Just testing: Isuzu D-Max Blade 4x4 Double Cab Auto

Our motoring man gets his hands on a prize-winning pick-up

By Tim Gibson

A funny thing happened during my week with the Isuzu D-Max Blade. I came to think that anything was possible, that even the wackiest idea or most ambitious adventure was well within my grasp.

    The D-Max is a commanding beast, especially in lifestyle Blade specification.  

This feeling of capability, of not being bound by the constraints of conventional living, was liberating, joy-making and empowering.

I guess that’s the effect of driving a vehicle that oozes confidence. The D-Max is a commanding beast, especially in lifestyle Blade specification. It has just enough chrome to unleash your inner cowboy, without being as in-your-face aggressive as competition in the form of the Ford Ranger and Nissan Navara.

What the D-Max denotes first and foremost is a practical ability to cope with anything you throw at it. Towing the caravan to Devon for a weekend’s holiday? Sorted. Loading up with hedge trimmings for a trip to the tip? Done. Piling the kids and their gear on board for a day at the Cotswold Wildlife Park? Easy peasy.

It’s no wonder that the D-Max was named as Pick-Up of the Year in the What Van? Awards 2019. It’s a competent working vehicle that is perfectly at home in a mucky farmyard or construction site and lives to pull a heavy trailer along behind.

I took it to the Head Office of a quarrying company in the Mendip Hills and noticed that every time a dumper driver or loading shovel operator rumbled past, their head snapped around to admire the gleaming red truck in the car park.

That speaks of some of the D-Max’s defining characteristics. For all that it feels supremely at home slogging it out in the rough stuff, it has a certain elegant countenance, accentuated by the Blade edition’s smart paint job. It is also pretty good to drive.

Okay, so the combination of a one-tonne payload (crucial to preserving its tax status as a commercial vehicle) and leaf-sprung rear axle is never going to make for the smoothest of rides over undulating surfaces. Compared to a family car, the D-Max inevitably feels cumbersome and sluggish on the turn.

But once you get used to driving a vehicle that’s designed to lug bags of cement or dead sheep around the countryside, there’s a certain lulling calm to proceedings.

The 164PS 1.9-litre turbo diesel engine revs freely and generously, so despite its diminutive displacement you never want for get up and go. Drive with a steady right foot, gently accelerating and braking, and you soon become accustomed to the pick-up experience.

When it comes to manoeuvring, the D-Max is unnervingly nimble. On a family trip to the dentist, for example, Mrs Gibson was amazed (and, I like to think, more than a little impressed) when I reverse-parked into an estate-car-sized space. My performance was aided by parking sensors and a crystal-clear reversing camera, making it easy to spot the truck’s parameters and keep it in the gaps.

    When it comes to manoeuvring, the D-Max is unnervingly nimble.  

The elevated driving position helps, too. Even in the routine rub of daily driving, there’s an unparalleled joy to be had from sitting high above the hoi polloi.

More than that, with such a commanding view of the road it’s easier to anticipate the misdeeds of fellow motorists, taking preventative action when necessary.

In all these ways, the D-Max compares well with your average family SUV. Sure, it’s not quite as refined as a KIA Sorento or Ford Edge. But it’s demonstrably different from these more humdrum vehicles, thanks to its hard-working credentials.

The D-Max compares favourably to vehicles at the more utilitarian end of the spectrum. Consider the archetypal workhorse, the Land Rover Defender, as a case in point. Doughty it may be, but it’s by no means a car to be driven any real distance unless you don’t mind ear-bleeding levels of noise and back-jarring discomfort.

Contrast the D-Max Blade with its leather-clad heated seats and comfortable accommodation for five passengers and you have to say that Isuzu has this lifestyle truck thing pretty much licked.

The D-Max’s appeal is about more than plush trim, though. It benefits from a variety of helpful little touches, such as a dampened tailgate that glides gracefully down when loading, and keyless entry that makes life easier when your hands are full. That said, it would be good if the entry system were activated all around the car, rather than just at the driver’s door. When piling kids in the back, it’s actually quicker to unlock using the remote key fob, which rather misses the point.

While we’re on the subject of tech that doesn’t quite hit the spot, the Blade’s infotainment system is by no means a pleasure to use. The touch screen is laggy and confusing. It took me 10 minutes to work out how to programme the sat nav and then it gave loud directions far more frequently than I needed throughout our journey, annoyingly cutting over my son’s carefully prepared playlist.

These are small niggles, which speak of the difference between a vehicle like the D-Max and a more conventional SUV. Where it wins is in the bang-for-your-buck stakes. Buy a lifestyle 4x4 with this amount of kit and you’ll pay a lot more than the D-Max Blade’s on-the-road price of £35,707.80.

What is more, you won’t feel anything like as inspired. There’s something about the D-Max: it makes you feel different, like you’re making a statement without being flash. It instils confidence.

In my week with the Isuzu, I decided I’d train for a cross-country ultra marathon, sail solo across the Atlantic and launch a forest school. 

I may not actually do any of these things, but that’s not the point. All the time I was driving the D-Max, I felt very much that I could. By my reckoning, that’s a pretty good reason to own one.

On test

  • Isuzu D-Max Blade 4x4 Double Cab Automatic
  • 164PS
  • 36.2mpg combined (official figures)
  • 0-62mph in 13 seconds
  • 205g/km CO2 emissions
  • Price: £35,707 (including VAT, and look out for favourable contract hire rates if a business user)

Tim Gibson has written about cars for 25 years. His work regularly appears in The Daily Telegraph and other national media.

Published: 9 August 2019

© 2019 Just Recruitment Group Ltd

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