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FRANSCHHOEK, Western Cape – The old charmer of the modern double-cab bakkie segment, there’s a lot to be said for the reputation for rugged, established reliability and tough-as-nails character within the current Isuzu D-Max range. Having – in KB300 guise – brought up the rear in our extensive 2017 double-cab bakkie comparison test, even off-road racing legend Hannes Grobler conceded that, despite its relative age at the time, the Isuzu remained very capable and a proven quantity among the pack.

Rebadged and updated from KB to D-Max as part of the brand’s realignment with its Japanese head office (Isuzu SA is the first wholly owned subsidiary of Isuzu Motors Limited outside of Japan), this refresh also introduced a six-speed automatic transmission to the 3,0-litre LX derivatives, where a five-speed self-shifter previously did duty.

The good news for South African fans of the broader D-Max range (Isuzu currently commands a 15,7 percent share of this market) is this Aisin-sourced five-speed automatic transmission has been recalibrated to mate with the brand’s trusted 2,5-litre turbodiesel engine. Complementing the existing manual transmission options in this range, the updated D-Max 250 Auto portfolio now consists of an Extended Cab Hi-Ride, a Double Cab Hi-Ride, a Double Cab LE specification and a range-topping, lifestyle-oriented Double Cab X-Rider derivative.

Offering 100 kW and 320 N.m of torque available between 1 800 and 2 800 r/min, the 2,5-litre turbodiesel may not be the most refined of its kind, but it’s difficult to argue it isn’t a unit more than capable of getting the job done – including a claimed braked towing capacity of 2 100 kg. While the brand claims an average fuel consumption of 8,10 L/100 km for models fitted with the automatic transmission, I realised figures closer to 10,0 L/100 km during a launch route that took in a number of steep mountain passes, as well as long sections of gravel. Despite both my Extended Cab and later Double Cab test units being exclusively rear-wheel driven, the D-Max felt neatly reassured and planted even on loose surfaces.

Where the D-Max’s relatively weighty steering compared with some of its modern rivals could count against it in the confines of an urban setting, on the open road it conspires towards a feeling of solidity and purpose in the Isuzu.

Having used the occasion of this update to confirm the mid-2021 introduction of the all-new, locally built D-Max range, the current model stands steadfast in its contempt towards its arguably more glamorous contemporary rivals. Even in limited-edition AT35 guise, the old faithful Isuzu retains a charming been-there-done-that character that, even in its twilight years is difficult not to be drawn towards.
 

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