isuzu dmax offroad

Which is better, Dmax or Hilux?

Pick-ups are a great piece of engineering; they are strong, have the complementing rugged appearance and are fun to drive. Gone are those days, when a pick-up was considered dull, a 40+-year-old centric vehicle with basic functionalities and high load capacity. With the change in time, the auto industry has changed the aura around these vehicles. They are now stylish with great designing and aerodynamic cuts, the cabin is comfortable with the latest functionalities, and their safety front has also tremendously improved.

Today, we’ll be studying two such high-end pick-ups and see which amongst the two is better off. The two auto machines in question are Isuzu D-Max and Toyota Hilux.

Butch looks

Looks a necessity given that you’re buying a pick-up. That “get out of the path” attitude seems to go with an aggressive face. Both are equally adept at doing this job. The Toyota Hilux has a frown up its face that says it isn’t too happy with others crossing its path. The Isuzu D-Max in the meanwhile tells other road users that it means business. Both hosts LED projector headlights while the Isuzu gets LED tail lights as well. If the dimensions of the vehicle interest you, then you should be impressed by the Toyota Hilux specs. It measures 5,335 x 1,855 x 1,815 mm in length, width and height respectively. In contrast, the Isuzu D-Max measures 5,295 x 1860 x 1,795 mm for the same dimensions. If you look at the wheel size, then the Isuzu has 18-inch while the Toyota gets 17 as standard with an option to upgrade to size 18.

Utilitarian interior?

Not really. Both the vehicles have evolved with time, and while the Toyota Hilux doesn’t get the same benevolence as its more costly cousin, the Isuzu more or less is similar to the mu-X inside. This means one can opt for a touchscreen infotainment system that is AUX, USB as well as MP3 compatible. Navigation is also provided. There is also automatic climate control, and Isuzu will be happy to provide you with a video screen should you need one. The seats are done in leather with the driver getting a 6-way power-adjustable option. Push-button start and door request sensors too are given.

A sneak peek at the Toyota’s spec sheet says that it isn’t as badly specced either. There is a manually adjustable driver’s seat, auto climate control, 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system as well as auto headlights.

As far as comfort goes, both can seat five without any crunch, but as per the D-Max specifications, it has less seating comfort. Build quality is nearly the same with the Isuzu having an absolute upper hand in proportion with the body panels.

Engines and transmission

Toyota offers the Hilux with a choice of two engines. The smaller 2.4-litre turbo diesel units pump out 147 PS and 400 Nm. One can option this engine with 5-, 6-speed manuals and automatic transmissions.

There is also the slightly detuned version of the same engine that brings in 343 Nm of torque when it comes to the base trims. As far as the bigger motor is concerned, it measures 2,800cc in capacity and the power output is 174 PS. Again, depending on the trim selected, Toyota offers 420 Nm of torque or 450 Nm. This engine can be optioned with a 6-speed manual or automatic. The bigger motor, irrespective of the transmission or torque, will give one the option of 4 wheel drive. The smaller engine only has one trim that comes with 4×4.

If you look at the Isuzu D-Max specs, then you will realise that there is a lone 3.0-litre engine that offers 177 PS of power and 380 Nm of torque. The torque as is apparent, are far lower than what even the 2.4-litre engine of the Hilux offers. Isuzu will give customers the option to choose between a 5-speed manual or automatic transmissions. 2-wheel, as well as 4×4 options, are available as well. The difference here is that the Isuzu has rotary dials in the cabin and the Toyota has a proper manual lever.

The Toyota engines sound gruff, whereas the Isuzu unit is a very smooth operator. While Toyota is good at lugging speeds, the Isuzu is better at higher rpm.

Chassis, suspension, and brakes

If you were looking at a pick-up, it is obvious that it will be a ladder frame unit. The leaf springs and MacPhersons at the back and front respectively comprise the suspension components for both vehicles here. Both the manufacturers offer ventilated discs at the front and drums at the rear. The power-assisted steering wheel is common to the pick-ups here. Ground clearance of 235 mm vs 215 mm for the Isuzu and Hilux respectively shows that the D-Max has got the better view.

After much wrestling, the test team managed to get both pick-ups for a week’s worth of driving. It was an equal playing field with both appearing here with their highest trim levels (4×4 LS on the Isuzu D-Max and 3.0G on the Toyota Hilux), manual transmissions and even the black exterior paint! The odometer read similarly on both too: around 15,000 kilometres. In the end, it’s a straight fight: D-Max versus Hilux—Isuzu versus Toyota. Guess who wins?

Everyone thought the Hilux would take top honours. And who could blame them? It simply looked stylish. Whereas the D-Max looked blocky and unsophisticated, the Hilux had the large pentagonal headlights, gapping hood scoop and hunky proportions, just as anyone would have wanted it. Sitting inside revealed the same story: the D-Max square and straight-forward, the Hilux sweeping and sophisticated. The Toyota too had a more comfortable rear bench as well. However, Isuzu D-Max used slightly better materials. Score one point for the Hilux then.

However, when the drivers got settled down, the D-Max’s advantages started to emerge. First, it had better seat support. Whereas the Hilux had the wider seats, it lacks lower back and thigh support. As a result, Toyota was not a comfortable place to be in after a two-hour drive. The massive dash of the Hilux also presented a problem when reaching for ventilation, radio and even the four-wheel-drive control. In contrast, the straight-forward approach (except the convoluted Clarion sound system) of the D-Max may not be appealing to the eyes, but it surely made sense come to the real drive. Everything was in perfect reach and highly comfortable, though the D-Max did lack a dead pedal/footrest.

On the open road, Toyota’s three-vehicle approach with the IMV project resulted in a rather compromised driving experience with the Hilux. Although its passenger car application on the Innova and Fortuner were undoubtedly best-in-class; with Leaf Springs at the back, the Hilux was bouncy and comfortable. It shuddered through the bumps and lifted easily on the humps, creating some minor hi-jinks in the process. A member of the test team, which had a sensitive back, recalled that the Hilux sent jolts of pain up his spine even if the roads weren’t too rough.

Meanwhile, the D-Max’s made-for-hauling platform proved to be way better. It felt more planted and secure, especially on the rougher terrain where the driver simply had more confidence to push harder. The Isuzu was more compliant too when it came to sudden steering inputs and was easier one to drive in stop-and-go traffic thanks to better all-around visibility.

Both have equally solid body structures, but the D-Max fared slightly better as the Hilux already suffered from a squeaking rear seat.

The compromised ride and handling is indeed a bitter blow to the Hilux since, let’s face it, these pick-ups will spend most of their time traversing everywhere from villas to farms to mall parking lots rather than standing still in the showroom. That said, the Toyota still has the best power-train of the duo and its class and is the Hilux’s crown jewel.

Underneath the muscular flanks of the Toyota sits the D-4D diesel engine. Since it’s common rail, direct-injected and intercooler turbo-charged, it has a total output of 160 horsepower, 30 more than the D-Max. Isuzu’s direct-injection inline-4 simply got blown away here in terms of overall smoothness. Still, they hope to correct that problem with their own generation of common rail engines expected very soon.

In a straight line, the Hilux is brisk, enabling it to keep up with the usual compact sedans on the highway. It dispenses 140 km/h in no time and with little difficulty. However, you’ll have to work hard on the Toyota’s long stick shifter to get the most of the Hilux’s compromised gearing ratio. Meanwhile, the Isuzu has the upper hand when it comes to acceleration thanks to a closer-ratio gearbox enabling a low rpm shift point. This helps improve the D-Max’s towing/payload capabilities and fuel mileage too. Of course, ultimately the trade-off is a slower sprint to the century mark, which is not helped by its balky shift action.

In terms of noise, both have the usual diesel clatter. A slight advantage goes to the Hilux with a more subdued mid-range rpm tone. However, it’s easy to carry a conversation on either vehicle whose highway munching ability is marred by large amounts of road and tire noise.

Braking from high speeds was a no-contest victory for the Isuzu. Although the Hilux had a slightly better pedal feel, the D-Max had the edge with larger tires and standard ABS with EBD. When both pick-ups figure in an accident, it’s better to be in the D-Max too, with dual SRS airbags versus the Hilux’s driver’s side only SRS airbag. The rear seat belts of the Isuzu are adjustable also, whereas the Hilux’s are fixed.

Though the test team wasn’t able to bring either one on the rough stuff, both should be highly capable given their extensive ground clearance and high approach/departure angles. However, the D-Max’s dash-mounted 4WD selector feels more sophisticated than Toyota’s manual lever and in the process, earns more kudos.

The passenger/payload turns out to be a mixed result for both, neither one coming out the clear victor. With a longer pick-up bed, the D-Max is the better haulier. However, the Hilux is the better troop carrier with its roomier and more comfortable rear bench. Both pick-ups have folding rear benches, but again, the Hilux is much better with the seat bottom folding up instead of the seatbacks folding down. This prevents the soiling of the visible interior fabric. In addition, it has under-seat storage bins too, perfect for storing tools and other knick-knacks.

After the long drive, the burning question remains: who wins this duel? Does the Hilux have what it takes to topple the D-Max on the road? If you have been keeping score, it’s actually Hilux: 4 (styling, engine, luggage/loading and interior space), D-Max: 5 (ride, ergonomics, solidity, transmission and safety). So while everyone started dismissing the other pick-ups as “has beens” against the Hilux, it seems that Toyota’s armour isn’t all that impenetrable. After the test, it was easy to lean towards the D-Max, and the tally simply backed up that choice. In the end, the Toyota Hilux may have won some battles, but for the everyday drive, the Isuzu D-Max wins the war.

Both bakkies have a lot going for them. They’re very comfortable to drive, but I have to say that the Isuzu just feels a touch more comfortable on rough surfaces. The Hilux, however, is the better value proposition at this price point: The D-Max is R13 700 more expensive than the Hilux. Still, I’d probably feel more at ease driving the D-Max with its stability control and five years of roadside assistance, than the Hilux with its three airbags and more convenience spec.

As such, it depends on what you deem to be of the most importance. When the time comes to sell, however, you will probably find your Hilux a new home more quickly as well, plus Toyotas hold their value extremely well. The fact that Toyota has such an extensive dealer network counts in its favour as well.

It is amazing just how close these two Utes are. Without a doubt, they are two of the best options for dual cab Ute buyers.

Both have a well-deserved reputation for being almost indestructible. The Isuzu engine has been proven over many years in their light truck series. It is robust, practical with some comfort features. It is Ute like.

The Toyota Hilux has proven itself over many years in the harshest and toughest conditions Australia could possibly throw at a vehicle. They lost their way for a while, but the latest 8th generation Hilux is back to their best.

Pick either, and you will be happy. It comes down to personal preference—looks, name badge, interior ambience etc.

You can make the information what you will. The argument about which Ute is best depends on where in the product cycle the Ute is, what is important to you and how much money you have to spend.

I hope you can use the information to assist you in your buying decision.

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