Published: 30 June 2019
“Isuzu DMAX Review” I borrow a Dmax for the long weekend and tell you what I think.
Normally we would take my wife's Suzuki Grande Vitara for our trips to and from Perth as it's easy to park, quiet and fuel efficient... Everything the old Patrol ute isn't
If you follow me on Instagram, you'd know that I had the opportunity to borrow a 2018 Dmax for the long weekend. This particular vehicle had 7500km on the clock and was as good as brand new as far as I’m concerned. It was the current iteration and was in the LS spec which is the second from the bottom as far as the different Dmax models go.
Like most people who own an older generation of 4wd, every now and then you wonder if you should jump ship and get into something newer. I mean a newer 4wd would be potentially more comfortable and more fuel efficient. But then when these thoughts flash through my mind, a quick look at the prices of modern 4wd’s, even second hand ones, as well as how much it would cost to modify it to suite my needs are generally enough to scare my wallet shut pretty quick. Then of course are the horror stories about common rail fuel pumps, DPF’s, bent chassis and poor off road performance that just bring home to me why the owners of older 4bies like me often just stick with what they have.
Now if you don’t know, I currently have a 2002 DX GU Patrol ute. And for those not familiar with DX Patrols, they have nothing. Like actually no features. Manual windows, manual mirrors, no cup holders, no carpet, no leather, no seat adjustability, no centre console, no headlight reminders, no airbags, no low fuel warning light and mine came with no turbo either, it was a factory NA or naturally aspirated model, although I have turbo charged it myself since owning it. I guess I shouldn’t be too harsh on the old Nissan’s, the GU Patrol does come with some factory fitted options, such as the factory pull to the left and steering wobbles, the fact that the steering wheel is not in the centre of the driving position and that the seatbelts don’t retract properly from brand new. If you’re lucky enough to own a ZD30 3.0L version, there is a whole list of other ‘fun’ things that come factory fitted that I won’t go into right now. With all that said, I love my old ute and it’s actually pretty comfortable with a load on the tray and the Series 4 STS seats that are fitted.
So I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see what it would be like to live with a new dual cab for a few days in the city. Now remember, I live in the country, so taking the 4wd to the city is a rarity for me. Lots of people keep telling me to upgrade, get something newer, get a dual cab! Now all of the main contenders of modern dual cab utes are pretty much the same as far as off road ability goes. Sure, some have LSDs, some have diff locks, but at the end of the day, diff locks can be added and most utes are a simple leaf sprung rear solid axel with a coil over independent front end. Despite all of the owners arguing about which one is more hard core than the other, let’s face it, out of the box, they’re pretty much the same off road. This trip wasn’t about Graham Cahill bashing free DMAX’s from Isuzu up tracks it they never designed to drive, it was about living with it on the road, as most people would have to for 90% of their driving. That being said, we did take it for a run off road - just because, so you can see that on my YouTube channel if you like.
There’s a bit of criticism over the looks of the DMAX and how it’s supposedly a dated version of the Colorado, but I think it still holds its own looks wise, especially with a good bar like this AFN bar that is fitted to my test one. The only down side with this AFN bar is there is nowhere to rest your beer when you’re working on it. Seriously. This is an issue, it’s actually really frustrating, and for those of you who don’t imbibe, where the hell do you put your 10mm when there is no horizontal surface on the bar? and I think the centre top bar is a little low compared to some of the others one the market. On the inside, the Dmax is not going to win any awards, especially not in the LS spec, but it’s still not a horrible place to be. Compared to the old Nissan it has all sorts of bells and whistles that’d make a man’s inner child excited, but really it’s just the norm for any modern vehicle in 2019, even a base model Toyota Corolla.
The LS model comes with Electric windows, central locking, a decent stereo which actually sounds pretty good with built in Bluetooth, but it doesn’t have anything flash like Apple Car play. The seats in the LS Dmax pretty average. In fact, just like the MQ Triton that I also drove recently, it almost feels like they have a banana shape. It’s probably not as bad for shorter people, but me being 6’3”, I just found I felt like my shoulders were being pushed forward constantly. This is most likely exacerbated by the fact that the LS model doesn’t have any lumber adjustment, or actually any adjustment at all really. What I really did love about the LS model though, was that there were electric windows and other niceties like a quality finished leather or pleather interior but no carpet on the floor! YES! Carpet in 4wd’s is ridiculous, and it’s nice to see that Isuzu have worked that out. There is nothing worse than putting the boat in and then hopping in the car with wet salty and sandy feet and mashing that into the carpet. Yes of course, you can buy floor mats, but it doesn’t stop the kids or dog from bringing half the beach back to the car with them.
I spent over a thousand kms driving both the MQ Triton and Dmax and was happy to get back into my 17-year old Patrol on both occasions. Admittedly I have STS Series 4 seats in my ute now, but I reckon even the stocker old worn DX driver’s seat gave these two dual cab seats a run for their money comfort wise. I assume the higher models of both the Triton and Dmax come with better seats, but if you’re planning on doing some big k’s in these utes, you’d seriously want to take an extended test drive before committing your hard earned dollars on one.
Under the bonnet, it has the same old 4JJ1 3.0L turbo diesel that’s been around since the naughties. Admittedly this TC variant has lower compression than the older Holden and Isuzu versions meaning it’s capable of more boost, as well as a variable vain turbo, a different injection system and unfortunately, reliability wise, a DPF system for emissions. This result is a slightly higher torque rating, but nothing more on the kilowatt side of things. The advantage of sticking with this tired old motor is it’s a reliable old power plant, the same as used in N series Isuzu trucks, and the use of a timing chain over a timing belt like Toyota seems to love is always a good reliability factor in my mind.
Since 2017 the DMAX has had the option of a new Aisin 6 speed auto, which this one has, but with 6 gears and a small turbo diesel 4 banger, what you pick up in economy savings you lose in drivability. The 6 speed constantly wants to shift into the highest gear possible, which is great for getting 9 L per 100kms on the highway, but annoying as buggery in the city and around town. I can also imagine that towing with this box would see the box constantly hunting over any road that wasn’t absolutely dead flat. Thankfully the cruise control still works when in manual gear selection which might make the job of towing more tolerable over long distances.
Around town and on the highway I was pretty happy in the Dmax, it did the job. If you were buying one of these for your wife to drive around in as her daily, you’d want to make sure she’s ok with the noise from the engine. Now don’t get me wrong, I have no mufflers on my Patrol, and the road noise almost warrants aviation headsets to talk to the person next to you, but I love most of the noises the Patrol makes…. The Dmax’s 4J11… It’s not a nice noise. I mean it’s ok at low rev’s, it’s got a little bit of character and sounds like a white fluffy dog growling at your slippers, so it’s kind of cute, but once you put your foot down and rev it, it’s just a horrible sound that goes through the entire cab. It just sounds like…. Stuff rattling. Almost like things are going to actually come out of the engine. The biggest downside to the Dmax for me, and the thing that would give me the iritis the most was the god awful lag when you push the go peddle. It doesn’t’ matter whether you’re already rolling or if you want to take off from a stop sign in a hurry. It’s got some horrendous lag. It doesn’t seem to be turbo lag either, it’s more kind of like a computer based lag. You can put your foot to the floor and almost count slowly to 3 before anything notable actually happens. To the point where it became a bit of a joke over the weekend of when to actually stomp the peddle in order to get out into traffic or slapping the peddle down at 70kph and then looking at your passenger with a smirk on your face waiting for it to do something.
But with all that said, I guess you’d get used to it, and at the end of the day when the little 4 banger winds up it does pull surprisingly hard. It’s certainly got enough get up and go to more than keep up with traffic around the city and loves the open highway. I didn’t tow with this dual cab, but the low down torque on this motor was quite noticeable even without the load on, and I suspect it would tow very nicely. I just wish Isuzu would make it change gears sooner. It just rev’s hard for way too long and when it finally shifts, the first thing you notice is that the horrible noise of the 4JJ1 finally disappears from the cab, but then the ute actually pulls harder as if grabs the next gear. Their N series trucks don’t rev that high, in fact their red line is about 500-1000rpms lower than the Dmax with almost the identical engine.
Now I’m not Graham Cahil and this Dmax is somebody’s actual car that they paid actual money for, so this review was not about taking this thing out and making it do things it was never designed to do to try and get people to buy it, this was a review about what it’s like to live with one, for let’s face it, what most people will use it for most of the time. But I couldn’t give a review of a 4by without engaging the transfer case, so after we got back from the long weekend, we took it out to our local playground and ran it through a few of the types of obstacles the average family would likely encounter.
> The biggest issue with the Dmax off road was exactly what you’d expect. Clearance. In stock form, like this one was, we bottomed out regularly, especially in the mud runs causing us to lose traction at times and make our own dents in the tracks. The little hills we took it up and down were quite steep, and we actually had no problems with the approach or departure angles which was nice to see. I suspect the AFN bar probably helped with that a little. Over all, these obstacles were not overly challenging, but the Dmax handled them all without a drama, even with the front and rear open diffs and IFS. I still can’t believe that a 2018 model 4wd is sold with front and rear open diffs, but I guess it makes the argument of getting lockers easier with the Mrs, so a positive? I think if you were to buy this to tow your camper, caravan or just use for touring and a bit of off road fun, you would do well with a 2” lift and some bigger tyres, but other than that, you’d be fine. If you really wanted to, go ahead and put a locker or two in it and with a 2” lift, and size bigger tyres, I think you’d be amazed where it would take you.
Overall, I quite liked the Dmax. It’s not as refined on the road as the Triton, and the unusual finish of only having primer in the engine bay and behind the fuel cap feels a bit cheap, but the rest of the car feels solid and dependable. Unlike the Triton, the 4J11 has a solid reputation and is literally a small truck engine, so you have that piece of mind when making it work hard. Not that I’m saying there is anything wrong with the 2.4L MQ Triton engine, it’s just that it has not been around long for as long as the 4J11 has. Over the weekend, the mileage was pretty impressive. With the bar, Canopy, some luggage, heaps of both City driving and country runs with 3 adults it averaged 9.2L per 100km. And I can assure you I wasn’t pussy footing around with it, so not bad.
So would I buy a Dmax. I seriously don’t know. I don’t know if I’d buy any modern dual cab ute, but if I had to pick one, I’d be looking closely at both the Triton and the Dmax. I’m not interested in an overpriced Toyota Camry of the 4wd world (Hilux) or Ford’s problems and poor service, and I think Holden are pretty much in the same boat as Ford with the Colorado. You couldn’t give me an Amarok with VW’s reputation for aftermarket backup and service as well as the fact that it’s a Euro and therefore will definitely break and definitely be expensive to fix. I don’t really feel like having the ford van motor in a Mazda either, and they look terrible. So I guess the Dmax is a strong contender. If it was my wife’s daily, maybe the Triton, if it was mine, probably the Dmax. But at the end of the day, it comes down to what you’re going to do with it and what your priorities are, weather you’re after a more agricultural machine, or something more refined. If you want to see more, check out my YouTube review.