Isuzu has broadened the availability of its 1.9-litre engine across the D-Max range which promises lower running costs and increased payload to only broaden the ute's rapidly growing appeal.

The 2023 Isuzu D-Max is one of the most popular vehicles in ute-loving Australia, with it now giving some serious challenge to the ever-popular Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger. With it not only being smartly-priced but also one of the most affordable utes to run, it’s easy to see why private buyers and businesses alike have taken to it.

Only enhancing that is the wider availability of the smaller 1.9-litre engine – the same one fitted across the entire UK range – across multiple body styles in Australia. Originally launched in the cheapest SX Single Cab Chassis 4×2 model, it’s now also offered in SX Crew Cab variants with the option of both 4×2 and 4×4 drivetrains. Boasting lower servicing, fuel, and insurance costs than the 3.0-litre engine fitted to most variants, the wider availability of it now opens up this option to more buyers.

To see whether it’s worth considering, we’re testing it in the SX Crew Cab Ute 4×4 variant which comes priced at $50,200 before on-road costs, with it incurring an $8000 premium over the otherwise identical 4×2 variant but saving $2000 compared to the equivalent 3.0-litre 4×4 model.

As we’ve already detailed in our review of the top-spec X-Terrain variant, 2023 D-Max models feature a few small tweaks to keep it looking fresh ahead of a full 2024 facelift. In the case of this base SX variant, the only visual change is the redesigned front grille in a two-tone black finish. Otherwise, the redesigned headlights and new wheel designs are reserved for higher-specified models.

That means the SX still features a set of 17-inch steelies, reflector-beam headlights, black plastic door handles and mirror caps, and even stickers for the model name on the tailgate rather than the usual chromed badging. This is, after all, a model aimed more at tradies and fleet buyers so style isn’t of the essence so much, although by the standards of most tradie-spec utes it’s still quite a good looker.

The inside of the Isuzu D-Max SX tells much the same story, with a blend of unglamorous but durable and hard-wearing materials with all the mod-cons you’d expect. Just about everything you touch is made of hard black plastic – aside from the steering wheel and shifter which are polyurethane rather than leather-wrapped like in other models – but nothing feels offensive in any way. Even the steering wheel feels nice to the touch, unlike some which can feel awfully coarse.

It’s worth noting there are some key design differences between the SX and other variants, chiefly the deletion of the secondary glovebox and covered storage cubby atop the dashboard. Instead, there are simply two open trays in their place. In Single Cab variants, the seats are also noticeably downgraded, although in the Crew Cab model tested here you still get the same brilliantly supportive front bucket seat design you get in other higher-specified models, albeit with a harder-wearing and more basic cloth finish. The typical carpeted floors also make way for rubber flooring which is a far better option on muddy farms or worksites.

The instrument cluster is the same as in almost all other variants with a 4.2-inch TFT display standard across the range. Move your gaze to the centre stack, however, and you’ll see that it sports a 7.0-inch infotainment screen rather than the 9.0-inch unit in more expensive models. While it lacks integrated sat nav, it does feature wireless Apple CarPlay which is certainly welcome. However, the massive bezel around it is a bit unsightly, although it doesn’t affect its operation and legibility.

Look below the screen and you’ll see that the dual-zone climate controls of other variants have made way for the most basic of manual air conditioning controls, with even the recirculation vent being operated by a physical lever rather than a button. Mind you, with gloves on these chunky dials will be much easier to operate.

One of the biggest upsides of the D-Max SX in the tech department is that it still benefits from the full suite of active safety tech that Isuzu fits to all other variants, meaning it still has adaptive cruise control; Level 2 semi-autonomous driving capability; lane departure warning and assist; blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, along with a new auto-off function when towing; autonomous emergency braking with turn assist; traffic sign recognition; and trailer sway control. It also has eight airbags including a centre airbag, ensuring a five-star ANCAP safety rating with a 2022 datestamp.

Now, one of the big advantages of the smaller engine fitted is an increase in payload due to the lower kerb weight. Where a 3.0-litre SX Crew Cab Ute model has a 1065kg payload, this model steps that up to 1150kg thanks to the 85kg weight saving. However, braked towing capacity is reduced to 3000kg for the 1.9-litre, while 3.0-litre models can tow 3500kg.

That weight saving is worth keeping in mind when it comes to the performance of this engine, as it does mark a noticeable decrease in performance over the more widely-available 3.0-litre. This 1.9-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel produces 110kW at 3600rpm and 350Nm from 1800-2600rpm, marking decreases of 30kW and 100Nm. However, it does produce at least 300Nm of torque across 71 percent of the rev range, meaning it still has the pulling power concentrated where you need it.

There’s no denying that it lacks the punch of the larger engine, with the 1.9 simply feeling adequate. Lean on it as hard as you want – progress will be unwaveringly steady, but don’t expect it to win any races at the lights. It is a smooth engine, however, and the Aisin six-speed automatic transmission it’s paired to certainly brings the best out of it. It’s a fairly smooth and refined engine, too, owing to it being more recently developed in order to adhere to more stringent European emissions standards. Mind you, the version offered here is only Euro 5 compliant as it doesn’t use AdBlue or feature a start/stop system like the Euro 6D version.

But do keep in mind that when it comes to the Australian market, this engine is aimed more at inner-city tradies and farmers rather than those looking to tow a caravan who are better served by the larger engine. With a heavy load in the tray being moved shorter distances – something made possible by the increased payload – this will certainly do the job.

In every other sense, the SX Crew Cab Ute tested here feels much like any other D-Max that Isuzu offers. While Cab Chassis models feature firmer heavy duty suspension, those with a more stylish tub on the back like this one feature standard leaf springs which afford it the same well-damped ride quality that higher-spec’d models boast. The variable ratio steering is also a treat, with it feeling effortlessly light for low-speed manoeuvring but also weighty enough at higher speeds.

SX and LS-M variants do sit slightly lower to the ground with 235mm of ground clearance versus the 240mm clearance of the variants above them, but off-road performance is otherwise uninhibited with all 4×4 models still featuring a locking rear differential as standard. Its four-wheel drive system is also particularly fast to switch between settings via the electronic dial on the dashboard.

For the type of buyers this 1.9-litre model is aimed at in Australia, there are no major compromises when it comes to the driving experience. It may offer merely enough, but that’s ultimately all that’s needed in those contexts.

Attractive to both fleets and private buyers alike are the reduced running costs that the 1.9-litre model promises, with fuel economy being the most obvious. Across my 693km of testing, I managed a return of 7.9L/100km which marks a litre-plus saving per hundred over the 3.0-litre in real-world conditions.

Servicing is also cheaper for 1.9-litre variants, with an average cost of $480 per service ($3359 total) across the seven capped-price services offered by Isuzu, while for the 3.0-litre that jumps to $527 per service ($3689 total). Servicing is required every 12 months/15,000km.

Isuzu also covers all models with a six-year/150,000km warranty along with seven years of complimentary roadside assistance.

When you look at the buyer set this model is aimed at, Isuzu has hit a winner with the 1.9-litre D-Max SX. With performance and towing a lesser concern, the company has focused on what really matters here – increased payload and reduced running costs.

Combine that with a durable, well-designed interior and an attractive exterior by basic ute standards and this is a vehicle that ticks every box it needs to. Whether it’s on a worksite, a campsite, a farm, or the latest bit of council-sanctioned roadworks, don’t be surprised to see one (or more) of these there. This is a ute that, for pragmatic buyers, just makes sense.

2023 Isuzu D-Max SX 1.9 Crew Cab 4x4 List Price: $50,200 | As Tested: $54,364
  • 7/10
    Performance - 7/10
  • 7.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 7.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Tech & Features - 7.5/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Value for Money - 8/10

Pros: Increased payload, effortlessly economical, lower running costs, surprisingly smooth and refined engine
Cons: Decreased towing capacity, can feel underpowered at times, interior feels particularly basic in some areas

Photography by Patrick Jackson and Shuqi Yu.

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Isuzu UTE Australia for two weeks with a full tank of fuel.

Patrick Jackson
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