First Drive: Isuzu D-Max V-Cross

Isuzu is certainly ambitious, targeting 10,000 sales a year for the new D-Max, which is quite some increase from the 3,154 the brand sold in 2020. With pickup trucks something of a lifestyle accessory to many, it’s the top-spec D-Max V-Cross model that will do much of the heavy lifting, accounting for almost a third of the new model’s sales.

At almost £33,000 plus VAT, it’s got a hefty asking price – a similarly powered Toyota Hilux Invincible is a cheaper option – so there’s got to be something special about it to justify the price tag.

Fortunately, Isuzu’s reputation is rock solid, with the outgoing model finding favour amongst the professional and working communities as a dependable workhorse. Does refining the design to appeal to urban users and adding a load of family-friendly equipment make the V-Cross the perfect all-rounder?

Isuzu D-Max V-Cross on road
Isuzu D-Max V-Cross: Exterior

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Photographs don’t seem to do the new Isuzu D-Max justice, so you’ll just have to trust us when we say that it looks far better on the road than it does in the pictures here.

It’s not as overtly aggressive as some of its rivals, but the front end has taken on a more vertical stance, while the double-blade grille has been darkened on this V-Cross model, adding a slightly more sinister tone.

The lights are LED, with a distinctive daytime running light motif giving the D-Max a somewhat angry face during daylight hours. Side steps, also finished in gunmetal grey, run parallel to the darkened door handles and are joined by the matching door mirror caps. A set of 18-inch gunmetal alloy wheels finishes off the theming.

At the back of the pickup, there’s not much to see. The tailgate had a little contouring to provide some visual definition, while the lights on the V-Cross model have a bit of extra brightwork surrounding them to make them stand out a little. A classic ‘ISUZU’ decal reminds everybody following what you’re driving.

Revised proportions help the D-Max look a bit more muscular. Despite being one of the shorter pickups on the market, it’s shrunk a little for this new model. At 5,265mm long, it’s lost 30mm from the old model, but the wheelbase is longer and the shoulder line is higher.

It all adds up to create a sharp, stylish pickup that blurs the line between bland and bellicose.

Isuzu D-Max V-Cross: Interior

Few vehicles, whether pickups or even luxury cars, can boast a 9.0-inch infotainment screen, but that’s what’s present in the D-Max V-cross. It lends a suitably premium style to the cabin, at least initially.

It’s entirely new in here, with no sign of the clunky old knobs, an infotainment centre shoehorned in, or vast swathes of cheap-feeling plastics. Instead, you’ll find softer, textured plastics, some faux-aluminium highlights, a dash of piano black plastic and a row of swish looking switches for the climate control.

Isuzu D-Max V-Cross cabin

Leather seats look luxurious and, in the limited time we had with the vehicles, proved comfortable. They’re heated, too, although only the driver’s seat is electrically adjustable. Unlike some of its rivals, the steering wheel is adjustable for reach and rake, making it easy to find a good driving position. A little more lateral support from the side bolsters wouldn’t go amiss, but that’s not going to be a deal-breaker.

Despite the shorter length of the D-Max, the wheelbase has been extended by 30mm, which translates into increased room inside the cabin. That’s most noticeable in the rear where wider doors allow for access into a spacious rear cabin. Also leather-clad, there’s plenty of shoulder room as well as an enormous folding centre armrest.

Storage is plentiful, with spaces under the rear bench seat, at least six cubby holes, glove boxes or bins in the front, and more in the rear. For the thirsty amongst you, there are ten cup and bottle holders dotted around, too.

There’s plenty of equipment fitted, including dual-zone climate control, a carpeted floor and a feel-good leather-covered steering wheel, but the highlight is that huge infotainment screen. It supports wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto, as well as the usual array of Bluetooth connectivity, FM and DAB radio, and has navigation built-in, but it’s not a system you’ll warm to.

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An illogical screen layout, inconsistent touchscreen responses and some dated graphics and sounds leave it feeling rather more aftermarket than original equipment. It falls short of its rivals (including Toyota) and is light years away from Ford’s Sync 3 system.

Isuzu D-Max V-Cross interior
Isuzu D-Max V-Cross: On the Road

Isuzu has retained the 1.9-litre engine that has been fitted to the D-Max since 2017, although it’s had a bit of redevelopment to meet the latest emissions regulations. Total power output hits just 164hp, with 360Nm of torque, which puts the D-Max just off the bottom of the charts – only the Mitsubishi L200 has less power.

By pickup standards, the D-Max is something of a lightweight, which helps to make it feel a little more lively, but there’s no getting away from the fact that it could do with more oomph – especially if it’s wanting to attract more lifestyle buyers.

Performance is brisk enough, with a 0-62mph time of 13.0 seconds, but there’s little in the way to excite you about the way it gets off the line. However, that changes once you’re rolling as suspension and steering changes make the D-Max almost fun to drive. There’s a sharpness to the turn in that’s pleasing, and stability that inspires confidence. It wouldn’t be difficult for Isuzu to make a road-based rival for the Ford Ranger MS-RT.

The ride quality is improved, too. There’s still a jiggle, and you can feel the back end moving around independently from the front, occasionally feeling like it’s gone over an entirely different series of bumps, but the basic comfort level is good, if not quite class-leading. It settles down nicely at higher speeds, where the noise levels also seem lower than previously.

A suite of safety equipment keeps you secure on the road, with the D-Max being the first Isuzu to receive a full five-star Euro NCAP award, despite increasing demands from the testing organisation. Every truck in the range is fitted with traffic sign recognition, a speed limiter, lane departure warning and forward collision alerts. The V-cross also gets blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and rear cross-traffic alert.

There’s also automatic emergency braking, which detects the potential for an imminent collision and applies the brakes to avoid or mitigate any impact. All of the systems appear to work well, although the emergency braking system decided to kick in on three occasions where there was no risk. It’s difficult to get the point where systems take over just right, but it feels like Isuzu has set the sensitivity a little too high.

Power (hp)1640-62 mph (secs)13.0
Torque (Nm)360Maximum speed (mph)112
Fuel economy (mpg)30.7CO2 emissions (g/km)241
Isuzu D-Max V-Cross: Off the Road

Isuzu has decided to fit a locking rear differential to the V-Cross, which is a valuable addition for when the going gets particularly tough. Interestingly, it’s decided not to fit one to the more workhorse-like Utility range, which seems like an odd oversight.

It can be engaged when the low-range gearbox option has been selected and disengages all the electronic assistance systems that would normally help you progress – that’s ABS, stability control, traction control, hill start assist and hill descent control.

Switching between the rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive can be done on the fly, at speeds of up to 60mph, so any unexpected change of surface can be dealt with immediately. The process of switching has been improved too, making it quicker to move from one to another. You do need to be stationary to engage the low range drive, though.

Measurements don’t tell the whole story, but the D-Max has better approach angle, side angle and wading depth limits than the Toyota Hilux, but loses out on departure angle, ramp angle and ground clearance allowances.

The differences are small and had little impact on our testing through a hastily modified quarry. Steep climbs, demanding hill starts, acutely angled banks, deep sand, dizzying descents and deep water all proved little more than an inconvenience, although we were well short of the vehicle’s limits.

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For tougher environments, protection is provided by a 1.5mm thick steel skid plate under the front of the D-Max, a 1.0mm steel guard for the sump, transmission and transfer case, and a 5.0mm thick reinforced resin underbody tray.

Approach angle (°)31Climbing angle limit (°)N/A
Departure angle (°)24Ground clearance (mm)235
Ramp angle limit (°)22Wading depth (mm)800
Side angle limit (°)49
Isuzu D-Max V-Cross: Payload and Towing

The V-Cross has lost 28kg of its payload capacity compared to the outgoing Blade model, leaving it with 1,070kg available when using the HMRC’s methodology, which is 15kg lower than the Toyota Hilux Invincible’s capacity. You can access another 50kg by choosing a lower specification model, but that’s also true of its rivals.

Still, it’s above that essential one-tonne figure so, even with a canopy in place, the V-Cross counts as a commercial vehicle and attracts the same tax benefits as other LCVs.

Isuzu D-Max V-Cross load bay

The load box has been extended, but only slightly. It’s now 1,495mm long, up 10mm, and measures 1,530mm wide – unchanged from the outgoing model. Thanks to the higher shoulder line, the depth of the bed has been increased by 25mm to 490mm. It’s still smaller than the load area on every rival, bar the SsangYong Musso SWB, but still big enough to slide a Euro-pallet between the wheel arches.

Despite being powered by a compact 1.9-litre engine, the D-Max has a towing capacity of 3,500kg, putting it right at the top of the class. A gross train weight of 6,000kg means a fully loaded trailer reduces payload capacity to 470kg on the V-Cross model, but other specifications offer more capacity. Trailer sway control is fitted as standard to all but the entry-level model.

We couldn’t test the towing ability but did try the V-Cross with a manual gearbox that was loaded with a few hundred kilos of stone in the back. It obviously dulled performance somewhat but not to an alarming degree, and only required an occasional shift to a lower gear for steeper hills. Loading it up to the full six-tonnes might be asking a little much for normal road use, but we’ll test that at a later date.

Kerb weight (kg)2,030Load bay length (mm)1,495
Gross vehicle weight (kg)3,100Load bay width (mm)1,530
Payload (kg)1,070Load bay height (mm)490
Gross vehicle mass (kg)6,000Load bay capacity (l)N/A
Towing capacity (braked) (kg)3,500Towing capacity (unbraked) (kg)750
Isuzu D-Max V-Cross: Verdict

More evolution than revolution, the new Isuzu D-Max is an impressive vehicle. The LED headlights and double-blade grille can look a little odd in photos but work well in person, lending the vehicle an impressive street presence.

Changes to the cabin have pushed the D-Mx right up towards the top of the class, with plenty of space, storage and equipment for all but the fussiest of people, while the cabin ambience and perceived quality is a huge step up from the old model. The large infotainment screen looks great but is disappointing – imagine getting a sleek Apple Macbook but finding it;’s got Windows Vista installed – but the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto means you can generally avoid using it.

Famed for its rugged credentials, there’s no reason to doubt that the new D-Max won’t continue to appeal to the more demanding customers, and that’s backed up by a five-year, 125,000-mile warranty.

It won’t be the cheapest truck to run but also avoids being the most expensive. Fuel economy if 30.7mpg is promised from this V-Cross auto model, and our drive resulted in the trip computer showing 30.8mpg. Your results should be better, given the heavy right foot we used occasionally.

As a step forward, the new D-Max is huge. It’s an utterly convincing vehicle, able to mix with the best in class whether in terms of off-road abilities, load-lugging, handling, ride or even luxury, but there’s one caveat…

The V-Cross is the flagship, but you’ll get better value and, to these eyes, a smarter looking truck, by dropping down a grade to the DL40. The difference in specification is minimal (and mostly cosmetic) and you’ll be able to pocket the £1,500 change.

Model tested: Isuzu D-Max V-Cross Automatic

OTR Price£39,245CV OTR Price£32,759
Reclaimable VAT£6,486CV Price Range£21,009-£32,759