In this 2018 Isuzu DMax 4×4 review we will discuss engine specs, dimensions, payload and towing capacity along with setting up your Isuzu Dmax for some real work. We will compare it to the more popular Hilux and Ford Ranger along with the Mazda BT-50.
Over the past few years, the Isuzu DMax 4×4 has been flying under the radar. It came out with a bang, and never really seemed to reach the heights of sales that we all expected.
It currently has a strong reputation, yet sales remain lower than off road ute market leaders like Toyota, Ford, Mazda and Nissan. As a consequence, there is less first hand info and recommendations available for the DMax.
That’s where we can help. In this article, we provide some key insights into the DMax, and how it stacks up against its competitors.
Isuzu have more than a century of automotive experience, largely in the truck building and diesel engine sector. There is no doubt that this permeated through their ute range. Like Isuzu’s range of trucks, the DMax is a simplistic and effective machine.
Even before the DMax first graced the showroom floor, Isuzu had been producing high quality machinery in the off road ute industry. From the 90s up until the early 2000s, Isuzu was making engines for the Holden Rodeo. Those old Holden’s were, and still are, highly sort after vehicles, primarily due to their incredibly reliable Isuzu gear under the hood.
From there, the Holden Rodeo evolved into the the Colorado, which still boasted an Isuzu power source. However after a few years the Colorado was partnered with a Chevy engine, and low and behold, the Isuzu DMax bursted out of the woodwork!
At first, people were skeptical about the Isuzu DMax, but once they realised it was basically the older brother of the ever reliable late 90s Holden Rodeo, the customers flocked.
Today’s DMax is what the Hilux was 10 years ago; a reliable no frills workhorse.
Here at Trayon, while saddling utes with our signature slide on campers, we have seen just about every variety of vehicle roll through the front door. Since 2012, this has included the DMax. As a result we have first hand industry knowledge about the Isuzu breed of ute, and hope this helps you to find the perfect off road steed.
The 2018 DMax comes in a single, space cab and crew cab variant.
The DMax space cab in particular is very appealing, because for a while it was one of the only 4×4 ute to offer a space or extra cabin plus an automatic gearbox. This was so popular that Ford utilised the set up in their Ranger line up (although it was only available by upgrading ther super cab to an XLT), and Toyota recently added it (rather belatedly) to their Hilux range.
In addition to the cab variants, the DMax comes in the following levels of bells, whistles and luxuries:
The interior of the DMax highlights that is built for work, not for comfort. It does not compare with vehicles like the Ford Ranger or Mazda’s BT50. However, after Isuzu bought out the more luxurious seven seater MUX SUV version, some of these luxuries were brought over into the 2018 DMax range.
Note, that Interior tech like Apple CarPlay still hasn’t found their way into Isuzu’s utes (yet – watch this space!).
Prior to 2018 there were gripes about DMax ride quality. The 2018 model, however, has had a suspension overhaul, resulting in better ride quality off the showroom floor. If you are looking at doing a lot of driving on unsealed roads or off road for long distances like touring Australia you’ll definitely want to consider an aftermarket off road suspension upgrade designed for such use.
In terms of driving aids, the Dmax is light on. There is no lane change assistance or active cruise control.
Fuel consumption is claimed to be around 8L per 100 kilometres, but we haven’t had the chance to test this over long periods.
Isuzu’s reputation for engine reliability is second to none. For example, before Mercedes, Land Rover had the contracts for Australian military vehicles. What was the first thing the Military did with them? Ripped out the engine and replaced it with an Isuzu!
The DMax trump card is in their 3 litre turbo diesel engine. In an era where other off road ute manufacturers are lowering engine capacity, the Dmax has dug in at the 3 litre mark. This has huge benefits for off roading, towing and engine longevity, because the engine doesn’t have to work as hard when under stress.
Toyota reduced the Hilux from 3 to 2.8L, Mitsubishi reduced the Triton from 3.2 to 2.7L, Nissan reduced the Nirvara from 3 to 2.5 then to 2.3L, and Volkswagen went from a 2L 4 cylinder to a V6 (okay that’s not downsizing, but it demonstrates that upsizing is seen as a beneficial change in this mid range 4×4 industry).
They all reduced engine capacity and wound up turbo boost to get better specs. This means their performance look as good or better on paper. The problem is that diesel’s don’t want to be boosted! They are built for low down grunt. That’s why the Ford Ranger is so popular.
In 2016 the DMax platform had a further upgrade, reaching 430 nm of torque and a 6 speed gearbox (with both manual and automatic options). However, now they also have a Diesel particle filter (which is part of most diesel vehicles on the market these days).
The DMax can also take massive increases in torque. We know people that run DMax stunt vehicles. To get their vehicle to pop up on two wheels at 4wd shows with a passenger wearing a massive grin, they get engine upgrades to put torque through the roof and the engines seem to cop it without hassle which speaks miles for their build quality. Similar kinds of upgrades can be done by companies like Just Auto’s in Nambour. It has a range of benefits like increased responsiveness, less turbo lag, and considerably better fuel economy as well.
The DMax is a relatively compact vehicle, compared to the Ford Ranger for example (there is a difference of 120 mm in length between the two).
The DMax wheel base could do with 150 mm more from nose to tail. Hopefully they will increase the wheelbase in the next upgrade.
Despite the compact size, the space cab rear seat is a little bigger than most other competing vehicles available (for example the Toyota Hilux). Maybe its an illusion – but it just feels bigger in the back.
The DMax is 5 star ancap safety rated.
While they now come standard with Trailer Sway Control, bringing its electronic driving and safety aids closer too (but still well behind) industry leaders like Ford and Mazda.
The Dmax competes with most other utes in terms of payload capacity.
In fact, with the right upgrades, DMax payload can exceed its competitors. The exact payload max varies, and should be confirmed with your upgrade suppliers and fitters. We have heard accounts of Lovells upgrades pushing DMax GVM up to 3.60 Tonne! That’s 100 kg more than any other ute in its class! Note that you may also need to change tires to BF Goodrich all terrain off road tires, which have higher payload rating than others. No other mid range off road ute can go over 3.5 Tonne GVM without a range of other modifications.
Like most vehicles in this class, the DMax can legally tow 3.5 tonne, and by all accounts, it tows very well. This can be attributed to its high torque 3 Litre engine.
Put simply, the Dmax will take you off road and bring you back again. For Trayon purposes, that is exactly what you need.
The DMax’s lack of electronic fluff is actually more of an advantage when off road. Other off road vehicles like the Ford Ranger have been turned into massive computers on wheels. The problem is you can’t fix them out bush without a degree in electronic engineering and an OBD link.
The off road downsides of the DMax is mainly the absence of a rear locked diff.
The DMax single cab comes with a 2500 mm long tray, which is ideal for a Trayon and some space on the headboard for extra storage like secondary spare tires, jerry cans or even a dog box style storage box..
The space cab comes with a 1950mm long tray option which is disappointingly shorter than the industry standard by 150mm. Getting an aftermarket 2100 or 2200mm long try would be the best option here.
As well, the crew cab only comes with a 1600 long tray, which is also below industry standards by 200mm and not long enough for a Trayon. If you go for the crew cab, you should seek to have an 1800 mm long tray installed and again the aftermarket segment will field this for you easily.
If needed, Trayon head office can arrange to send out the right size tray to your dealer if you want a tray to suit a Trayon.
If you are considering vehicles in a tub style tray, have a quick read of this. A tub can severely limit what you can use the external storage space for.
A tub will also increase kerb weight, and reduce payload capacity. With an aluminium tray, you can carry more weight, and more awkward items that wouldn’t fit inside a tub. You can always fit sides to a tray to carry unstable loads like soil and green waste, but you can’t take the sides off a tub!
A tray will open up your canopy and camping options as well. When you store gear in a tray, rather than a tub, it provides the following advantages:
For the same reason, canopies and slide on campers made to fit tray back utes, rather than pick up tubs, have better weight distribution, more space to fit in camping essentials, and provide an all round better off road rig.
For more information about which vehicle configuration is the best option for a Trayon camper (e.g. a single cab, extra cab, or double cab) check out our recent article about 4×4 touring setups.
There’s no doubt the Dmax provides one of the best value for money, reliable work horses on the market. However, Isuzu Dmax is not without its rumoured problems, but show me a vehicle these days that is.
They all have their issues and in the grand scheme of things, these vehicle companies produce tens of thousands of units for Australia alone per year and for the few problems we hear so now and then or maybe a single rant from one or maybe two “keyboard warriors” on a forum somewhere.
The reality of the matter is that is maybe a small portion that has an issue with their vehicle.
You have to take such rumours with a pinch of salt because if there was a particular vehicle with a systemic issue or fault on such a large scale that thousands or maybe even tens of thousands of customers would be effected – our laws protect the purchasers in such a case and you would also think the company would take the moral high ground and do recall to rectify the issue.
We have a few extra tips to round off any touring package:
As we previously explained. It has big implications for storage flexibility, payload capacity, and off road performance. These days Aluminium trays are super strong and much lighter than steel, so they don’t eat into your payload any more than necessary.
Everyone’s old school tool kit simply involved zip ties (for things which are moving but shouldn’t be), and WD40 (for things which aren’t moving, but should be).
An OBD link adds an extra option to check and solve issues with electronics and computer chip related alerts.
These days, electronics can actually limit driving capability if they sense a problem. If the vehicle senses an issue, it can limit driving capacity and actually prevent you from quickly limping to get mechanical help. The OBD link, synced to your phone, can read the code sent out by the vehicle CPU and tell you what’s wrong.
Then you can use the old duck tape or WD40 to try and fix the issue and limp to a mechanic if you have too!
A GVM upgrade does not involve any serious vehicle modifications. It is simply a 4WD suspension upgrade, coupled with a certificate to say that the standard manufacturers payload limits have been increased to a certain amount.
A GVM upgrade provides a number of benefits:
You can simply carry more gear.
You’re better prepared for unexpected circumstances while touring in the Outback (i.e. if you need to carry a mate’s gear as well). And
You can better cope better with the greater forces encountered while off road driving (particularly while towing or carrying heavy loads).
By doing this through the dealer and before first registration, it is considered a second stage dealer upgrade. This saves you money and also ensures it is legally certified at the same time.
Check out our recent article about 4WD suspension for more information.
The DMax comes with a full range of genuine accessories and aftermarket options. Perhaps the most beneficial aftermarket upgrade is a GVM suspension upgrade through Pedders, which as we explained, will give you more payload capacity than just about any other mid range 4×4 ute.
Isuzu Australia offer a five-year/130,000km warranty plus a roadside assistance program.
Off Road Warranty Implications
Driving a D-Max off road will not impact warranty itself, but be aware that warranty only applies to factory defects (in materials or workmanship). So if you incur damage as a result of reckless driving, extreme weather, or any other accidental damage, you’re unlikely to find support through the vehicles warranty.
That’s where your insurance should come in! So, as with any vehicle purchase, make sure you find the right provider who can cover you for the type of driving you will be doing.
Overall, the DMax offers a very good value for money off road set up. For around $54,700, not including on road costs, you’ll get a mid range to high end model ready to take a Trayon.
It is exciting times for Isuzu. The Dmax is a good sturdy vehicle, with a long lasting reputation. It has continued on with Isuzu’s reputation, and has plenty of room to improve.
Let’s hope they keep the reliability going and continue on with the option to buy an off road ute with less fluff. Let’s also hope they increase tray length on the crew cab model!
There are rumours that Isuzu will be combining with another high profile ute manufacturer in the near future, similar to their old alliance with the Holden Rodeo, so watch this space!