Never, while behind the wheel of an Isuzu D-Max, have I found myself thinking “this is a great truck, but what it really needs is a smaller engine.”

In 2.5-litre twin-turbo form, we’ve praised the D-Max for its no-nonsense utilitarian appeal, and in Arctic Trucks AT35 guise, it’s proved itself practically unstoppable.

But when Isuzu revealed the revised 2017 model would be powered by a new 1.9-litre engine, I have to say I had my doubts.

After all, this is a market over which larger-engined rivals like the 3.2-litre Ford Ranger and 3.0-litre Amarok hold significant interest.  Is lopping off 600cc really likely to be a winning formula?

At 164PS, the new 1.9-litre unit actually makes 1PS more than the previous 2.5.  However, torque is down by 40Nm to 360Nm, and it peaks slightly higher at 2,000-2,500rpm.

On the road, this new engine doesn’t feel as strong as the old 2.5, requiring more effort to pick up speed or maintain it on a gradient.  It’s also pretty raucous under load, filling the cabin with a conversation-stopping resonance through the bulkhead at 2,100rpm and again at 3,000rpm.

It might have more power than a Hilux (now available only with a 148hp 2.4), but the Toyota feels significantly quicker and more responsive, although in the D-Max’s favour it does offer a far more linear power delivery.  Tellingly, Isuzu don’t quote a 0-62mph time for the new model.

We tested the D-Max with the new six-speed automatic transmission, which goes about its business generally smoothly but with an occasional air of indecisiveness.  It will usefully downshift automatically when braking down a hill, for instance, but it delays the shift for several seconds, by which time you could very well be back on the straight and level.  It also emits a noticeable whining noise once up to temperature that makes your D-Max sound like it’s sprouted a supercharger.

Other noises, however, are much better isolated.  Wind noise is much improved over the old model, while noise from the suspension is impressively absent.

wind noise is much improved, while noise from the suspension is impressively absent

The suspension itself behaves much as it did in the previous model, which is to say it’s bouncy when unladen, as you’d expect, and is easily thrown off-line by mid-corner bumps.  That said, it’s surprisingly tenacious in all other respects.

The new D-Max carries over the previous generation’s part-time 4×4 system, together with its 60mph shift-on-the-fly capability, besting the Toyota’s 31mph restriction.  Unfortunately also carried over is the lack of a locking rear differential, although a new hill descent control – the speed of which can be varied by the driver – is a welcome addition.

Largely unchanged too is the interior, with just a new set of instruments and some gloss black trim to mark out the new models, although the Blade edition gets funkier leather upholstery, ambient lighting, puddle lights, and a new Alpine infotainment system with a nine-inch touchscreen.

Best described as the JCB of the satnav world, it makes the most of its generous screen real estate by offering oversized buttons even the most ham-fisted builder can jab at easily.  Some options are a little unintuitive at times, and it offers the most bewildering graphic equaliser I’ve ever seen, plus an annoying habit of complaining on start-up if it doesn’t find a phone to pair with.  That aside, the navigation function works well, and both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are included and initiate quickly.

The driving position is characteristically upright, although the lack of reach adjustment for the steering wheel means tall drivers may find themselves having to sit closer to the dash than they’d like.  One small point is the curious lack of a lane-change feature for the indicators.

The D-Max range starts at £15,749 CVOTR for the entry-level Utility model, with LED running lights, hill holder, hill descent control, Bluetooth, electric windows and air conditioning all as standard.

Eiger, Yukon and Utah models add an escalating mix of alloy wheels, climate and cruise control, side steps, stereos and satnavs, while our range-topping £26,999 CVOTR Blade model goes further with nine-inch touch-screen, remote tailgate locking, front and rear parking sensors, and a choice of either a rear canopy or sports bar with roller cover.

All models retain the previous D-Max’s 3.5 tonne tow rating and 1-tonne payload plus, of course, Isuzu’s 5-year 125,000-mile warranty.

the new D-Max achieves Euro 6 compliance without needing to resort to AdBlue

Thanks to the smaller engine, the new D-Max achieves Euro 6 compliance without needing to resort to AdBlue, and there are modest reductions in CO2 emissions (192 to 183 g/km for the manual, 220 to 205 g/km for the auto).  And while there are on-paper economy improvements of between 1.7 and 2.6 mpg depending on gearbox, at the end of a week’s testing we’d notched up an average of 33.5 mpg, broadly inline with what we saw in the old model.

While the idea of a 1.9-litre pick-up would have been laughable a few years ago, the new D-Max actually turns in a commendable performance.  It’ll go largely wherever you want, it’ll tow almost anything you could ask of it, and it’s unlikely to break down while doing it.

Just don’t expect it to do any of it very quickly.

Tester’s Notes

  • Plenty of engine noise, plus resonance through the bulkhead at 2/3k rpm.
  • Auto transmission whines like a supercharger once warm. Occasionally feels indecisive, shifting in and out of gears before settling. Downshifts when braking downhill, but delay often renders it unnecessary.
  • Satnav feels like JCB made it – large graphics, a bit unintuitive at times, generally useful. CarPlay works well. Large screen is a plus. Needs a determined jab. Complains if Bluetooth connection not available.
  • Interior much the same as previous model. Only marginal quality improvements to trim.
  • No reach adjustment for steering wheel.
  • Split rear seats allow you to get to underfloor compartments separately (unlike Hilux)
  • Bouncy ride unladen, but suspension works quietly. Easily thrown off line by mid-corner bumps. However, surprisingly tenacious in other circumstances.
  • Reluctant to pick up speed particularly for overtakes/pulling quickly onto a roundabout.
  • No lane-change function for indicators.
  • Shift on the fly at higher speeds (60mph) than Hilux.
  • Thoughtful touches such as the tailgate damper.
  • 33.5 mpg on test.
Entry-level Price £15,749 CVOTR
(£18,841.80 OTR)
Price as tested £29,364 CVOTR
(£35,179.80 OTR)
Engine 1898cc 4-cyl turbodiesel Transmission 6-speed auto
Power 164ps @ 3,600rpm Torque 360Nm @ 2,000-2,500rpm
0-62 n/a Top speed 112 mph
Economy 36.2 mpg CO2 205 g/km
Dimensions 5295 x 1860 x 1795 (LxWxH) Kerb Weight 1949 kg