Lifitng the benchmark

If Isuzu’s intent was to crush its reputation as the quiet achiever, and boldly step forward as a serious contender for top dog amongst the ute pack — then this new 2022 D-MAX X Terrain is not only dressed to impress, it’s come out swinging. From its aesthetics, advanced technology, and engineering design, it’s clear Isuzu aren’t pulling any punches.

As the X Terrain throws down the gauntlet, will its gym buffed appearance and menacing stance be enough to seduce prospective buyers and truly stay head-to-head with the dominant and newer competition?

That’s exactly what I wanted to find out.

It’s difficult to make a boxy ute look stylish, and first impressions do count. Isuzu’s design team in Japan has done a stellar visual job to revamp the previous D-MAX’s personal style and buck the repetitive fashion trends passed back and forth between its competitors. This is a ute that looks great either circulating the streets between tall city buildings, or covered in layers of red gravel dust, side-step deep with mud stains, camper trailer in tow and beaming smiles from Mum, Dad, and the kids.

There’s an appealing balance; its external aesthetics are equal parts slick street cruiser and rugged go anywhere off-road machine. 

Those flat, boring signature horizontal bars of old that swept across the front have received dental work, with the outer edges now sharpened into what look more like pointed fangs. 

Dark contrasting elements further accentuate the subtle angularities of this smart new aerodynamic wedge-shaped design. A snazzy finned aero sports bar, modern dual LED edge tail lamps and an integrated rear bumper and step add to the X-Terrain’s smart appearance.

While the practical matte black roller tonneau cover is lockable to protect your gear from prying eyes or snatch and grab opportunists, an obvious omission was the lack of a practical 12v outlet in the tub, convenient for portable fridge or to run an LED light to set up camp at night fall. And whilst we’re on the subject of rear-end shortfalls; with modern design engineering as good as it is, many would appreciate the inclusion of a soft open and assist close function for the rotund tail gate.

What I did like was the visual impact of the tapered automatic bi-LED headlamps, with sharp contoured daytime running lights accenting the angular design that feel as if they’re glaring straight back at you; confirming this beast is more predator than prey. 

From any angle, the D-MAX will turn heads, whether all polished up and parked in the driveway or homeward bound, covered in enough dirt to conceal the paint colour underneath.

Swing into the supportive, broad, comfortable perforated leather accented seats with 8-way electric adjustment (including lumbar support for the driver) and admire the surrounds. 

There’s no doubt Isuzu has nailed the wow factor. 

This fresh new interior design is a significant deviation from the previous practical, but commercial orientated, layout.

Soft surfaces adorn the top of the dash, doors and console lid to nestle those human touch points. Isuzu has embraced the concept of less is more with subtle placement of silver and piano black highlights.

Our test vehicle also had smart red accent stitching throughout the cabin, giving the interior a premium look and feel.

Bright clear instrumentation, with a colour 4.2” customisable multi-information display, provides the driver with an array of information and the ability to configure key vehicle systems via the steering wheel toggle switches. An impressive 9-inch touchscreen adorns the center of the dash, and the new infotainment system is complete with wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, DAB, GPS and rear camera display. It’s hooked to Isuzu’s “Sky Sound” with no less than eight speakers mounted in the dash, front doors, rear doors, and roof.

Isuzu’s interface feels a tad clunky in some functions. It’s not what I’d call overly intuitive, as it takes time to accustom yourself with its operation. It took a few attempts to get comfortable with the GPS functionality. Of course, if this was your own daily driver, you’d soon be familiar with the quirks.

Below the main screen is an LED readout for the dual climate control settings, with a neat row of stylish and pleasingly tactile toggle switches to control various A/C functions. 

As elegant as they are, their design is more akin to a stylish family SUV such as the MUX rather than the robust functionality and practicality needed for a commercial vehicle.

Storage abounds with upper and lower glove boxes, a small storage compartment atop the centre of the dash, large console, and door pockets that will hold a 1.5L water bottle. 

I was pleased to see the clever cup holders that slide out just under the front side vents survive in this latest model.

Rear seating is very comfortable by ute standards, with a fold down arm rest and somewhere to rest your coffee cup. 

There’s good head and leg room behind the front seats and dual rear console air vents will ensure your back seat passengers aren’t leaning over your shoulder to get a cool breeze on hotter days. 

Convenient USB charging ports exist front and rear for phones or iPads, with a bag hook on the rear of the passenger’s seat a handy addition. 

Isuzu has wasted no opportunity to make the most of available space, with under-seat storage bins that are great for tools or small pieces of recovery gear.

At the business end, the D-MAX houses a new DOHC, 16-valve 3L turbo diesel under the hood. The new fuel injection system and redesigned combustion chamber improve efficiency, and this engine seems set to match or perhaps surpass the near bulletproof reliability of the previous power plant. It’s coupled to a Rev-Tronic 6-speed auto providing smoother shifts and a sequential sports mode.

On paper, the power figures are down a little on the competition, with the D-MAX producing 140kWs and 450Nm of torque. But it’s how the Isuzu delivers that power in the real world that is far more relevant. With peak torque rolling on strongly from 1,600rpm, it holds a near flat torque curve to 2,600rpm—ideal for driving challenging off-road environments where low down smooth linear power delivery shines through. It’s also perfectly positioned for relaxed towing duties to ease driver fatigue. It was competently capable in brisk city traffic or performing open road passing manoeuvres with 140kWs on tap at 3,600rpm.

It ensures the engine stays on the boil and near enough to the middle of that strong flat torque curve. 

Around town, this provides for a relaxed drive by keeping the engine settled. The Isuzu never feels stressed or rushed in city traffic or cruising the freeway. As a daily driver, it gets on the with the job and makes no fuss about it.

Put the right boot in from stand still and the D-MAX will twist the rear wheels with enough assertive authority to break traction momentarily as it surges forward. It’s no sports car, but this perky diesel can hold its own and deliver the goods when needed. A comforting thought, given a 3,500kg braked towing capacity.

The 6-speed auto executes brisk shift changes, mapped to the engine’s demands based on load, throttle setting, and rpm. 


It’s worth mentioning, the modern transmissions behind these small capacity diesels are programmed to exploit the available torque curve to maximise economy and maintain optimal driving performance for any given load. But keep in mind that during a constant load and narrow rpm range, such as climbing a small rise at steady throttle, the transmission may determine the best option is to hold a chosen gear for an extended period to exploit the available torque before up-shifting to leverage economy. This became more evident with my camper trailer in tow. The D-MAX would pre-emptively select a more responsive gear for the task at hand and then settle back into a relaxed cruiser once less effort was required.

It can feel odd the first time, but it’s perfectly normal, and demonstrates how closely the X Terrain’s transmission works in harmony with this new power plant to give you its best.

Ride comfort and control is where the new D-MAX shows noticeable improvement. Plush sedan it is not. But for an unladen ute, the typical harsh bump and jarring over small surface irregularities or lesser graded gravel roads is better absorbed and suppressed by the suspension to reduce noise, harshness, and vibrations transferring into the cabin. After 120km on a less than perfect gravel excursion, my lower back really appreciated the added refinement.

In a heart racing moment, as Skippy leapt out from behind the bushes without warning, I had to perform an impromptu sudden stop on ball-bearing gravel. The D-MAX Anti-lock Brakes (ABS) kicked into action, and I could feel the Emergency Brake Assist (EBA) system apply additional pressure to the brake pedal to facilitate a quick controlled stop in a straight line. Impressive!

Switching to the black top and punting the D-MAX through twisty bends in the hills, the new coil-sprung independent front end with raised upper control arms felt more receptive to turn in through the corners. The body roll was nicely controlled, allowing the D-MAX to sit flatter through the bends, providing confidence when hustling along a country road.

The electric steering provided a nicely weighted and direct response to steering inputs at higher road speeds. Pull into the car park to make a U-turn and the tighter ratio steering at only 3.84 turns lock-to-lock was effortless. That electric steering allowed me to spin the steering wheel with one finger to complete a snug 12.5m turning circle. The benefits of responsive lightweight steering affording quick manoeuvrability, and good engine torque at low speed became evident when I reached an impassable obstacle, requiring us to reverse a camper trailer with a very short A frame backwards down a winding track in soft sand.

Under the rear is a set of over slung long-span semi-elliptic leaf springs and gas shock absorbers providing the X Terrain with a load carrying capacity of 935kgs, including a tow ball limit of up to 350kg. It easily accepted the additional tow ball weight of the camper while allowing a significant load carrying contingency for extra camping gear and toys in the rear tub.

For any tow vehicle, decent brakes are a priority. With the D-MAX running dual piston calipers gripping 320mm ventilated discs up front, and a set of 295mm commercial drum brakes on the rear, braking response is strong and linear on the road, which is reassuring should you need to haul close to a tonne in the back. Working in unison with Isuzu’s optional electronic brake controller to manage the trailer’s braking response, both the X Terrain and camper felt well balanced and provided confident stopping power. Which was greatly appreciated as I approached red traffic lights and a driver changed lanes in front of me; effectively cutting my braking distance in half.

Having set up camp, I explored some rocky trails to sample the X Terrain’s off-road prowess and see if the improvements in this latest variant delivered significant benefits.

Ground clearance was a decent 240mm and approach, ramp over and departure angles of 30.5°, 24.2° and 23.8° respectively. Isuzu state a wading depth of 800mm, if moving slowly through water, thanks to what Isuzu refers to as “snorkel” diff breathers, which also reduce the propensity for getting clogged up with mud.

And Isuzu hasn’t forgotten the all-important requirement to protect the under body and drive line with steel plate guards over the sump, transfer case, and front of the fuel tank.

First and second gear in high range saw the X Terrain easily crawl over most moderate obstacles without fuss. The electric steering is a gem in these conditions, allowing for easy vehicle placement around trees and larger rocks.

As the trail headed upwards, the surface changed from firm sandstone to small shale and rocks, offering much less purchase for the tyres to maintain grip. Selecting low range requires stopping the vehicle, and a quick twist of the rotary switch on the dash.

Isuzu’s previous traction control was a little less sensitive and slower to react to wheel spin in difficult wheel cross-ups on loose gravel. Without cautious throttle application, it could invoke the system to snatch and grab at the brakes in an attempt to maintain forward momentum. 

The new D-MAX felt less skittish with brake suppression coming on sooner and more progressively, having less tendency to unsettle the vehicle from its intended path.

But as individual rear wheels occasionally grabbed some airtime, forward progress was difficult.

New to the D-MAX is an off-road trump card, a locking rear differential. Activate the electromagnetic lock for the tail end and the X-Terrain asserts its authority on challenging terrain.

I appreciated the wheel articulation as the more you can keep tyres in contact with the ground, the better your ability to negotiate challenging terrain successfully. 

Being an independent front end, the raised upper wishbone allows for better drop, offering just over 500mm of travel both on the front and the back end.

Watch those decorative side steps, convenient for getting in and out, but the ledge they create can all too easily catch on rocks and mounds, leaving them scratched or bent. If you’re going to venture into heavy off-road territory, you may find something offering more strength and protection to the side-sill panel would be an excellent investment.

While the D-MAX offered an overall impressive effort for a standard vehicle off the showroom floor, here comes my only real gripe—the on-road tyres.

The X Terrain is shod with 265 / 60 R18 Highway-Terrain rubber that complements the on-road ride and handling but isn’t designed or intended for the rigours of challenging off-road excursions. 

Given the name “X Terrain”, an option to choose a more robust LT construction or All Terrain offering greater durability would be handy for those owners who are keen to take advantage of this vehicle’s broad range of capability. 

I guess Isuzu figured that many of these stylish high-end utes will rarely see a hard day’s work or adventurous off-road activity, as they spend a greater portion of their life traveling the black top with caravan in tow or filling the important role of daily driver and family duties.

With a five-star ANCAP safety rating, this new D-MAX is racked and stacked with an impressive list of high-tech wizardry. With safety at the forefront, Isuzu needs to be congratulated for making their Intelligent Driver Assist System (IDAS) standard across the entire range rather than a luxury option. It provides both passive and active driver support thanks to a 3D stereo camera mounted atop the windscreen. The vehicle constantly monitors its surrounds and driver inputs to ensure optimal safety not only for the driver and occupants but for others around you.

Auto trans vehicles include adaptive cruise control, monitoring the speed of the vehicle in front and adjusting its own accordingly. A drowsy or inattentive driver will be warned if the vehicle is starting to tail-gate or wander from the centre of their lane. More importantly, if the driver doesn’t respond, the vehicle will take action and initiate emergency braking to prevent a forward collision or turning in front of an approaching vehicle. Lane monitoring is smart enough to prevent a driver from crossing a lane without indicating. Or take emergency action if the driver ignores the Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM) warning in the wing mirror; or indicates and tries to move across with a vehicle in their blind spot.

Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) and reverse camera are standard across the range, while the X Terrain is the only one to receive both front and rear parking sensors. 

Off-road goodies include hill-start assist and hill-descent control.

I really liked the walk away auto-lock feature, plus the fob remote-start function to fire up the air-con before entering and the push button start, sadly only included in the upper spec of the X Terrain. 

Interestingly, at this high end of the market, there are no heated or cooled seats, even as an option.

The eight airbags include dual front, curtain, side, driver’s knee and far side airbags. And, in a first, Isuzu has gone one better to incorporate an additional air bag in the centre between the driver and passenger front seats. There are ISOFIX mountings in the back for two baby seats.

Isuzu indicate a combined fuel consumption rate of 8 litres/100km and having completed a mix of suburban, highway, secondary roads, towing and trail driving, I averaged 10.2L/100km. It’s fair to say that for those with a lighter foot, the quoted economy is pretty much on the money. With a not-so cavernous fuel tank capacity of only 76L, it should be good for a conservative 800km.

Isuzu won Car Manufacturer of the Year two years in a row in the Roy Morgan Customer Satisfaction awards, recognising Isuzu Australia for their outstanding achievements in obtaining a 96% customer satisfaction rating. And they back this up with the converted Canstar Blue awards ranking Isuzu number 1 for reliability and value for money. Isuzu achieved an impressive five stars across all seven categories, making this the first time any automotive brand has received perfect scores.

But not happy to rest on their laurels, Isuzu scoped the trifecta with top honours in the annual OzRoamer 4WD and SUV Car of the Year Awards, widely regarded as one of the most comprehensive and market relevant automotive award programs in Australia.

This is an impressive vehicle. Isuzu has taken every aspect of the popular dual cab ute and pushed forward in terms of design, appeal, technology, and safety. 

There’s an old saying that when a manufacturer eventually builds the perfect vehicle, we’ll all be driving it. As a true multifunction vehicle for work, play and family practicality; Isuzu has flexed their engineering prowess and successfully edged benchmark standards closer to that elusive goal.

Price: $64,990 drive away

  • Engine: 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
  • Output: 140kW/450Nm
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic
  • Fuel: 8.0L/100km
  • Safety rating ANCAP 5 Stars
Drive Editor - Ray Cully
Drive Editor – Ray Cully

About our Motoring Editor: Ray has been passionate about all things automotive since he first started collecting Matchbox and Hot Wheels models when he was five. Since leaving his executive role at General Motors (GM), he’s been sharing his driving experiences with Australian audiences for nearly 20 years, commencing his automotive journalist career with a popular WA-based magazine and was writing his own column in The West Australian for 8 years.

Ray’s strong love of automotive engineering and clever design has seen his articles and photography featured in prominent national magazines in Australia and the UK. He loves sharing his passion with other drivers, including via a long running stint as Senior Instructor for Land Rover Experience, providing training and education for new vehicle owners.

Recently Ray has been presenting on TV shows including Ready for Adventure and the very popular Caravan and Camping WA, to showcase some of the great products, vehicles and companies that make getting out and exploring Western Australia that much more enjoyable.