3 years ago we purchased a brand spanking (demo) 2016 Isuzu Dmax. With just 32 kilometres on the clock, its now racked up nearly 50,000km touring all over Australia and doing the daily family duties in between too. We’ve literally lived out of our Dmax and camper trailer for more than 160 nights in that time, so its been well used!
If you want to know more about the build you can read this comprehensive post; Isuzu Dmax build for touring Australia.
If you want to know what it weighs, check this out – Dmax touring weight.
We came from a highly modified 80 series Land Cruiser, that was a very different vehicle. If you are keen to know more about the swap, and why it happened, check this out; Why we swapped from a Land Cruiser to a Dmax.
In this post we cover what we like, what we don’t, what’s broken, what needs changing and whether we’d do something differently if we had our time again.
As it stands, we intend on taking this around Australia in a few years time with our camper trailer. I will do future updates, and although 3 years and 50k is a much better time frame and usage level than you’d get for most product review its still relatively new, so factor this in when you read the below.
This review is unbiased and genuine
Like our Reconn R2 camper trailer, what you read here is honest, and genuine words. They are not influenced by anyone paying us money, and have not been read, reviewed or edited by anyone but ourselves. Our Isuzu Dmax was purchased entirely with our own money, including every single modification you’ll find attached to it.
What do we love about it?
It does exactly what we want it to
Sarah and I often comment about how well the Isuzu Dmax suits us. It’s capable enough to go where we want to, tows our camper well, does the daily pavement princess duties fine and can be loaded up in a few minutes and off to find another amazing camp site or 4WD track in WA. Our two boys sit in the back with enough room, and we can comfortable tour Australia for weeks or months at a time (and often do!).
Part of the reason it suits us so well is we were very careful in selecting how and why it was modified. Overall though, it was a good base to start with.
Modern vehicles are pretty incredible in terms of their ability to sip very little fuel. When we got our Dmax it was comfortably doing 8.5 – 9L/100km. Throw the mods on, larger tyres and extra weight and it sits at around 10.5L/100km around town, and a similar amount when driving on longer distances and not towing (but that doesn’t happen too much!). We are usually towing on trips away from the city as our camper trailer is our home away from home.
Towing our 2 – 2.5 tonne Camper trailer it will sit at 13.5 – 15.5L/100km, at 100km/h (the maximum speed limit here towing). Our 80 series struggled to get that on a highway run, not towing anything! Now, I’m sure there are better vehicles out there in terms of economy, but all things considered it does well in the fuel department. These figures are corrected via GPS too. If you want to know more, check out How to work out your fuel economy.
This was one of the reasons we sold the 80 series and our Toyota Yaris, and combined the two vehicles into one. Obviously it uses more fuel than the Yaris did, but we don’t have to pay registration, insurance and servicing costs on two vehicles and it becomes far more financially viable. We also ended up with a new vehicle, which has other benefits.
It is easy and enjoyable to drive
I will never, ever go back to a manual 4WD. Well, maybe one as a toy, but I am 110% convinced. I was always pro manual, with its better engine braking, more fun, less heat and so on, but I’ll never go back. The auto makes life so easy both on the road, and off road. Instead of worrying about being in the right gear on tight tracks, you can concentrate on avoiding punctures on tight tracks, or scratching the paint off your 4WD.
It’s also much easier when doing rock work; you have far better control taking off, and can avoid wheel spin and jerky actions which aren’t great for your CV’s. With two young kids in the back, anything to make driving easier is a good thing, and the auto does just that.
Cruise control makes it easy to cover long distances without feeling fatigued, and I quite like the seats. At 6″6 I have plenty of room (unlike the Ford Ranger) and the position is good enough for me.
The canopy is unbelievable
By far and away the best modification we did to the Dmax was to fit the canopy, and set it up in the way we did. The ease of access, security, dust and weather proof ability, room and interior setup makes life on the road with two kids so much easier.
We have had it loaded to the brim many times, and it all just works. The electrical system has proven to be fantastic, and requires almost zero attention. Having running water on board, and a fold down table at your hands in seconds is a game changer.
If you want to know everything you should be looking at when buying and building a canopy, check this out – Buying a 4WD Ute Canopy; the ultimate guide.
One of the major reasons I sold our 80 series was it had become a problem. I’d lost faith in it, and I promise you now that no matter what vehicle you own if its not reliable, you won’t love it. Breaking down in the middle of no where with young kids on board is not what I call a fun adventure.
The Dmax has had a few issues, as you’ll find out further down, but I would say without a doubt its reliable. They do have a few common problems, which you can read about here – Isuzu Dmax problems, but they also have one of the best diesel motors around and a very solid reputation overall.
It’s not too heavy
It scares me to see the weights that some people are carrying, and towing around the place. I was super careful when building our Dmax to ensure that it wasn’t too heavy, as weight is a major enemy when touring. It just makes everything harder, more likely to break and is more likely to make your 4WD illegal. We did end up with a GVM upgrade, but went for one that didn’t give us a ridiculous increase in weight to keep it all reasonable and not push the factory engineering too far.
It suits our Hybrid Camper perfectly
Not long after getting the Dmax, we upgraded from our soft floor camper trailer in a big way. We picked up a fully off road pop top hybrid camper, built in Queensland and its been nothing short of amazing.
The Dmax is almost exactly the same width and height, and with the camper weighing a maximum of 2600kg (but normally only around 1900 – 2200kg) its perfectly safe and legal behind our Dmax and follows us where ever we choose to go. We would not be able to legally tow anything significantly heavier, and to be honest I wouldn’t want to anyway.
If you aren’t too familiar with the weights side of things, there are 7 ways that you can be overweight, and a large majority of people only understand one or two. If you are towing more than 2500kg under average conditions, with anything smaller than a yank tank or small truck, there’s a pretty good chance you won’t be legal. For an easy to understand guide that explains it all, have a read of this – Towing Capacities; a simple guide to keep you legal.
When you have a family on board, its nice to know that you are driving a vehicle that has the modern safety fruit to keep them safe. Crumple zones, air bags, electronic stability control and the rest of the goodies that help to keep your family alive when it all goes wrong should be a major factor when picking your next vehicle.
Our 80 series was a brick, and I’m sure it would have fared well in an accident, but I’m not so sure about the people inside! These days the car takes the damage with the intention of saving the people inside.
There are a lot of illegal 4WD’s out there in Australia, being driven around every single day. The sad thing is that a lot of people don’t realise their insurance pay outs can be reduced, or voided, and they are at huge risk of criminal liability if someone is hurt or killed and the modifications contributed.
Our Dmax is 100% legal, and it was built that way because the risk of driving an illegal 4WD around today are simply not worth the risk. It has a GVM upgrade for the weight, and the maximum lift and tyres that can be fitted without engineering. We have modified it all within the law, and it suits us just fine without going any further. If you aren’t sure if your vehicle is legal or not, have a read of this; 32 ways to make your 4WD illegal.
It hasn’t cost us a bomb
This comment has to be considered with a bit of perspective, because we could have purchased something much cheaper, but this is our lifestyle, and we spent a lot of time mulling over it all as a family. The vehicle itself was about 35k, with maybe 20k of modifications fitted to it. Certainly not a small amount of money, but its not nearly as much as a 200 Series Land Cruiser, Y62 Patrol, 79 Series Land Cruiser or Discovery.
By the time you finish modifying one of those you are comfortably up to the 90 – 130k. That’s double what we’ve spent, and 40 – 65k comfortably buys you a year (or two) around Australia with plenty of weekend trips before. I know what I’d rather spend my money on.
It’s capable enough
This 4WD was purchased for the purpose of touring, not hardcore competition style 4WD tracks. It does get used on some reasonably difficult 4WD tracks, but I don’t use it for big rock crawling, or flogging it through giant mud runs. It’s certainly not nearly as capable as our old 80 series, but it has surprised me a number of times where it will crawl, and its certainly not useless off road.
What do we not like about it?
It needs a bit more power
The Dmax is certainly not the slowest in its class, but with 130kW at the motor its certainly not the best either. When towing our soft floor, and especially now with the R2, you feel the weight, and on a steep hill with all our gear and bigger tyres you do sometimes go down to 3rd gear. Our 80 was modified to the point that it had similar power, but at the wheels and it made a big difference for overtaking and sitting at the speed limit when towing.
Now, I’ve long since decided I’d rather go slowly and get there, than be able to sit on the speed limit easily when towing (through a modified motor) and have something break, but a bit of extra power would be nice. Lucky for us, the 4JJ1 is one of the best motors out there and takes very well to a bit of tweaking. In fact, there are a number of motors running more than 50 PSI boost and getting silly power figures. We won’t be going that far, but I’d love to give it a bit of a tickle!
Leg room for the kids as they get older
At the moment, the leg room is fine. However, if the boys grow up like I did, and end up at 6″6 we are going to have a problem, real fast. I reckon we are good for another 5 years, and then its going to be a problem.
It’s not so simple to work on
In terms of common rail diesels, the Dmax is about as simple as it gets. That said, there’s still a heap of electronics and bits and pieces that I know nothing about. If there’s a mechanical issue, I’ll sort it no worries. Anything electrical in the bush, and we have a problem.
So far this hasn’t proven to be an issue for me, and there are no common electrical issues with them, but it does make life harder unless you are an auto electrician or modern mechanic!
Lack of interior goodies
Sarah tells me I need to add the fact that her sun visor doesn’t have a mirror to this point. The interior is pretty basic, but that’s partly to do with the fact that we bought the povo pack SX model Dmax. I chose this because its the best value for money, has vinyl floors instead of carpet (which are a nightmare with kids and 4WDing) and we didn’t need anything more.
It does have a lot of cup holders, although none of them are big enough to hold a decent sized drink bottle! We have none of the fruit you get in many modern vehicles though. No satellite navigation, apple car play, heated seats (or even electric adjustment!), rear air conditioner etc. It’s basic as, and although its a good thing sometimes it’d be nice to have a bit more! We would greatly appreciate being able to independently run an air conditioner on for the kids at the back only!
It doesn’t feel super solid
Now, this comment is a bit interesting, considering we’ve never broken anything, but it does feel that the Dmax is not nearly as strong as our 80 series was, and that is probably correct. A lot of people break CV’s on these, and being a dual cab you have to be especially careful of the chassis, so we drive it accordingly. I don’t think its actually built weak, just as vehicles improve they tend to be built differently to older style ones. I am extremely conservative and would rather not break anything!
There’s been two things go wrong with our Dmax. Upon arrival the turbo actuator was seized, and the whole unit replaced under warranty. Not a good start, but I’m pretty sure this was due to sitting in the car yard for several months and never actually being driven at different RPM. You can read about this here – Dmax turbo failure.
Not long after getting back from our 3 month trip up north we had a transfer case seal start to leak, which was a real pain in the backside. We had this replaced 4 times over about a year, and only on the last time was it actually fixed. You can read more about that here – Dmax transfer case leak, but it was not fun.
Asides from that, we’ve had some fuses blow (both caused by faulty trailer wiring), and had 3 accidents (all self inflicted). For more information about the fuses and limp mode, check out Dmax Limp Mode.
The first accident involved me backing into a Vitara in Broome, the second I hit a tree in Kununurra and the last was a damaged quarter panel in Kakadu National Park. All within about 4 weeks of each other; fun times. Club 4×4 Insurance fixed the ladies vehicle I backed into, then my Dmax when I hit the tree and I replaced the quarter panel when we got back to Perth from a wrecker.
Other than that, there has been nothing that has broken, or gone wrong, and I’m pretty pleased about it.
Would we do it differently next time?
In short, no. The Dmax has been a fantastic decision. We would have spent a heap of extra money on something else, but why? We wanted a dual cab Ute with the kids, and a 79 series is a giant step up in money, for probably not much extra benefit (and they are manual, you have to pay for kid seat bracing and really are not good value for money).
We could have kept the 80 series, but I’m pretty sure we would have had to pour a fair chunk of money into it and still not had something nearly as comfortable, reliable, functional, economical and easy to use.
I’m not sure what our next vehicle will be, and when we will upgrade, but for now the Dmax does everything we want it to. You can’t ask for more than that, and I often encourage people to spend a lot of time thinking about what they really want from their 4WD, so they don’t build a weapon only to have to start from scratch on a different platform.
There are a few more things we will do to the Dmax. However, I don’t really need any of them until we do some more extensive long term travel, so the money stays on our mortgage for now.
The Dmax does not come with a diff lock (excepting the newest, 2020 on models). In fact, the 2012 – 2019 models don’t even come with an LSD, instead relying on traction control on the front and rear. It works, but not nearly as well as a diff lock.
Towing a heavy trailer off road you realise even more how important traction is, and I refuse to let the front wheels scrabble and bounce around for too long, or too harshly for fear of breaking a CV. We will be getting a rear diff lock, as I know how much of a difference it makes. Perhaps we’ll get a front one too, depending on how it all works out. I had twin E Lockers in our 80 series and they were by far the biggest change in vehicle capability.
Upgraded head unit
Our head unit belongs back in the early 2000’s, and that’s OK. However, I need to be able to run mapping software, and we can’t do this at the moment. For now, we use tablets and phones, but it gets old real fast, and Sarah and I often have squabbles over where we are, and where we should be going!
Initially I was dead against modifying the 4JJ1 motor, but over the years I’ve seen thousands of people do it without any issues. Done right (as in aiming for a mild, reliable increase), you’ll get a bit better fuel economy, 30 % more power and 30 – 50% more torque. Nothing insane, but enough to make a decent difference to comfortable and safe driving.
At the moment its coming down to the ECU Shop Cube Touch, or the Unichip. Both have facilities to retain the original Isuzu tune that we would use most of the time, with the option to grab more power when towing or playing off road as required.
We had a lot of fun with our 80 Series Gturbo, but it cost us a fair packet too, and I’m not going down that path again.
Long range fuel tank
I always wanted a long range fuel tank, but we never fitted one due to weight constrictions. With the heavier camper now though, we are lucky to get 400km out of a tank of fuel and that makes it a pain in the backside. We carry Jerry cans (in the camper trailer to distribute the weight better) and you end up stopping on the side of the road to top up with grumpy kids, instead of just cruising along to the next big town with plenty of fuel on board.
I am going to properly weigh the Dmax and camper trailer when loaded so I know exactly where we sit in terms of GVM, GCM and axle weights, and then I’ll make a call. If we can squeeze one in, it will be going in without a doubt.
Canopy lighting upgrade
The Bull Motor Bodies canopy has two LED lights, but they are somewhat blocked how I’ve fitted it out. I will be installing some additional lights inside the canopy and on the doors to make life at night easier. I’d also love a couple of little LED work lights on the rear/side just to increase your options when its dark.
Reverse Camera relocation
A reverse camera on a Ute with a big canopy should be a must. I’d be completely lost without it. However, when I removed the tub and fitted the canopy, I just quickly bolted the camera up to an existing hole, and forgot about it. Now, its been perfectly fine, until our major mishap in Katherine, where I backed into a tree and pushed the fuel filler into the Dmax cab.
What I discovered afterwards is that the camera can’t see right to the edge of the canopy, and I managed to hit the tree on the last 50mm of the rear of the canopy, causing some pretty substantial damage. I was pretty annoyed, as I had specifically been paying attention and taking it easy, but the camera just couldn’t see it.
I’d like to mount it up higher, pointing down, so I can see the bumper of the vehicle and a bit more of the trailer, as now I can only see the hitch. I’m thinking the original camera can stay there, and work off the rear vision mirror like it does, and the new one to the upgraded head unit.
The fridge cable on any fridge slide is important; it needs to come in and out without a hassle. It’s much better on our Dmax than it was on the 80 series (which was a nightmare) but it can still be improved. Whether I use the folding cable rail, or elastic cord, or just find a better path for it, I’m not sure. At the moment we just tuck it in and make sure it doesn’t get caught on anything.
Drawer slide latch bar
The drawer runners that the fridge is mounted to have levers on both sides (like most do), and you have to release both at the same time and pull the fridge out with them. When you are parked on a bit of an angle, or you have wet hands, this can be a bit of a mission. I’ll just mount a piece of aluminium angle between the two that you can push both locking mechanisms down with at the same time, and pull the fridge out with.
Latch for the table
Numerous times after some rough 4WD tracks, we’d open the canopy and find the door/table would have vibrated open. Sometimes it would just sit there near vertical, and other times it would slam down. A simple latch will fix this, so you either need to unlock it to open it, or give it a good yank.
Overall; happy campers
By now, you’ve probably realised we are very pleased with the Dmax. Sure, its not the fastest, best looking, most capable or most amazing build with a lovely V8 rumble, but it suits us extremely well, and I reckon we made the best choice we could have 3 years ago in getting it and modifying it the way we did.
If you are considering an Isuzu Dmax, they are a good thing, but don’t just take my word for it, do you own research too.
Let me know if you’ve got any questions or comments below; I’m happy to answer them.