a system as sophisticated as this should have all the on-road safety malarkey turned OFF when in LOW range. I doubt that’s a massive software change.

This button on the steering wheel turns off the lane keeping functions and makes for a much more pleasant driving experience without the constant steering corrections.

I won’t offer up too much commentary on the on-road machinations of IDAS, except to say that on first driving the car it took some getting used to. The lane keeper functions were the ones that were a constant source of frustration, until, in 2021, Isuzu came up with a fix, via a two-second LSS button depress that turned that program off. All subsequent builds feature this workaround as standard and the earlier ones could be re-programmed to work at a future service interval when requested.

Confirmation after the beep-beep, that lane-keeping has been banished.

Weeping Wipers

Another effort to fix a problem that didn’t exist, was the application of a wiper washer setup that rocked the wiper blade on start-up to relieve the blade of any debris and directs the cleansing water onto the blade, rather than the windscreen.

Neither is particularly effective. The dribble of water with a single pull of the washer stalk is miniscule, the workaround on that is to repeatedly pull the stalk to get anywhere near enough water onto the windscreen to be of any benefit. It’s worth mentioning too the “auto” function of the wipers seen on LS-U and LS-T variants is a bit hit and miss, as too the headlight dimming function. Both of those techs are too slow to react.

A bit dim

Speaking of headlights…next.

Despite the adoption of LEDs and daytime running lights, high beam is feeble and you’ll be reaching out to the aftermarket for assistance. Isuzu went pretty hard on nay-say to bull-bar light-bar installations, saying that they would interfere with IDAS’s camera perceptions of the road ahead, but in practice that doesn’t seem to be the case.

I opted to increase my visibility by fitting a set of ARB’s fabbo Solis driving lights.

Anyway, on mine, I opted for a set of ARB’s Solis spotties and my night-time blindness was cured in an instant. On my next D-MAX I’m going to install an ARB Intensity light bar that I’ve got lying around and put that on the bull-bar top rail and I’m sure there’ll be zero drama, but plenty of light!

Repeat after me, I hate Leather and Carpets (and push-button starts) and a heavy Tailgate!

Interior-wise the cabin is pretty comfy, the seats have been improved and are more contoured to fit my backside and back, so long hauls are a better proposition. I know a lot of you like your leather and carpet, but you know you are completely bonkers don’t you?

I positively hate the carpet in this car as it’s a sand trap despite rubber floor mats, the LS-Ms vinyl floor is way-better by my 4WD-metrics. The fabric on the seats is seemingly durable but seat covers will make all the difference in terms of longevity.

Use your 4WD in a 4WD environment on a regular basis? I do and I hate having to drag out the vacuum cleaner to suck up the junk that comes off my boots, when a vinyl floor and a dustpan and brush make much better partners.

My next MY23 D-MAX apparently will be coming with leather so I’ll be covering that rubbish up with seat covers, oh and it comes with a stupid push-button start FFS! The MY21 model has a good and perfectly functioning key, without all the crazy beeping as you approach or depart the car, wanting to autonomously lock or unlock the doors.

I have to admit to being completely surprised by my television screen. It occupies a fair bit of dashboard real estate and I was expecting, and based on past experience with numerous carmakers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto prior efforts, for it to be pretty useless. It’s not, and it’s only been of late where it’s had some dementia moments, blacking out and freezing me out. What to do? Turn the car off and wait 30 seconds.

The screen is about as big as they need to get and it occupies a fair chunk of dash space.

The satnav is good if you use Google Maps, whilst having more than one phone enabled via Bluetooth can be troublesome. Bad luck if you connected your phone via cable at the same time another is wireless because it’ll be jumping back and forth trying to work out who should have precedence.

The new MY23 gets these, gas struts that help in the tailgate descents and ascents.

Isuzu obviously and belatedly took the hint about the tailgate being heavy, because the MY23s come out with gas struts and oh-so-easy to lift and drop. Not so the MY21, so I’ll be investing in some ARB Tailgate Assist units shortly.

Tiresome Tyres

I’m saving the best for last because vehicle makers fit stuff to 4WDs to satisfy the 90% of boneheads who are buying the wrong vehicle.

If you’re just swanning around town, you’d be much better off buying a passenger car. But image is important for some folk and having a vehicle with hair-on-its-chest, makes a statement that’s apparently good for the ego.

Anyway, for those living in the land of Urbania, you’ll be pleased to know that the tyres fitted are of the passenger car variety, and as they are light and flexible, with low rolling resistance, you can expect a comfy ride and enhanced fuel-efficiency.

Do any towing with them, or dare go down a dirt track, or off-roading and you can expect trouble with a capital T, and that’s even before everyone overinflates.

Tyres of this construction do not need, nor want, any more than what the placard says. That’ll usually be in the region of 210-230kPa (30-33psi) when the vehicle is empty. If you’re approaching GVM, you might sneak the rears up into the 250-300kPa (36-43psi) realm, and again, in consult with the placard. Do that and you’ll eke out the longest life of the tyre and with the minimum of puncture risk. Get ready to dump more air on a dirt road, say 20% and SLOW DOWN by the same margin, which will further improve your chances.

The wheel/tyre package fitted to this vehicle was particularly horrible, the silver alloy wheels looked like the cutting blade on a Mandolin vegetable slicer and measured 18 x 7”, whilst the tyres are a Bridgestone H/T (that’s Highway Terrain) in a 265/60R18 110S size. Double-yuck.

I’m no fan of 18” wheels because the rim-to-road sidewall height is too shallow for my likes and increases road shock. It’s a rougher ride than you’ll get in a 17” fitment, my preferred size. A taller sidewall has more chance to be flexible (unless of course you overinflate).

If you must run an 18” this works, but with a shallower sidewall you’ll notice more bump and thump and the load index is super-good.

I had a hand in developing Isuzu’s Genuine Accessory alternative wheel range, which, from a looks-perspective, are much prettier, albeit dumbed-down in the width department. Sticking with 7” and 7.5” widths for the Militant Shadow and Predator Shadow patterns limits alternative light-truck tyre selections, because 8” usually opens up plenty of potential. Don’t blame me on that one, someone back in Isuzu made that call!

Isuzu’s Predator Shadow wheel from its genuine accessory range is the 18” offering and coupled in this pic with Toyo’s RT.

The sensible pathway to complete tyre and wheel satisfaction, is to pursue a 17 x 8” wheel and CSA make the best of them, coupled to either an LT265/65R17 120R (if you want to stick to near identical rolling diameters), or go up one size and still be legal at LT265/70R17 121S. 

I reckon this is the best size for a D-MAX, a little bit taller without compromising gearing, and with plenty of strength.

At these two sizes you’ll arrive at my “120 Rule” moment, where the tyres have a robust 1,400kgs (120 load index) or 1,450kgs (121 load index) carrying capacity versus the flimsy Bridgestone’s 110=1,060kgs. The bigger the number the better, and 120 buys you bragging rights (provided you don’t overinflate) for puncture invincibility and tyre longevity.

I run either Toyo’s excellent and new Open Country AT3, or the slightly more aggressive RT. Both are super-duper on Isuzus.

Toyo’s new Open Country All-Terrain 3 is a brilliant all-rounder and fitted to Isuzu’s Militant Shadow genuine accessory wheel.

Going bigger, to say LT285/70R17 121S will be borderline illegal and ruin the driving experience because it’ll be over-geared, taking longer to get up to speed and to stop, let alone the strain it will place on the driveline components, especially the front end. The front diff and the steering rack were never designed to carry that load, so if you’re going down that path, you can expect trouble and another warranty refusal.

In Summary

The 2020 Isuzu D-MAX is a considerably better driving experience than those that came before it, bristling with new safety tech and creature comforts that will appeal to a broader base of buyers. It’s no longer the simple kid, the one happily skipping stones in a puddle. Now he wants his Gameboy (or whatever the current iteration of that might be), looking for an app to create the excitement. I suppose I’ll just have to be dragged kicking and screaming into this brave new world and suffer the beeps and phantom emergency braking moments quietly, knowing that I’m not alone. Despite all of that, I’ve plonked down my hard earned, because the underpinnings are sound and I’m looking forward to clocking up some significant kilometres with it and I’ll update you on how that goes.

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