Isuzu has given the popular D-Max a refresh for 2023, and we got behind the wheel to see how it's holding up against its even more popular rivals.

What is it?

Despite only having a two-model lineup, Isuzu UTE Australia has been kicking goals when it comes to the sales charts. In the case of the recently-updated 2023 D-Max, it’s currently sitting in third-place for its class in both 4×2 and 4×4 sales behind only the class juggernauts, the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger.

The 2023 range features a number of refinements across the range including refreshed styling, new trim and paint finishes, and wider availability of the base 1.9-litre engine across body styles. Pricing remains unchanged from 2022, however, meaning the top-spec X-Terrain model we’re looking at here comes officially priced at $67,500, but it being offered at a national drive-away deal of $64,990.

Why are we testing it?

With the D-Max now performing better than ever on the sales charts in what is the most competitive segment of the Australian market, this facelifted model gives us a chance to see how it’s holding up against its tough competition – especially now that there’s an all-new Ford Ranger out to really give it a challenge.

What’s new on the outside?

Although Isuzu has kept the exterior refinements quite subtle on the 2023 D-Max, they have been driven directly by customer feedback. Nowhere is that more clear than with the new wheel designs, given the controversy the alloy wheels on higher-specified 2021 and 2022 models caused which could be seen through comments online. Given Isuzu UTE Australia’s proven reputation for customer satisfaction backed by a multitude of Roy Morgan awards, it’s impressively unsurprising to see.

In the case of the X-Terrain model tested here, it features a new split-six-spoke 18-inch wheel design shared with the LS-U and LS-U+ models, although it’s finished in dark grey on the X-Terrain rather than a machined finish. LS-M models feature their own unique 17-inch alloy wheel design, while the base SX model uses the same 17-inch steel wheels as before.

Also distinguishing the updated D-Max is a new front grille design with horizontal bars which now swoop downwards rather than upwards. On the X-Terrain, it features a two-done dark grey finish, while other models feature a range of two-tone black, grey, and chrome finishes. Likewise, items such as the side steps, sports bar, door handles, mirror caps, and body cladding are also now finished in dark grey metallic as well. The Granite Grey Mica finish of the model tested here is also a new colour for 2023.

What’s the 2023 Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain like inside?

On the inside, the only noticeable difference you’ll see in the D-Max’s cabin are the redesigned seats which feature a new stitching pattern, with the same red contrast stitching remaining. Beyond that, though, the 2023 D-Max remains otherwise unchanged inside.

That’s no bad thing as the D-Max’s cabin is a very pleasant place to be, with this X-Terrain model easily allowing you to forget that you’re inside a humble ute. While there’s still some hard, durable, and easy-to-clean plastic used on lower sections of the dashboard, all of the key touchpoints are clad in soft, smooth leatherette – even the entire dashboard. The red stitching – an update added last year after we lamented the initially underdone cabin in 2021 launch models – only helps lift the ambiance even more.

This cabin’s ergonomics are spot on as well, with the heated bucket seats offering a good amount of supportive bolstering including even for your shoulders, while reach and rake adjustment for its steering rack also allows you to get into the ideal driving position for a taller vehicle like this.

As before, there’s plenty of storage with dual gloveboxes, a third compartment on top of the dash, and pop-out cupholders which double as small storage trays on the dashboard. There’s also a handy bag hook fitted to the back of the passenger seat. The array of bottle holders in the door cards and centre console are also sized well for fitting large drinks, including even a carton of iced coffee thanks to the square cupholder in the middle.

What’s disappointing, though, is the technology offered in the D-Max. While a major step up over the previous generation model when this first launched, it’s already starting to feel a bit dated when you look over at the impressive Ford Ranger. However, it still offers everything you need with its 9-inch infotainment display featuring sat nav, digital radio, and wireless Apple CarPlay, while tyre pressure monitoring has been added to the 4.2-inch TFT display ahead of the driver.

For this X-Terrain model, payload sits at 925kg which is an acceptable figure for a heavy top-spec model. Braked towing capacity sits at 3500kg for all 3.0-litre variants.

What’s under the bonnet of the 2023 Isuzu D-Max?

All D-Max variants bar the base model are offered exclusively with a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine producing 140kW and 450Nm. Although other models are available with a rear-wheel drive drivetrain or manual gearbox, the X-Terrain is offered exclusively with part-time four-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission.

While the SX model is also available with the 3.0-litre engine, it’s also offered with a more affordable and economical 1.9-litre turbo diesel engine which is now available on 4×2 and 4×4 Crew Cab models along with the 4×2 Single Cab Chassis variant it first launched in.

READ MORE: The 2023 Ford Ranger Raptor finally scores the power it needed to match its bold looks

What’s it like to drive?

With no mechanical changes for the top-spec X-Terrain, the driving experience is identical to before this facelift, although that’s no bad thing as the D-Max is one of the most pleasant vehicles in the class to drive.

While it’s engine could do with a bit of a power boost as it’s falling behind some of the competition, its power delivery is smooth and cleverly tuned with the bulk of the torque designed to be on tap when you’re towing a caravan or hauling a heavy load in the tray at 100km/h – something many Isuzu owners do. It is one of the noisier engines in the class now as well, although when you consider its origins being in the N-Series truck, its use is more for durability than refinement.

The Aisin six-speed automatic – a transmission shared with the likes of the Toyota HiLux and Prado – is a smooth and slick unit, while the selectable four-wheel drive system it’s hooked up to is particularly quick to switch between 2H and 4H on the move, and between high and low-range when stopped.

Ride comfort is impressive in the D-Max, with it being firm enough to not feel bouncy and to mitigate body roll, but soft enough to isolate the usual bumps and potholes you’ll encounter both on city streets and country tracks. There’s a good amount of suspension articulation when off-roading as well, while its 240mm of ground clearance makes it feel similarly competent on the rough stuff.

Similarly, its handling also strikes a nice balance. Given the tall sidewalls of its highway-terrain tyres it was never going to stick to the road like a sports car, but the tuning of its suspension keeps it fairly composed through corners. Its variable ratio steering is also tuned well to allow for incredibly light manoeuvrability at low speeds and a firmer, more direct feel at higher speeds.

With dual cab utes – especially highly-specified ones like the D-Max X-Terrain – being more commonly used for the school run than on work sites, Isuzu has done a solid job of tailoring its appeal to family buyers while still maintaining its expected all-purpose and all-terrain capabilities.

How do the numbers add up?

Isuzu claims fuel consumption of 8.0L/100km on the combined cycle, although after 625km of testing I saw a return of 8.9L/100km which is the best I’ve managed in an automatic Crew Cab D-Max since this generation first launched.

All Isuzu models are covered by a six-year/150,000km warranty in Australia, along with seven years of complimentary roadside assistance. Isuzu also offers seven years of capped price servicing, including a complimentary three-month/3000km inspection. Servicing is required every 12 months/15,000km with an average cost of $527 per service.

So, what’s the verdict?

A few tweaks have kept the 2023 Isuzu D-Max looking and feeling fresh in the most popular new vehicle segment in Australia, and it’s no wonder its sales have continued to be so exemplary for what is a small brand compared to the giants Isuzu is up against.

While it could perhaps do with a power boost and some more advanced interior tech to truly keep it competitive, the D-Max punches above its weight thanks to its pleasant driving dynamics, high-quality interior, and proven capability. The new Ford Ranger does admittedly outclass it, but it is more expensive – especially considering the X-Terrain’s drive-away pricing.

With the 2023 model’s updates directly responding to feedback from customers – something Isuzu UTE Australia has made a name for itself by doing over the years – it’s only sure to continue the model’s immense popularity going forward. The D-Max is easy to recommend against its older or more expensive competition.

2023 Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain List Price: $67,500 | Drive-Away Price: $64,990
  • 7.5/10
    Performance - 7.5/10
  • 8/10
    Ride & Handling - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Tech & Features - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Value for Money - 8/10

Pros: High-quality interior, capable yet comfortable suspension, proven engine and drivetrain, better-looking wheels
Cons: Interior technology is already feeling dated, could do with more power at this point, warranty isn’t the longest due to mileage limit

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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