After enduring the flurry of teaser images that lead to the extravagant reveal of the box-fresh Isuzu double-cab bakkie in 2020, we’ve now had the opportunity to drive the Japanese brand’s latest offering in V-Cross guise. Our Editor, Damian Adams reports from the beautiful Eastern Cape.
The local launch took place across the Garden Route having met up with the vehicles in Gqeberha before traversing both highway and spectacular wet, muddy and heavily rutted off-road mountain tracks to Knysna.
South Africa is undeniably a bakkie-crazed country so whenever a new model is released onto the market a big fuss is made despite the brand. For many, however, this Isuzu is the bakkie they’ve been waiting for. With the local market divided narrowly between the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger in terms of units sold and brand cachet, the D-Max, like an in-form Temba Bavuma, has played a consistent role at number three. This locally-built seventh generation D-Max (previously KB) has a lot riding on its success and we have pricing for the 23 strong model lineup.
In terms of the design this new bakkie is a far departure from the old-school-feeling model it replaces. Under the skin the D-Max is all-new, the body construction, ladder frame and suspension having been engineered for improved rigidity and better ride comfort and handling over its predecessor. Adding to the tough, new underpinnings is a brand new motor, the 4JJ3-TCX, as well as the addition of a 1 898 cc motor that replaces the 2,5-litre mill. The fresh exterior design hits the mark with a bold and imposing face. The flagship all singing and dancing 3,0 TD V-Cross model we sampled comes with all the bells and whistles. These include leather seats with eight-way power adjustment, Isuzu’s full suite of advanced active driving safety features, eight airbags and is differentiated from the rest of the range with a roller shutter, gun metallic finishes for the grille, fender flares, door handles, mirror caps, roof rails and the distinctive hooped sports bar.
The V-Cross model and can be directly compared to the Ford Ranger Stormtrak and Toyota Hilux Legend RS, yet these rivals cost R42 500 and R103 200 more respectively.
Climb inside and it should feel very familiar to anyone that’s been inside the new Mazda BT-50 recently. Being built as part of a platform and drivetrain sharing deal the two are identical under the skin and share much of their interior trim but sport markedly different exterior designs and thankfully the D-Max suspension has been specifically tweaked for South African traffic and terrain over some 700 000 km of local testing. The seats are a highlight being wonderfully comfortable yet are well bolstered for support while tackling rocky sections of driving. The multi-function steering wheel is wrapped in a quality feeling Nappa leather and offers adjustment for both rake and reach which makes finding the ideal driving position a cinch.
Those who spend lots of time behind the wheel will appreciate the well-thought out cabin which include extra cupholders below the air vents, a specific cellphone area underneath the centre stack, a dash-mounted storage compartment, large door bins and air vents for rear passengers. The ladder-frame design has not eaten too much into rear legroom as I could happily sit behind my own laidback driving position.
Underneath the chiselled bonnet is a 140 kW 450 N.m version of Isuzu’s 3,0-litre turbodiesel, it’s a proven unit and here it’s been tweaked for added refinement and is mated to an Aisin-sourced 6-speed automatic transmission which slushes between the gears smoothly. Out on the open road the motor feels relaxed and with maximum torque available from as low as 1 600 r/min it makes for effortless progress at the national speed limit.
Off-road we had the opportunity to put the D-Max through its paces over a rough 70 km stretch of slippery and potholed gravel track between Avontuur and Knysna. The R339 took us over the spectacular Prince Alfred’s Pass which runs up the side of the Outeniqua Mountains. Here we used 4H for most of the time to maximise traction as it was wet and some of the dongas were deep and rocky. The D-Max sailed through these obstacles and I’m certain that with an aggressive set of all-terrain tyres it’d be formidable out in the bush. Having run late with the formalities earlier in the day the gravel drive was a high-paced affair.
After a quick drive it’s clear that the new D-Max V-Cross feels solid as you’d expect from behind the wheel, the ride is more forgiving and refined than before, offers a high-level of specification and keen value while retaining its proven 3,0-litre engine. It does lack some on-paper performance when compared to the 157 kW/ 500 N.m bi-turbo Ranger and 150 kW/ 500 N.m Hilux, however, the on-road performance is more than sufficient. The low-stress drivetrain will keep its die hard fans coming back while the purposeful design should garner attention from new potential buyers. We look forward to having the D-Max in for a full road-test soon.
A five-year/120 000 km warranty and a five-year/90 000 km service plan is included in the purchase price.
Model: Isuzu D-Max 3,0 Double Cab 4×4 V-Cross Automatic
Price: R814 700
Engine: front-mounted, turbocharged, 3,0-litre, 4-cyl, turbodiesel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Power: 140 kW @ 3 600 r/min
Torque: 450 N.m @ 1 600 – 2 600 r/min
Driven wheels: Selectable Four-wheel drive
Wading depth: 800 mm
Words: Damian Adams