Charl Bosch
Online Motoring Reporter
5 minute read
4 Jan 2021
9:44 am

X (Rider) factor and three-litre power hits Isuzu D-Max’s high

Charl Bosch

Aging but no-less popular, the combination of a cult D-Max moniker and a truck derived engine simply works.

X-Rider look remains hard to beat

Isuzu’s announcement last year of a 12 month delay in production of the all-new D-Max came as a surprise disappointment to not only interested buyers and fans, but also the media if reports emerging from other markets are to be believed.

“Covid-19 has not only slowed us down in South Africa but also in key markets [in terms of supply and tooling], so we are trying to catch-up. The intention is to launch [D-Max] in early 2022, the original plan was at the back-end of 2021, but Covid-19 has had an impact and we have had to retime it,” Isuzu’s Senior Vice-President of Technical Operations, Dominic Rimmer, confirmed at a virtual press briefing in August.

Second only to the Volkswagen Amarok as the oldest bakkie currently on sale today, the D-Max, known for years as the KB until a mid-life facelift three years ago, has, despite its age, kept its position as the third best-selling pick-up behind the battling Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger, with record sales in May, June and August of what is undoubtedly the most dated offering in terms technology inside and underneath the bonnet.

Unashamedly rugged and feeling less of a bakkie with SUV pretensions, the D-Max has had to adapt with buyer demand though, which in February resulted in the inclusion of a five-speed automatic gearbox on certain models powered by the 100kW/320Nm 2.5 D-TEQ engine. Six months later, the expansion reached its zenith with a new model wearing what has become a cult moniker.

The history behind the X-Rider nomenclature is a well-documented story: an aesthetic upgrade of the entry-level Hi-Rider that become so popular it was made permanent in 2018 after the planned batch of 700 units sold out so quickly that Isuzu, famous for past special editions such as the Reef, Frontier, Blazer, Millennium, KB72, Serengeti, Midnite and more recently the X-Rider Black, was taken by surprise.

Unlikely to be the last special edition of the current D-Max, Isuzu has now applied the X-Rider insignia to the top-spec 3.0-litre model, but in keeping with its value focused persona, opted for a single model without four-wheel-drive and only with the six-speed automatic gearbox.

Like the 2.5, the 3.0 X-Rider is positioned above the Hi-Rider with the visual enhancement consisting of black 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in General Grabber all-terrain tyres, red centre caps, a black grille with red ISUZU lettering, a slightly revised front bumper, a blacked-out B-pillar, black ISUZU badging on the tailgate, an X-Rider branded black sports bar and a black finish for the mirror caps, door handles, roof rails and side steps.

Against the backdrop of our tester’s Summit White paint finish, the X-Rider, once again, does an impressive job of sprucing the aged D-Max up with a rather aggressive and almost purpose look that warrants a trek onto the rough stuff despite the lack of four-wheel-drive but standard inclusion of a rear diff-lock.

As with the MU-X though, the D-Max’s age is most prevalent inside despite the inclusion of the X-Rider specific piano key black detailing, partial black leather upholstery with red stitching and X-Rider embroidered headrests, leather-wrapped steering with red stitching and black inserts on the doors with red X motifs.

Awash with cheap feeling grey plastics that hail from a bygone era, the dated look does have its merits though in the form of a basic and very effective air-conditioning arrangement, dual glovebox, the top sounding especially clunky, and an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system which, despite lacking satellite navigation, is miles easier to use than the optional nine-inch Alpine unit available in the MU-X.

Another strength is the amount of space on offer for those seated in the rear, as well as the specification sheet for a supposed workhorse which includes a six-speaker sound system, auto lock/unlock doors, electric mirrors, a TFT instrument cluster display, all around electric windows, height-adjustable steering column, projector-type headlights, dual front airbags, Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Control and ABS with EBD.

Insert the very 1980s looking key with its attached central locking module into the ignition, the N-series truck derived 4JK1-TC engine starts-up with a distinct and very Isuzu agricultural soundtrack, which somehow doesn’t become an annoyance even at the national limit.

Renowned for lasting forever, the unstressed oil-burner produces 130kW/380Nm, which, while comprehensively outclassed by its Toyota and Ford rivals, provides a good amount of low-end shove as road test editor Mark Jones found out at Gerotek. His full findings can be viewed here.

Despite the ever increasing popularity of automatic bakkies, the sight of a self-shifting Isuzu, in this writer’s opinion, still appears alien and out of place compared to the Ranger and Hilux. Admittedly a lot more slicker than in the MU-X, the ‘box still has an erratic side by not reacting quick enough when down-shifting, although slotting it into manual mode rectifies matters a lot.

RELATED: Numbers battle: Toyota Hilux Legend RS v Ford Ranger Thunder

On the move, the application of the all-terrain tyres, while a boon when going off-road, didn’t have the desired effect on road as its combination with the suspension resulted in a bouncy ride and amplification of any surface imperfections. What’s more, the steering felt heavy and like in the MU-X, devoid of any feel. As for consumption, the seven-days and 714 km, of which a lot was spent off of the black stuff where the D-Max felt more at home, resulted in a best of 10.2 L/100 km, well off of Isuzu’s optimistic 7.5 L/100 km claim.

As dated as it is, an unexplainable ‘like’ factor surrounds the Isuzu D-Max in a way no Ranger or Hilux can seemingly match. Add in the desirability of the X-Rider pack, the convenience of the auto ‘box and the never-say-die 3.0-litre powerplant, the R551 500 sticker price adds further incentive to a package that works well despite appearing flawed on paper and in practice.

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