Isuzu is predominantly a manufacturer of commercial and public service vehicles, which is a big part of why the D-Max doesn’t enjoy quite the same foothold on the consumer market as more recognisably ‘household name’ models. In fact, Isuzu sold just 3154 units in the UK last year, compared with around 6000 Toyota Hiluxes and 13,000 Ford Rangers.
But, all being well, that could be about to change. The D-Max has now entered its third generation and is what you might call a “bit of a different beast”. We’re driving it here following its recent arrival in UK dealerships, but if you’re from south-east Asia, you might already be familiar with this latest generation, which started rolling off the production line in late 2019 and is already outselling the all-conquering Hilux in Thailand – one of the world’s biggest pick-up markets.
The previous generation was as rough and ready as you would expect of a commercially focused, affordable 4×4 load-hauler, and while our testers found fault with the plasticky interior, slow infotainment system and agricultural powertrain, it won back some stars (admittedly not many of them) for its 3500kg towing capacity and good-value kit list, among other select attributes.
But now there’s this all-new D-Max, and right away, it’s plain to see that Isuzu is keen for us to consider it in an entirely different light from its predecessor. “Smarter, stronger, safer” are the buzzwords of the day, and just a cursory glance at the new truck’s chrome-clad front end and recognisably SUV-inspired dashboard layout reveals just how far this humble workhorse has come.
Isuzu UK managing director William Brown recognises that the market withdrawals – both recent and imminent – of rivals such as the Mitsubishi L200, Nissan Navara and first-generation Volkswagen Amarok have the potential to work in the D-Max’s favour. The brand hopes to achieve 10,000 sales per year by 2025 and has recently appointed 11 new dealerships to cope with the expected hike in demand, eight of which, sensibly, are ex-Mistubishi franchises.
We had a go in the top-line V-Cross, which in £32,759 (pre-VAT) double-cab, automatic guise is expected to be the best-seller. Gunmetal-grey exterior trim elements, jazzy 18in alloy wheels, LED light clusters and optional Pearl White paint are the obvious visual differentiators from the rough-and-ready entry models, while added luxuries include a bigger touchscreen, leather-style seats, dual-zone climate control, a reversing camera and keyless entry. A locking rear differential is standard fitment from DL20 trim upwards and all variants come with an integrated rear step, a full suite of driver aids, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB radio and a USB port.