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Why this is Australia’s best ute

The first new Isuzu D-Max in almost a decade has arrived with sharper styling, a more refined 3.0-litre diesel engine and big strides in infotainment and safety.Prices have risen, though, including an $8100 leap for the flagship X-Terrain, replacing the previous LS-T range-topper.Our family of four sample life with a bright orange X-Terrain, costing $58,990…

The first new Isuzu D-Max in almost a decade has arrived with sharper styling, a more refined 3.0-litre diesel engine and big strides in infotainment and safety.

Prices have risen, though, including an $8100 leap for the flagship X-Terrain, replacing the previous LS-T range-topper.

Our family of four sample life with a bright orange X-Terrain, costing $58,990 drive away.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Jules: This side of a RAM truck, I don’t think I’ve seen our kids so excited by a ute. It’s very orange.

Iain: Like a giant toy, isn’t it? It’s Volcanic Amber metallic to be specific, an exclusive hue for the D-Max X-Terrain. Go wild or go home, I guess.

Jules: Is this the latest cashed-up tradie hero dual-cab ute?

Iain: One of them, though the Ford Ranger, Toyota HiLux and Mitsubishi Triton remain Australia’s most popular utes.

Jules: It looks far prettier than the old one.

Iain: A big leap. There are angled LED lights front and rear, sharper body angles and funky wide-spoke dark grey alloys.

Jules: The roof rails, sports bar, side step and fender flares in dark grey contrast the orange body well, and are the tonneau cover and tow bar standard?

Iain: The cover is, the tow bar’s an extra $1164. It should be standard on this $58,990 drive-away flagship.

Jules: It passes the desirable looks test. I may not love utes, but this D-Max brims with lifestyle appeal.

Iain: Except the Space Invaders-type sports bar stickers. I could live without them.

THE LIVING SPACE

Jules: Woah. The D-Max cabin has been dragged into the 21st Century.

Iain: Yes, wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto, a high-res nine-inch screen, eight-speaker surround sound and modern angles for the dash, doors and air vents.

Jules: The leather seats are supportive, the driver’s seat is electric and the dash top is soft touch — fancy.

Iain: Hang on, it’s still a ute. There’s hard plastic for the centre console and door tops. And — first-world problem alert — no heated seats. The $10,000-cheaper Mitsubishi Triton GLS Premium offers these.

Jules: The cup holders in front of aircon vents are genius. They keep your Monster drink chilled, or rapidly cool down your too-hot coffee.

THE COMMUTE

Iain: Utes may be brilliantly versatile, but they can’t and don’t drive as comfortably or securely as a proper passenger car. They remain work trucks at their core.

Jules: But so many buy them for daily driving with the occasional off-road excursion.

Iain: And they do those jobs well enough. But make sure you really need the 4WD, towing and payload abilities before choosing one over a large SUV.

Jules: It’s a nice unstressed cruiser on the highway. The adaptive cruise control is excellent, and there’s even lane-keep assist. Really good for a ute.

Iain: The revised 3.0-litre engine hums along quietly, though it gets gruff if you put your foot down. It’s much less agricultural-sounding than an old D-Max, though.

Jules: Around town utes are a pain. They’re lumbering and big, but the D-Max feels less truck-like than some others. My only grumble is the speedo’s a bit small and hard to read.

THE SHOPPING

Iain: Utes are not fun trying to squeeze into tight shopping centre parking spots, but a rear camera and front and rear sensors help.

Jules: The tub has plenty of space, and you can cover your groceries with the hard roller cover tonneau. But there are few worse sounds than hearing your tins and fruit rolling around when you’re driving.

Iain: Grocery bags in the passenger footwells then?

Jules: Yep. Fine if you’re driving solo, not so good when it eats into the kids’ rear space.

SUNDAY RUN

Iain: The old D-Max was criticised for no rear diff lock, so Isuzu’s slung one in. It also has an 800mm wading depth and lighter, stronger three-leaf rear suspension.

Jules: With no load in the tray it’s a bit floaty on the open road, but I was amazed how at-home it felt on the soft sand.

Iain: The X-Terrain laughed at our soft sand playground. It felt incredibly competent, and I didn’t even need to drop pressures on its highway tyres.

Jules: I normally hate putting a 4WD in low-range as it’s a clunky job, but the D-Max makes it easier. Once in neutral it only took two seconds with the twist of a dial.

THE FAMILY

Iain: Does any kid not love a bright orange truck? To make it cooler, the D-Max can be remote started with the keyfob from afar. Our kids spent a good ten minutes playing with that.

Jules: In old utes you were lucky to get a driver’s airbag. I’m grateful that’s changed. The D-Max has a long list of active safety equipment and a five-star ANCAP crash rating. For a mum, these are massive plusses.

Iain: The central airbag between the two front seats is groundbreaking.

Jules: The kids have rear air vents and a USB port, and although the ride in the back is bouncy, there’s ample space.

Iain: It’s an expensive family vehicle. At nearly $60,000 for this range-topper, you’re comparing with some luxury-packed spacious SUVs. The six-year warranty’s great, service prices are okay and I was quite pleased with 8.2L/100km fuel use.

THE VERDICT

Jules: It’s a big improvement over the old D-Max. Although I couldn’t live with one of these giant utes as a family car, the Isuzu challenges that perception.

Iain: It should be on the (very) shortlist for ute buyers but the X-Terrain’s price rise is a big one. The lesser grades are better value.

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