First Drive | Isuzu D-Max 250 auto


Isuzu has broadened its D-Max bakkie range with five new derivatives.

Although the next-generation D-Max is due to be built and distributed in South Africa towards the end of 2021, the brand is still adding some upgrades to the current range.

The D-Max design might be ageing but it remains South Africa’s third most popular full-size bakkie and enjoys tremendous brand loyalty. Never a technology or powertrain leader, Isuzu’s bakkie has always generated demand due to their ride quality and blend of both reliability and durability.

Why five new autos?

Automatic transmissions have enjoyed a surge in popular demand of the last few years, with customers preferring a double-cab bakkie which can shift gear itself.

With more bakkie customers being lifestyle or family vehicle users, the appeal of automatic transmissions is clear: comfort and convenience. Traditional bakkie manual transmission can have a solid shift quality and long-throw action can also be fatiguing to some.

READ: What? Isuzu SA has five new auto models in its D-Max 250 range - We have pricing and specs

Shifting gear in stop-start traffic can be a chore and as more bakkie owners are part of the daily traffic crawl in South Africa’s large cities, automatics are becoming a default configuration.

To allow a more accessible price point for those Isuzu brand fans who desire an automatic transmission, the company has now added the five new D-Max 250 variants.

2020 Isuzu D-Max

                        2020 Isuzu D-Max. Image: QuickPic

Is D-Max a few gears short?

Compared to its rivals the Isuzu transmissions are not particularly sophisticated. Where its rivals have six-speeds, the Isuzu only has five. For some, that could be an issue, as a five-speed transmission is heavier on fuel and can be tardier when you require a rush of overtaking acceleration.

Why does South Africa get a 2020 D-Max drivetrain update which only has five-speeds? The technical reasoning is that specific calibration development was needed to marry the 2.5-litre diesel to Isuzu’s six-speed automatic transmission, which is available locally in the 3-litre D-Max auto.

Coupled to the five-speed auto is Isuzu’s proven 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine. At 100kW and 320Nm it is not the most potent engine-in-class, but reliability is beyond reproach.

The drivetrain’s issue is that a five-speed automatic feels out of kilter with most comparable automatic bakkies at highway speeds. For commercial users and farmers, who will be operating their D-Max 250 auto at lower speeds, the only debit will be heavier fuel consumption.

But as a leisure bakkie or family vehicle, that extra gear is missed at highway cruising speeds, for the purpose of reducing engine noise and improving throttle response, for overtaking.  

2020 Isuzu D-Max

                        2020 Isuzu D-Max. Image: QuickPic

Lockers are mostly optional

The other issue is a lack of standard mechanical traction aids. Of the five new D-Max 250 auto derivatives, only one (the ‘LE’) has a lockable rear differential. It is optional on all others.

In a market like South Africa, where bakkies work hard for their living and terrain is testing, Isuzu should have standard locker fitment. If you want to purpose your Isuzu D-Max 250 auto as a weekend adventure vehicle, to explore isolated gravel travel destination, we’d recommend ordering the optional rear differential lock.

Where Isuzu does shape with its new D-Max 250 auto, regards ride quality and value. On poorly maintained and corrugated gravel roads, the localised calibration does reveal its excellence, with D-Max being amongst the most stable bakkies on dirt – especially unladen.

The value equation? Toyota only has one version of its Hilux double-cab priced below R500 000 with an automatic transmission (the R479 200 2.4GD SRX). Ford? Also only has one comparable double cab Ranger, which is the 2.2 TDCi XL auto priced at R449 500.

By contrast, Isuzu has a generous spread of four D-Max 250 automatic double-cabs, priced from R435 300 to R474 700.

Need an automatic transmission and all the attributes of a bakkie as your family vehicle? Isuzu’s new D-Max 250s offers more price points and specification grades than its rivals.

2020 Isuzu D-Max
                        2020 Isuzu D-Max. Image: QuickPic

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