Long term test: Isuzu D-Max and Mazda CX-5
Our time with the Isuzu D-Max is almost up. An update was released while we've had it in our garage, so we've slipped behind the wheel of the new one for the final instalment. There are no visual changes for the 2018 model year but there is a new flagship, as well as softer rear springs on most double-cabs to reflect changing buyer tastes.
The flagship LS-T is now a permanent member of the D-Max line-up. It's designed to compete with circa-$50,000 chromed utes such as the Toyota HiLux SR5, Mitsubishi Triton Exceed and Nissan Navara ST-X.
LS-T equipment includes perforated leather seats, faux leather highlights on the dash and doors and gloss black garnishes around the power window switches. Embedded navigation is standard on the top two models (LS-T and our previously tested LS-U) but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are still not available.
The LS-T 4WD gains a sensor key and push-button start. Power mirrors fold at the press of a button, rather than automatically.
Double-cab versions of the base SX, mid-range LS-U and LS-T have a three-leaf rear spring set-up (rather than five) for a slightly softer ride and the double-cab LS-M and all single cabs and space cabs - favoured by tradies - stick with five. Payload is up by 100kg.
Stability control sensors for each wheel now detect unintended trailer movement and apply the brakes to the wheel or wheels most in need to bring the ute and trailer gently into line.
The Isuzu still lacks advanced safety features such as autonomous emergency braking, lane wander warning and lane keeping assistance, which are fitted to various rivals.
Having swapped between unladen examples with five and three-leaf suspension, we can say the difference is subtle but worthwhile.
The new set-up feels comfortable at cruising speeds on relatively smooth roads but at low speeds and over bumps it still doesn't match the benchmark Ford Ranger. Overall, I enjoyed my time with the D-Max but it's definitely built more for work than play.
Our long term test of Australia's No. 1 selling SUV has come to an end. Before we parted ways, Mazda swapped us out of our petrol-powered, top of the line Akera, into the recently upgraded diesel Maxx Sport.
Mazda brought in a midlife update of both engines but the changes to the diesel were more significant. Power is up from 129kW to 140kW and torque has jumped from 420Nm to 450Nm.
The diesel variants in the Mazda range are available only in AWD so it's quite a price leap from the base petrol front-driver. The cheapest CX-5 costs $28,690 plus on-roads but if you want the oil-burning variety, the Maxx Sport is the cheapest at $39,990.
For that you get a tonne of extra grunt low down in the rev range. The petrol engine in the Akera was no slug but the diesel is in another class for performance.
It's relatively quiet as well, with only a faint touch of telltale diesel rattle at low speeds around town.
We stretched the Maxx Sport's legs for one last time in a mix of light city traffic and 110km/h freeway running and the indicated fuel consumption hovered between 5L-6L/100km.
For a big SUV, that's an impressive number and the lower fuel bills eventually will go some way to offsetting the bigger initial outlay.
After jumping out of the cream leather and piano black finishes of the Akera, the grey cloth trim of the Maxx Sport makes for a darker, more formal cabin. The quality of interior finish is still top-notch but the cabin has a simple, conservative look, with analog dials where some competitors have flashier digital screens.
The driving experience remains on par with the best in class. It's a comfortable, quiet long-distance cruiser and while it can't completely disguise its weight through tighter corners, it's sharper than the vast majority of SUVs its size.
Best of all, we didn't experience a single technical glitch in three months of driving.
As for the petrol versus diesel debate, unless we were doing some serious miles, perhaps with a small boat in tow, we'd take the petrol and spend the $3000 difference on extra features in the cabin.