ON TEST: Isuzu D-Max V-Cross

Isuzu, On Test

The Isuzu D-Max is one of the most versatile pick-ups currently on the one-tonne market. With a range that utilises the same 1.9-litre diesel unit and, on the whole, the same chassis, too. But nonetheless, the D-Max is such a solid base that it performs well in a variety of guises for a breadth of situations and purposes.

Newest of its guises is this, the V-Cross. It’s a high-spec, leather-dressed variant that adds a level of luxury not often seen in a D-Max. On top of the standard D-Max Utah double-cab, the V-Cross gains a few extra features. Model-specific 18-inch 12-spoke alloys accompany the custom front skirt in making the V-Cross stand out from the crowd. The other two bonus features are a front camera, to help with parking, and then a wireless mobile charging pad in the upper glove-box. So, what did we do with this posh new D-Max? We took it to an off-road site, of course.

Inside the V-Cross there are several ex-cows. Leather upholstery extends across much of the interior and covers all of the seats, the padded armrest, door cards, dashboard inserts and the steering wheel, too.

As cited in our previous issue, we love that the D-Max doesn’t attempt to hide the work-ready genes it possesses, and despite the added features and leather on the V-Cross the interior still prioritises function over form.

The top shelf of the split glovebox plays host to a rubberised wireless phone charger, so charging compatible devices is simple and efficient. It’s a grippy little pad, so when you close the lid of the glovebox your mobile doesn’t slide from end to end but remains in one place and in one piece.

Between the two front seats the flip-lid armrest reveals a useful dose of cubby storage as well as a spot to, erm, rest your arm… The one in the centre of the rear also offers elbow relief and there is more storage beneath the seats.

Electrically adjusted, the seats in the D-Max are plush and comfortable and in the winter you’ll be particularly glad that they’re heated, too. We covered several hundred miles in a day, and found the seats to be nothing but comfortable for the entirety. When we went off-road, we found the sets could’ve been a little more supportive and held both driver and passenger in place a tad more, however the plush cushioning ensured that the D-Max was never anything other than accommodating. Those in the back aren’t afforded much leg room, however, you will be able to get settled on all but the longest journeys.

The aspect of the D-Max’s cabin that we felt let it down was the infotainment system. It’s a Pioneer system that doesn’t live up to the same standards as the rest of the cabin. It’s equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but navigating it feels illogical and frustrating. It does receive DAB signals and the 7-inch screen is well positioned to use on the move, but that doesn’t make up for the system being clunky.

The D-Max isn’t made to be a plaything – it’s a work truck. And from the first moment driving it on the road that much is clear.

First gear is short and at low speeds the steering is slow and somewhat weighty so it keeps you busy. You’re helped here, however, by parking cameras both front and rear and sensors at the back, plus visibility is fair so the D-Max is actually an easy truck to navigate in tighter situations. The hill-start assist adds just a little more polish, too.

Out on the road, the D-Max isn’t so clearly an agricultural beast. Yes, it’s noisy when getting up to speed and it isn’t particularly spritely, but once the engine settles down it doesn’t overly intrude the cabin. Wind noise isn’t intrusive, either, so with the cruise control set just so the D-Max is a comfortable mile-muncher, all told.

The tougher suspension is tailored for hard work, both off-road and when under strain from either towing or with a full tray, but it adds a degree of fun to the D-Max’s on-road handling. The stiffer set-up allows less body roll than other trucks, which means you don’t get the comical body lean if you go around a corner with a bit more speed. This is all well and good, but don’t look to exploit it to any serious degree, as it is still an agricultural vehicle.

But, as mentioned at the start of this review, we didn’t confine this jazzy limited edition to commuting alone. We took it to Avalanche Adventure, a testing off-road site in Leicestershire, on a dry and bright Sunday morning – that just happened to follow a Saturday dotted with wintry downpours. Lying in wait for the D-Max there were rain-slicked climbs and descents, sections that would twist its axles, more mud than any press office wants their trucks to see and plenty of water to wade through. Not ideal for a truck on 18-inch alloys and road-biased tyres. Safe to say we packed our wellies – although they were only required for peace of mind when we stopped for bacon sandwiches.

In low ratio, we nervously edged over the first summit and down into the course, tentative and wary of slipping down the slope and losing control of the three-tonne vehicle over the slimy surface of the mud. Slowly the D-Max descended into the basin of the site and everyone made it to the bottom in one piece and with a sigh of relief. It seems our early worries had been in vain.

From the outset the D-Max impressed, coping with just about everything that was thrown at it. Throughout the day the D-Max proved just how capable it is, scurrying up and over obstacles we expected to halt its progress and only being stopped on occasions where the tyres couldn’t muster enough grip. Even though we expected the tyres to be the Achilles heel, it was still hugely surprising how far the capabilities of the truck extended in what was inappropriate footwear.

We’re big fans of the D-Max; it’s a truck that gives or takes no nonsense and makes a compelling case for itself both on paper and on the road. As a workhorse it boasts towing and payload capabilities that offer a near unbeatable package as a work truck. Pair these with the five-year warranty and roadside assistance (that covers the UK AND EUROPE) and it really is at the forefront of true workhorses on the market on these shores. It’s also fairly frugal, as we managed to attain figures only marginally below those that’re quoted.

You could be forgiven for thinking that a truck that is so clearly focused on being the bees knees on a building site, with a tonne of felled trees in the back or lugging feed and supplies around a farm would, in the real world, lack personality. The same way that as a child you didn’t think teachers were human (or bankers as an adult). But it has a JACK THE LAD type of charm about it that makes it endear. The mechanical precision of the gear change is enjoyable and there’s something satisfying about sinking your teeth into the heavy, chewy steering. The D-Max is good at what it does, and the fact that it doesn’t try to hide what it is – even in this high-spec model – is just another thing to respect about it.

It’s a no-nonsense truck at heart and the V-Cross is simply a polished, well-equipped version that will still throw down when you ask it to. Buyers may be tentative to opt for a work truck that’s got full leather, a dashing front splitter and 18-inch alloys, but fit it with a set of more aggressive tyres and the V-Cross won’t even blink.