“Don’t try to do everything. Do one thing well.” When the late Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs coined this pearl of wisdom he was talking about his business philosophy but, 5,000 miles away from Silicon Valley, the executives at Isuzu have taken a similar approach.
For some time now Isuzu has been a one-car brand in the UK and, strictly speaking, that one car is actually a light commercial vehicle. The D-Max has plenty to offer private buyers and off-road enthusiasts, however, and the XTR, which sits between the lifestyle-orientated Blade edition and the extreme AT35 Arctic Truck high performance model, is the most sophisticated D-Max yet.
That’s despite a host of changes primarily aimed at improving the off-road capability of the D-Max, with a bespoke Pedders suspension set up, new brakes and Pirelli Scorpion all-terrain tyres topping a long list of upgrades.
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Overview and vital statistics
Still powered by the same 1.9-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine as the rest of the range, the XTR has been overhauled in other areas.
New suspension and dampers mean the XTR sits higher, with 250mm of ground clearance and no compromise on vehicle handling and stability. In fact, I’d argue the ride is much improved compared with the Blade trim D-Max I drove last year.
The XTR's additional spec includes bigger suspension and kevlar-ceramic brakes (Photo: Isuzu)
Stopping power has also been upgraded and new ventilated front brake discs, paired with kevlar-ceramic brake pads, bringing high wear resistance and better anti–corrosion protection.
Driving the Isuzu D-Max XTR
The new brakes definitely make a difference. At just shy of two tonnes completely empty, it’s a heavy unit and every bit of that stopping power is needed. Stopping distance definitely feels like it has improved and the action is smoother and less juddering.
Isuzu D-Max XTR
The higher suspension arms raise the car’s centre of gravity, but it feels remarkably settled and easy to control.Where once the D-Max felt big and lumbering now it simply feels big. Visibility from the cabin is excellent particularly given the height you are relative to the rest of the traffic although the long and jutting bonnet can make judging city parking a challenge.
The six-speed manual gearbox feels adequate,rather than slick and I’m not a fan of the location of reverse gear. The 162bhp four-cylinder diesel engine sounds fairly agricultural, but paired with the manual gearbox I was a lot happier with it than I was with the automatic transmission I’d tested previously.
Not surprisingly, the manual transmission shaves a few decimals from the nought to 62mph time. But, while the XTR might look like something Ken Block would tear around a race track in, the 12.7 second nought to 62 time is unlikely to set any course records. That’s not to say it feels sluggish for the class, but if you’re considering the XTR as an alternative to the Ford Ranger Raptor, know that the XTR is the slower of the two by 2.2 seconds.
Interior and technology
Cosmetically, our test car car looks like it powerslid into a World Rally Championship skunk works sideways, with a tough looking bodykit, charcoal tribal-style decals and lime green accents to match the suspension shocks and brake calipers.
The XTR's interior is robust but uninspiring (Photo: Isuzu)
The interior feels generally robust, although the plastics on the centre console are not of the highest grade. The flat-bottomed, suede-covered steering wheel is chunky with lime-green stitching and the dash is dominated by a seven-inch infotainment display.
The display is sharp but the operating system is fiddly and less intuitive than more mainstream models on the market.
The XTR heated front sports seats are upholstered in leather and suede with contrast green overstitching. They look like high-end gaming chairs but are comfortable and structural improvements mean they feel more supportive than the standard seats in the range.
You could dismiss the D-Max XTR as a niche option for off-road enthusiasts or weekend thrill-seekers who like to throw mountain bikes or surfboards into the trailer before heading off to endanger their personal safety some other way, but the brake and suspension upgrades have improved the ride and handling of the car however you plan to use it.
The decals and green highlights won't be to everyone's taste (Photo: Isuzu)
The graphics on the bodywork might not be to my taste, but the high levels of equipment and unique looks will earn fans in buyers looking for a high-spec alternative to an SUV with genuine capability.
Isuzu says the XTR is the most sophisticated and authentically capable D-Max ever and it’s hard to disagree. With an all-new Isuzu D-Max due to launch in the UK in late 2020 it’s a fitting send-off for the current generation model.
The D-Max XTR is a fitting send-off for the current model (Photo: Isuzu)
This article first appeared on our sister site The Scotsman