The success of the higher-riding two-wheel-drive XLT Ford Ranger in the buoyant New Zealand light truck market is the main reason why Isuzu has landed a similar two-wheel-drive D-Max.
“Ford created the model for Isuzu,” said Isuzu Ute NZ general manager Murray Greenhalgh, launching the $52,890 two-wheel-drive double-cab D-Max LS-T.
The Ranger variant also forced main rival Toyota to boost the number of two-wheel-drive Hilux models it will make available when the new range is revealed later this year.
Ford’s dominance of the ute segment has been helped by its line-up of diesel two-wheel drives with automatic gearboxes and the ground clearance of four-wheel drives. It’s a stance and drivetrain that rivals lacked.
Indeed, Toyota has confirmed it will offer five higher-riding two-wheel drives in the new Hilux range …“for those buyers who want the better visibility and tougher looks, but don’t need the go-anywhere capability.”
That’s where the new high-spec D-Max fits in. It rides high and joins the $60,990 four-paw D-Max LS-T at a time when the Isuzu Ute range continues to ramp up sales, overtaking the Mazda BT-50 to be seventh behind the Mitsubishi Triton on ute sales charts at the end of July.
“We’ve knocked off the Mazda every month this year and now we are in striking distance of Mitsubishi,” Greenhalgh said. He aims ultimately to be in the top three. “In many markets Isuzu is number one or number two.”
It’s an ambitious target. At the end of last month Isuzu had registered 1049 D-Max sales, an average of 149 a month this year. Mitsubishi Triton had averaged 194; leader Ford Ranger 499. Eighth-placed Mazda BT-50 had averaged 123; ninth-placed Volkswagen Amarok 81.
Isuzu is enjoying significant year-on-year growth. So far this year ute sales are up just over 40 per cent on 2014, said Greenhalgh. Last year they were up 58 per cent on 2013. In 2013 they were up 178 per cent on 2012.
“I’d have been laughed out of the boardroom if I had predicted that growth,” he said. Greenhalgh spent a year telling the factory that he needed a high-spec two-wheel-drive D-Max to better compete in NZ.
The factory delivered and Greenhalgh immediately ordered 300 examples. “New Zealand is the only country in the world with a two-wheel drive D-Max,” he said.
The new variant shares its five-speed Aisin automatic gearbox and 3.0-litre turbodiesel engine with the four-paw D-Max. It’s a 130kW Euro4-rated unit that delivers its peak torque of 380Nm between 1800-2800rpm, peaking higher in the rev range than most rivals.
Isuzu claims town-and-around fuel use of 8.1km/100km, or 35mpg. Braked towing capacity is 2500kg; payload 1007kg. It comes with all the passive and active safety kit to qualify for a five-star rating. There’s sat-nav, a reversing camera, USB and iPod connections … and a DVD player.