Although Isuzu utes have been around for a while, albeit in Holden badged guise, the big break came in 2008 with literally a big break when General Motors sold off Isuzu, opening the way for investors in New Zealand to start Isuzu New Zealand, which is a completely different company to Holden. The D-Max ute has been a mainstay of the Isuzu fleet in New Zealand, and now there’s a new model on the block, with the high spec two-wheel drive LS-T added to the equally high spec LS-T 4WD D-Max.
It used to be that utes were bare bones basic work vehicles, but since they have been discovered by the lifestyle crowd they usually serve as a family car as well. This has led to growth in high spec offerings, and the LS-T is no different. New Zealand is the only country in the world to get the two-wheel drive LS-T combination and it required a commitment to a production run of 300 vehicles to secure it.
The 4WD version is more common overseas, such as Thailand where the D-Max is built, where 4WD is seen as vital for a ute. Now the basic D-Max ute is pretty, well, basic, but the LS-T adds full leather upholstery with power adjustable driver’s seat, sat nav, climate control, roof rails, reverse camera. The D-Max is powered by a modified version of the Isuzu engine installed in the N Series trucks. It’s a 3.0 litre turbo diesel, which produces 130kW and 380Nm of torque, while the gearbox is either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic.
The result is a vehicle that doesn’t need to rev far past 2000rpm to get decent performance out of it. Interestingly the first version of the D-Max engine had an oil filter mounted at the top of the engine, which was intended to help out in countries where vehicle lifts are not that common, but with this version the oil filter has migrated back to a more conventional bottom mount position.
The engine also helps with the 2500kg braked trailer weight (the 4WD is 3500kg for some reason), which is certainly one of the D-Max’s selling points. On the road the D-Max has a reasonably settled ride, but its still a long way behind the likes of the Ford Ranger. That’s sort of ok, because until now the D-Max has been marketed as a bare bones tough ute.
Off-road the 4WD is pretty impressive, with an ability plow through the soft wet sand we put it through, although you really should remember to hold down the traction control button for a while so the both the traction control and stability control are turned off. If not then the stability control will eventually step in and cut power, which is something you definitely don’t need in wet sand.
With a reputation for tough basic utes the addition of the high spec LS-T makes things a bit more problematic because the car like interior and features make the D-Max feel like it should be a touch more civilised to drive. There is the appeal of having a vehicle with a very proven drivetrain though, and according to Isuzu New Zealand one of the trucks concerns is that engine and transmission parts are not much in demand as the vehicle is so reliable. I can’t comment on that but apparently the replacement body panel part of the operation is doing fine.
So Isuzu is blurring the lines even further with the LS-T, for a brand that has positioned itself as the tough end of the ute offerings is now selling a vehicle with features comparable to anyone else in the market. Seeing as the Isuzu brand has set up a great customer loyalty in only seven years, that can only be a good thing.