Jaco Van Der Merwe
Head of Motoring
6 minute read
9 Apr 2022
8:10 am

Isuzu D-Max lifts game in bakkie battle against Hilux and Ranger

Jaco Van Der Merwe

New flagship V-Cross models ready to battle the big boys at the high end of the double cab segment.

The new Isuzu D-Max in flagship V-Cross guise.

The stakes in the cut-throat local bakkie market were raised this week with the introduction of the all-new Isuzu D-Max.

The Isuzu D-Max, and KB before that, is a proud member of South Africa’s so-called “big three” bakkie club, which also includes the best-selling Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger.

With Ford being hampered by Silverton assembly plant upgrades and stock shortages, Isuzu has leapfrogged the Ranger as Mzansi’s second favourite bakkie in terms of sales over the previous eight months.

The Japanese manufacturer now hopes to consolidate its second place even further with its new Gqeberha-built offering.

23 Isuzu D-Max models

The revised D-Max line-up spreads over 23 models and three body styles; single, extended and double cab.

Apart from the workhorse L, mid LE and high LSE trim levels on offer, the range also includes two brand-new double cab flagship derivatives called the V-Cross.

ALSO READ: Finally here: All-new Isuzu D-Max priced

The D-Max V-Cross is specifically aimed at the sharp end of the stick in a space occupied by the Toyota Hilux Legend, Ford Ranger Wildtrak and Stormtrak and Nissan Navara Pro-2X and Pro-4X offerings.

Welcome to the top table.

The V-Cross is offered in both rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive derivatives and comes standard with the 140kW/450Nm 3.0-litre DDI turbodiesel engine also offered lower down the pecking order. It is mated exclusively to a six-speed automatic gearbox.

Compared to its flagship Hilux, Ranger and Nissan Navara rivals, the new D-Max’s power output is pretty much par for the course, albeit being slightly lower than most.

Power comparison

The Ranger’s current two top engine offerings, the 2.0-litre biturbo and 3.2-litre turbodiesel mill produces 157kW/500Nm and 147/470Nm respectively.

The new Ford Ranger, which is due to make its debut this year, will offer a 184kW/600Nm 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine, a 155kW/500Nm 2.0-litre bi-turbodiesel engine and a single turbo 2.0-litre mill in two states of tune, 110kW/350Nm and 125kW/405Nm.

The Hilux’s 2.8-litre turbodiesel engine produces 150kW/500Nm and the 2.5-litre turbodiesel engine in the flagship Navara is capable of producing 140kW/450Nm.

The Ranger’s 2.0-litre powerplant is paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission, while the 3.2-litre mill is mated to a six-speed auto box. The Navara features seven-speed automatic transmission and the Hilux is mated to a six-speed auto box.

Lower down the trim levels, the 3.0-litre D-Max is also offered in six speed-manual transmission, but only in double cab guise.

The other engine offered in the new Isuzu D-Max range, the 110kW/350Nm 1.9-litre turbodiesel, is offered in both six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmission.

Isuzu’s Gqeberha assembly plant will continue to manufacture the sixth generation D-Max alongside the seventh generation D-Max which will be sold locally under the D-Max GEN 6 moniker.

The GEN 6 will be a more work-focussed offering which will utilise two 2.5-litre D-TEQ turbodiesel engines with outputs of 58kW/170Nm and 100kW/320Nm respectively.

Isuzu D-Max styling

Similar to the flagship Hilux, Ranger and Navara, the D-Max V-Cross features exclusive styling and safety specifications not offered on the rest of the range.

V-Cross and LSE models feature distinctive angular headlights that include Bi-LED projector headlamps and LED daytime running lights in the striking “dragon eyes” design.

In V-Cross spec, further exterior enhancements include 18-inch dark grey matte alloy wheels, gun metallic finishes on the grille, fender flares, door handles, mirror caps, roof rails and hooped sports bar.

The V-Cross is an attractive bakkie.

Unlike the Ford Ranger Stormtrak and Toyota Hilux Legend RS, which both include as standard electric roller shutter over the loadbin, the D-Max V-Cross is not offered standard with one. A manual roller shutter is available as dealer-fitted accessory.

The plush interior in the V-Cross and LSE models is a huge step up from the sixth generation D-Max. Soft-touch materials, including on the dash, a nine-inch touchscreen infotainment system and 4.2-inch digital information display flanked by two analog dials in the instrument cluster are some of the highlights inside.

In addition, the V-Cross also feature leather seats and eight-way electronic adjustable driver’s seat.

Safety in the new Isuzu D-Max has dramatically improved. The V-Cross comes standard with what Isuzu call IDAS, short for Intelligent Driver Assist System.

It includes Forward Collision Warning, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Turn Assist Auto Transmission Pedal Misapplication Function, Adaptive Cruise Control, Attention Assist, Lane Departure Warning System, Lane Departure Prevention, Lane Keep Assist System, Emergency Lane Keeping, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, front and rear radar and Blind Spot Monitor.

Improved suspension

After its official launch in Gqberha this week, media were given the opportunity to drive the new Isuzu D-Max from the Friendly City to Knysna.

The route included a long stretch of smooth N2 highway, a good mixture of bumpy byroads and the scenic Prince Alfred pass of which all 62km of road consisted of gravel.

Noticeable first impressions were the improvement of the suspension from the sixth generation D-Max. The new model feels a lot more refined, especially in V-Cross 4×4 spec.

The additional weight the transfer case, automatic transmission and bigger engine bring to table over a 1.9-litre, manual, two-wheel drive derivatives make the riding quality even better.

The Citizen only got to sample the D-Max in 4×2 guise on the gravel road and can safely report that it felt as comfortable as you can wish for in a bakkie on a farm road. An environment a large share of bakkies find themselves in in South Africa every day.

While you can argue that the suspension of the V-Cross does not feel as plush as the Hilux Legend, Isuzu traditionalists will probably embrace the slightly more old school bakkie vibe to it.

The Isuzu D-Max made a very good first impression. It is a major upgrade from the sixth generation and drive and feels more car-like than ever.

The stylish cabin of the Isuzu D-Max V-Cross.

Conclusion

The V-Cross is a good first-time offering at the very top end of the leisure double cab bakkie segment. It does not move the goalposts beyond what any of its competitors does, but it has at least gotten the Japanese manufacturer into the big boys’ league, and at quite a competitive price.

At R814 900 for the V-Cross 4×4, only the R804 500 top Navara offering in PRO-4X guise comes in a more affordable price. The Navara also doesn’t feature a roller shutter and its interior around the dash does not match the V-Cross’ plushness.

The Ford Ranger Stormtrak 4×4 at R857 200 and R917 900 Toyota Hilux double cab 4×4 Legend RS is more expensive, but the difference in price will be less once you factor in a roller shutter into the V-Cross’ price.

While Isuzu does not expect to sell huge numbers of the V-Cross, the package has enough potential to not only sway existing brand followers into something more swanky, but also lure a few first-time buyers away from its rivals.

The new Isuzu D-Max is sold standard with a five-year/120 000 km warranty and five-year/90 000 km service plan.

For more information on the new Isuzu D-Max, click here.