When it comes to the world of commercial vehicles and pick-up trucks to be precise I will admit I am far form an expert and it is quite some time from I last experienced such a vehicle, and even longer since I last drove one so on collecting this Isuzu D-Max Blade from John at John Barr Cars’ brand new showroom in Crumlin I was excited and anxious.
Excited as it was something completely new for me to research and drive as well as the prospect of the ability to have a splashing time within Clandeboye Estate at the Ireland Offroad Experience and anxious as the last time I drove a pick-up it was less than grim (I will add at this point that it wasn’t of the Isuzu variant back then either but a competitor).
A lot of the characteristics of the older generation pick-ups (10+ years ago) would have included things such as; unrefined, ill handling, a lack of usable 4 wheel drive on the road, noisy, clunky, poor steering lock, heavy to drive, cheap materials in the cabin, bouncy, shockingly poor MPG, tractor like and so on and so forth; you can see where I am going.
They really were a commercial vehicle for farmers, builders and gardeners etc to use as a work horse and tow huge loads around on a daily basis without much thought for any sort of refinement whatsoever.
Isuzu however have always tried to keep ahead of the game when it came to offering some sort of specification and making life as comfortable as possible for their owners as well as offering an aftercare package that no other in the class can offer and this latest D-Max is no different at all.
Regarding the aftercare package I was astonished when John Barr told me the Isuzu D-Max comes with a 5 year, 125k miles warranty (whichever comes first) and indeed highlights to me and any potential buyers as to how well put together this pick-up is and just how much trust, development and faith Isuzu has in this vehicle to offer such a comprehensive warranty.
With pricing for a four wheel drive double cab D-Max base model starting at £18,749+vat rising up to £26,250+vat for the high end Blade model we reviewed over a few days they are priced well within the segment and priced very competitively against competitors such as the Toyota Hilux, Mitsubishi L200 and Ford Ranger however in many respects is above those aforementioned mainly due to its mega warranty but also for the fact it can tow 3.5 ton.
After Land Rover stopped making the Defender there is very few new vehicles out there rated to tow the sought after 3.5 ton legally and asides from the Ford Ranger (which is too big and thirsty for many in the market) and the Nissan Navara, the Isuzu D-Max is the only other commercial able to tow this weight, and with ease.
Looks wise the D-Max is very fresh and up to date with its styling, it’s clearly a vehicle for a purpose of being a work horse but it is now pleasing to the eye and in fact its curves in real life are beautiful. The Blade model we tested comes in either Cosmic Black Mica or Pearl White (pictured and glorious in the sunlight or under street lighting) and has rear privacy glass as standard.
The exterior styling on the Blade model is further enhanced by the 18” Shadow alloys wheels wrapped in Pirelli Scorpion Zero tyres to give it the best chance when off the beaten track. These wheels are complimented with the choice of either a colour coded Aeroklas rear canopy or a black Mountain Top roller cover with black rear style bars as well as side steps.
Inside the D-Max is a rather nice place to be also, the Blade model comes with a Pioneer touch screen sat nav and Bluetooth unit built into the dash which can be controlled from the leather steering wheel and it allows for USB connectivity, DAB radio as well as acting as a large high resolution screen for the reversing camera which is mounted just above the ball hitch and a must have option for ease of hitching up a trailer.
The blade also receives a very versatile but yet nicely finished leather upholstery with the front seats being heated and indeed incredibly warm when on the high setting however the bolster support on these seats was next to nothing so didn’t hold you in as well as I would have preferred.
The general seating position was good however and the driving position was great and all the audio, cruise control and climate control knobs and buttons where all well within comfortable reach with a huge array of cubby holes, pockets and cup holders spread throughout the cabin.
Onto the hardware now and there is only a single engine available for the D-Max and with Isuzu Japan being an engine developer/builder as well as commercial vehicle manufacturer there really isn’t any need to have any more than the one engine, as it really is perfection.
The single offering is a 2500cc twin turbo diesel producing a healthy 163bhp with a more than adequate 295lb/ft of torque via a 6sp manual gearbox (as tested) or a 5sp auto box which is an option. This unit offers plenty of grunt and all within a very usable and eco friendly rev range making it perfectly suited for heavy loads in the flat bed as well as towing.
On the eco-friendly part, years ago on previous makes and models economy wasn’t something that was ever mention, as generally they didn’t have much, however on my real life test over a hundred or so mixed miles with the D-Max I was returning a surprising yet very welcomed mid 30’s mpg.
As expected from a commercial vehicle, it doesn’t drive like a car, was never designed to drive like a car and never will drive like a car, however it was well grounded and firm (a little bouncy on a very bumpy road due to the nature of the rear leaf spring set up which all these pick-ups will have), didn’t have a huge amount of body roll and was predictable when cornering, so as a driving experience very pleasurable for a commercial vehicle.
Something a lot of pick-ups used to suffer from was a severe lack of steering lock making maneuvering around yards with a trailer or even around town somewhat of a nuisance and a challenge for owners. Well the D-Max doesn’t suffer from this issue, one of the biggest surprises was the maneuverability of it especially coming off the narrow street I live in, into the even narrower drive, the D-Max surpassed itself for city living.
Off road the D-Max was more than capable within the confines of Clandeboye Estate as well as slightly sodden undulating fields on a friends farm and at the simple turn of a dial you can change from 2H (2 wheel drive high), 4H (2 wheel drive high) and 4L (4 wheel drive low).
This gear selection is all very smart and actually allows you to “shift on fly” which pretty much means change the setting of the D-Max drive train as you drive. For most driving they will rarely be out of 2H in fairness but if laden with a trailer on the road or off the beaten track there is no issue at all in running the D-Max in 4H at speeds of no more than 60mph (recommended by Isuzu and also if towing this would be the legal maximum speed anyway).
4L is great then for the slow crawls over undulating rough ground where you need the most from the drive train and although there is no manual rear diff lock lever or button, the rear diff has smart lock technology which allows it to automatically lock when it feels the terrain getting a little tough allow you to focus on where you are steering.
All in all the D-Max Blade was a surprise, mainly at how pleasant commercial vehicles have become to drive, how well they handle and also the economy they can now achieve and at sensible pricing for the vast warranty and towing ability John Barr Cars and the Isuzu are definitely worth a call if you’re in the market for a change of pick-up.
Words & Photos: Graham Curry