2022 Isuzu D-MAX LS-U+ Drive Review
A review that's more about how it drives than all of the crap it comes with, that’s really kind of a comparison with our pet Triton…
It’s been a while since I’ve had my reviewer’s cap on, and when the opportunity to get behind the wheel of Isuzu’s current D-MAX came up, I knew that a revisit of the car that is currently winning all of the media award’s silverware was in order.
Now, I’ll confess here that I take the awards dished out by the media businesses in an effort to bolster their advertising revenue coffers, with the pinch of salt they barely deserve. If you’re using them to decide which car to buy, be aware that the awards exist to make money and any outlet publishing them that says otherwise, is deploying a Russian tactic better known as, lying.
So don’t buy a new car, just because it won some car of the year advertising deal, drive it yourself, look at what it has and how it is made, do some research online about what to expect from the ownership experience and then make up your own mind.
I’ll add my own disclaimer to the start of this review too, as I drive a well sorted MR Triton that runs our own Dynamic Tune suspension, a Pacemaker King Brown 3” DPF back exhaust system and Toyo Open Country All-Terrain tyres, and jumping out of that, into a stock D-MAX involves a reset of sorts.
The other reset that is required, is the price of the D-MAX. As tested, this LS-U+ which adds an electric driver’s seat, front seat heating, leather accented trim and some heated mirrors to the regular, almost but not quite top-spec LS-U swag, is a whopping $69,193 drive away per Isuzu’s website.
By comparison the equivalent Triton GLS in blue with the luxury pack that includes electric, leather heated seats and mirrors, starts at $57,730 driveaway. The Triton GLS comes standard with Mitsubishi’s Super Select drivetrain which offers permanent 4WD/AWD and is only slightly lacking on the ‘pack in as much electronic safety crap as you can’ front, when compared to the D-MAX (and it’s better off for it in my opinion).
And no, the fact that it costs more, doesn’t mean that the D-MAX is a higher quality vehicle. They’re both made in Thailand, in similar plants all ultimately owned by Mitsubishi Corporation, the 100-percent owner of Isuzu Ute Australia and the largest shareholder in Isuzu Motors Limited.
I suspect there will be some price recalibration when the new and more sensibly priced Ranger Wildtrack lobs on the scene sporting AWD, 10 gears and a V6 diesel for not a whole lot more than this LS-U+ costs now. In the meantime, 4x4s are hot property in a market suffering huge supply chain issues, so I guess there’s plenty of hay being made, while the sun shines.
As I read my own words here, it strikes me that I’m coming across a little negative about the D-MAX, but that’s not the intention and there is plenty to like. Opening the driver’s door, reveals one of the best interiors in this segment. I’m not a huge fan of the 9” infotainment system that has a whiff of Alibaba about it, or the ultra-fussy and hard to fathom central dash display that I just avoid using, but everything else about the cabin is tastefully designed and put together. The seats are comfortable, the steering wheel feels great and compared to the Triton, there’s a sense of adequate space. I think most people would agree that it’s one of the best interiors available in this class of vehicle right now.
On the move, the first thing you notice is the steering. We banged on about this in our Episode One Triton v D-MAX comparison (you can watch it below), and the D-MAX’s electric rack dishes up a light and easy feel at the wheel, albeit one devoid of any real feel, something I’m going to put down to the tyres, more than the electric steering.
When you compare a stock Triton and D-MAX back-to-back, besides the obviously easier steering in the D-MAX, the steering feel in both cars wasn’t that dissimilar, but the Toyo OPATs on my MR, are trans-formative in this department, adding bucket-loads of turn-in and road feel to the driving experience. The stock tyres on these cars really are dreadful things, except when running 12psi on sand, then what they lack in feel they make up for with buoyancy.
Toyo Open Country AT2s and there's now an all-new AT3 out. Awesome tyres! Unfortunately, we don't sell them but we do sell those CSA Ridgeline alloys.
The suspension is much the same, but kind of the opposite of a stock Triton, which errs on the firm side, although Mitsubishi seems to add more compliance to the mix with each update. Isuzu has clearly targeted a softer ride in the D-MAX, and while they’ve achieved that to a large degree, it has that typically oversoft ‘clapped out Falcon taxi’ feel to it. Pajero Sport owners will know exactly what I’m talking about here.
The result is a comfortable, even plush driving experience when you first get behind the wheel, but overtime you come to realise that it’s akin to overcooked pasta, and that what you really need from your 4x4 is a little more al dente. If you throw it at the ceiling it should stick.
We also know through experience, that this suspension will struggle to deal with the addition of any sort of reasonable constant load for any great length of time, which is the same story with all of these 4x4s.
Our Loaded 4X4 Dynamic Tune 40mm lift kit transforms how the D-MAX drives, and I’d be changing both tyres and suspension shortly after taking delivery.
Under the bonnet is the latest iteration of Isuzu’s famous truck derived 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine, the 4JJ3 and while it’s a lot quieter than the 4JJ1 version in the previous gen D-MAX, it still makes its presence known, and when you add in some drivetrain whine, which oddly isn’t present in the Triton (they use versions of the same Aisin 6-speed auto), it’s not the quietest cabin in its class. But, this is a high-riding 4x4 and for many, it’ll be perfectly acceptable, even preferable, to have just a little diesel character shining through.
The stock under vehicle protection is rubbish and yes, that gearbox protection plate is plastic... We'll have our own UVP range available for the current D-MAX by mid-2022.
That subdued clatter only serves to remind you that up-front is one very unstressed, torquey and extraordinarily fuel-efficient engine, one that will quite possibly outlast the rest of the vehicle. This isn’t just words either, we’ve run one of these D-MAXs up on a dyno to determine if a 3” DPF back exhaust makes a difference – it makes a 9kW difference that you read all about here– and that session revealed that these engines are very conservatively tuned and have plenty of headroom with regard to exhaust gas temperatures, making them a great tow vehicle. In comparison the smaller, lighter and more refined Mitsubishi 2.4-litre is working harder and hotter and surprisingly, isn’t as fuel efficient in our experience, but I have a hunch that’s by design to an extent.
It's my opinion that Isuzu doesn’t have the auto electronics and torque converter sorted as well as Mitsubishi has in the Triton. In the D-MAX, the Aisin 6-speed is too quick to change down a gear and too slow to change back up after it has. The gear changes feel slower and more slurred with up-shifts under light throttle being followed by a slight but noticeable loss of momentum as the D-MAX washes off torque it should have locked in.
It's still a bit noisy (but a lot better than it was) and it remains the the big D-MAX draw card in my opinion. It might not have full-time 4WD, a 10-speed auto and a quality infotainment system, but it does have the mighty 4JJ3!
The Triton in comparison works better in almost every regard with crisper changes, better gear choices and upshifting that gives nothing away to forward momentum. I suspect that Mitsubishi has targeted driveability with the MR Triton, and if you drive it back-to-back with the more fuel efficient MQ Triton (same engine) you’ll get a real of sense of this claim, while Isuzu has favoured fuel-efficiency with the D-MAX, which it is quite remarkable in achieving. It’s always amazed me how incredibly efficient the 4JJ’ engines are.
I didn’t take this particular D-MAX off-road, but we’ve done that before in our Loaded 4X4 Episode One comparison (see video earlier in this article). In summary, the D-MAX is still a little lacking on the low-range traction control front and its longer wheelbase meant it was touching down more than the Triton in rough terrain. Ultimately, both vehicles are super capable off-roaders.
One massive improvement for the D-MAX, that seems to have been introduced on the quiet, is a thorough dialing down of the collision avoidance system, which was close to being dangerous, well in my experience at least, in the earlier build press cars I’ve driven. It was so bad, it put me off buying the D-MAX at the time, and I know it’s a bone of contention with some current D-MAX owners still. I suspect that the earlier cars will receive 'calm the fk down' (CTFD) software updates as they lob into Isuzu dealers for servicing.
I’ve also heard a whisper that a button will be added to the steering wheel, you’ll see the spot for it if you take a look, that’ll switch off some of the electronic safety systems and that dealers will be able to retrofit it for current owners. Don’t quote me on that, rumours by their nature are often dubious. Hopefully, if the rumour is true, this button will kill the Lane Keep Assist and its frustrating active steering function. It’s without question, a safety feature that has real benefits in the right driving environment, such as highway driving or if your experiencing fatigue and aren’t smart enough to stop. The rest of the time, it’s best switched off.
And just as this article goes to press, David has informed me that there is a dealer fitted button available to kill the Lane Keep Assist function (pic below).
Isuzu owners, please form an orderly queue at your local dealer!
Out of all of the 4x4 utes on the market, it still comes down to a choice between D-MAX and Triton for me, and right now, in my opinion, there is a fundamental difference between the two. The D-MAX is ‘all-new’ and has been designed to hit some marketing targets, like a 5-Star ANCAP rating, 9” Infotainment screen, 3.5-tonne towing, and 450Nm with 8L/100km fuel efficiency and nailing those targets, has on some levels, made it less driveable.
Mitsubishi on the other hand will be saying farewell to the MR Triton next year, and it feels like its engineers went all out to make the MR, when they considerably upgraded it from the MQ, as driveable as they possibly could, and it shows.
That said, if I was regularly towing a big van or heavy trailer or had a family of four or five to fit in, I’d buy the D-MAX and while I’d leave the dealership feeling somewhat stitched up on the price, I’d be 100 percent confident that the D-MAX was the right choice in this scenario.
Every other scenario would see me buying the Triton.
Want to improve your new or old D-MAX, like out of sight?
We've developed suspension that transforms the way it drives and deals with a load (available now) and we'll have our own range of Under Vehicle Protection out by mid-2022.
There's more info via the following links: