Monday, 19 October 2015

REVIEW - Isuzu D-Max Blade

Pickups have definitely become more popular over the years. Initially they were bought by tradesmen, due to being able to claim VAT back. However to make them more appealing to a wider market the manufacturers have improved the quality and filled the cabins with creature comforts. Isuzu are renowned for commercial vehicles, and their D-Max pickup is great as a workhorse. But how would their offering stack up as a car? Well I grabbed a Blade for a week to find out just what Isuzu’s most premium pickup was all about…

Looks – 7/10

I think the basic bodyline of the D-Max is good. It’s big and bold, but has a few softening edges in the rounded wheel arches and sleek bonnet. The headlights are very aggressive, and make the Isuzu look like it’s in a bad mood. On the Blade you get grey door handles, wing mirrors, roof rails and front grille. The grille really emphasises the aggressive stance at the front, and walking round the D-Max you certainly feel the ruggedness oozing out; having the word ‘Blade’ stuck on the side helps this. The premium element on my test car came in the form of a pearl white paint job, which contrasted nicely with the 18-inch grey snowflake alloys and privacy glass. I think Isuzu should have fitted some LED daytime running lights to complement the premium styling, but other than that I think they’ve done a fine job.

Overall the cabin is a success as well. You get (almost) full leather seats with contrast stitching and ‘D-Max’ embossed on the two front seats and rear centre headrest. Having the material on the bolsters actually works well, and I think they set the interior off nicely. The plastics are all inoffensive too, especially considering Isuzu have commercial spec stuff in the parts bin. For a premium touch there’s a hint of gloss black trim, but all this does is help make the cabin feel a little dark. I like the circular heating control in the centre console, and although the touch screen media system is a third-party unit it doesn’t look too out of place. The leather steering wheel is chunky, and the gear knob fills your hand, giving a robust feel to the controls.

Handling/Performance – 3/10

The engine in the D-Max is a 2.5-litre, twin turbo diesel unit producing 163PS and 400Nm of torque. This isn’t the most refined engine, but the 6-speed gearbox allows you to use every ounce of torque. The Blade will do 0-62mph. I’m not sure how quickly, but then again I’m also not sure it’s relevant. I found the clutch difficult to get used to; it seemed to have an unusual bite to it. The top speed is 112mph, and thanks to a long 6th gear the revs are kept low on the motorway. 80mph is around 2,000rpm so it makes the Blade a great car for a long motorway drive. The D-Max has a selectable 4WD system which includes a low-range box for when the going gets really tough.

When it comes to handling, the D-Max left a lot to be desired. I’ll start with the positives. The steering is very good, and the steering isn’t too low-geared which makes the Blade nicer to drive around town. The driving position is good too, with the controls all within reach and a good view of the road ahead aided by those comfortable seats. The problem I have is with the suspension. Perhaps it’s because I’ve just been in the new L200, which handles fantastically. But the D-Max should really be called the Isuzu Spacehopper. On anything other than a smooth motorway, the D-Max suffers from chronic bounciness. It’s tiresome after a while, and becomes a nuisance when you live in a rather rural area.

Economy – 8/10

With the manual gearbox the D-Max does quite well on fuel. CO2 emissions of 192g/km isn’t the cleanest engine (the L200 emits 173g/km) but in a pickup falling into the Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) tax band this doesn’t really make a difference; road tax will cost you £225 each year either way. On a combined cycle average fuel consumption is 38.7mpg, which isn’t too bad at all. There’s no start/stop technology and if you opt for the automatic, you can expect the consumption figure to drop slightly. Another bonus is that with a 69 litre tank you can upwards of 500 miles before needing to refuel.

Practicality – 7/10

There’s a lot to like about the D-Max. The selectable 4WD system means you can keep going through tricky conditions. My usual complaint of pickups doesn’t apply to the Blade either. No chavs will be able to help themselves to your shopping because you can choose from either a canopy or roller cover for the rear bed as standard. The Blade is also well-equipped, featuring Bluetooth hands-free telephone, satellite navigation, cruise control and heated front seats. That being said, the switch for the heated seats is in a stupid position, and the aftermarket media system went on the blink a couple of times. But what damages the D-Max’s usability as a daily driver is the aforementioned ride.

Fun – 5/10

The D-Max Blade has a lot of character. With the bold exterior lines, fancy alloy wheels and contrasting paint scheme, it looks the part. It’s also something a bit different. Because there aren’t as many D-Max’s on the road as other pickups, I found it has head-turning ability. The suspension stopped me from enjoying the drive through some of the beautiful countryside near my house, which was a shame. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the media system. It wasn’t the smoothest to operate and the microphone for the hands-free telephone sits awkwardly in front of the instrument cluster, like an afterthought.

Concluding Remarks

So that’s my week with the Isuzu D-Max Blade. When I saw it arrive on my driveway I took an instant like to it. The styling is spot on, both inside and out. Sadly the drive doesn’t live up to the same high standards, and lets the D-Max down. Other than that it’s just a few minor quality issues, such as the media system, that stop this being a great vehicle. My final issue is the price point. The Blade will set you back £25,999 plus VAT. That seems a little bit much, especially when you consider the L200 Barbarian is £23,799 plus VAT. And that makes it really difficult for me to back the Isuzu. Should you want more information visit a dealer or log on to the Isuzu website. The Isuzu D-Max Blade; opting for style over substance.

Total Score – 30/50

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