REVIEW | The 2019 Isuzu D-Max is the same but different

Bold and capable bakkie is as accomplished as the faithful old KB it supersedes

12 June 2019 - 16:02
By Bruce Fraser
The Isuzu D-Max takes over from the long-lived KB.
Image: Supplied The Isuzu D-Max takes over from the long-lived KB.

It’s slightly puzzling when a manufacturer changes the name of a particular model while it is still in its current lifecycle. Hyundai did that recently when it reverted back to the Tucson nameplate for its midrange SUV after a lengthy flirtation with the ix35 moniker.

Isuzu is another example — though the circumstances are slightly more understandable. When General Motors exited the SA marketplace in 2017, it left behind the Isuzu brand. Changes were always going to occur, and one was obviously an instruction from HQ in Japan to rename the KB range of bakkies the D-Max — thus bringing it in line with the international market.

Perhaps illustrating the importance of the D-Max to Isuzu is the comprehensive range. The single-cab line-up has a whopping 16 derivatives on offer, backed by the extended cab (four derivatives) and double cab (10 derivatives). On test recently we had the top-of-the-range D-Max 300 4x4 double cab LX (R606,400), though a 4x2 variant is also available.

Coinciding with the name change was the opportunity to introduce some styling enhancements to the range — though these were kept to a minimum. Among these were a new chromed radiator grille, along with chromed accents around the headlight clusters, plus restyled fog-lamps and LED daytime running lights on our particular model. There are similar, low-key changes when it comes to the interior with new soft-touch panels and an eight-inch full-colour touchscreen that replaces the 6.5-inch version in the previous model.

The interior of the Isuzu D-Max
Image: Supplied The interior of the Isuzu D-Max

The most significant change, though, was the introduction of an all-new six-speed manual or automatic gearbox (replacing a five-speed version). Also found in the Isuzu Mu-X SUV, this gearbox feels more suited to the D-Max, with gear changes a little smoother.

Incorporated into the automatic gearbox is sequential Sport mode that enables you to select a specific gear manually which translates into better pulling power. Hill Descent Control is also available to tackle those steep descents with a greater degree of confidence. Powering this particular model is a tried-and-tested 3.0-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel engine. While there is a certain amount of gruffness emitting from under the bonnet, there is also a reassuring feeling that this engine is pretty much bullet-proof and the 130kW and 380Nm felt adequate.

During a recent weekend I put the D-Max to work with moving some furniture. Obviously not the sort of heavy load that will truly test the capabilities of the vehicle, but nonetheless demonstrating the versatility that is on offer. For over four decades Isuzu has cultivated a reputation for no-nonsense bakkies. Forget the frills and decals one notices so often on many of its competitors. With the D-Max it’s more about getting the job done with a minimum of fuss and hassle.

That's not to say our test vehicle was stripped of many comfort features — in fact being the top-end model, it was quite the opposite. Included was dual-zone climate control, cruise control, electrically adjustable driver's seat, rear-view camera and electric windows all round.

There might be an unfamiliar badge on the Isuzu bakkie, but what the KB used to stand for has thankfully been carried over to the D-Max. For many, that will be a relief.

Bold styling defines the Isuzu D-Max
Image: Supplied Bold styling defines the Isuzu D-Max