Driven: Isuzu D-Max XTR

As we march towards the inevitable coronavirus-created zombie apocalypse, you’ll need two things; as many toilet rolls as possible, and an Isuzu D-Max XTR.

Fortunately, the D-Max pickup truck has a sizeable load bed, measuring almost 1.5 metres in length, and just over 1.5 metres wide. With a height of just under half a metre, some quick calculations suggest you can squeeze around 720 rolls in the back and still get the cover on.

It’s already clear that the coronavirus outbreak has nothing on the big Isuzu. Frankly, little does. It’s just about as big as a pickup gets in Europe – our roads just aren’t suitable for US-style GMCs, RAMs and Chevys – but Isuzu has decided to beef up the standard model with this extreme XTR version.

That means there is an aggressive plastic surround at the front, visually shouting at mere mortals to move out of the way, with some metal sheets underneath protecting the engine and gearbox from errant bits of destroyed infrastructure.

Those bits are higher off the ground already, as the truck has been lifted with some Pedders suspension (you can catch a glimpse of the green springs hiding in the wheel arches) so that it’s now at least 25cm from anything solid. The wheel arches have been extended, the wheels are oversized and jet black, and there’s even a spoiler sticking out from the rear.

It’s not all for show, though. The three bumps sticking up from the front edge of the bonnet give the driver a perfect idea of where the front of the car is, while the suspension changes add comfort as well as improving off-road capability.

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A shallow river presents the Isuzu D-Max XTR with little challenge.

Some distinctive and helpfully wide side steps allow you to climb into the cabin, where you’ll find a revised interior with more soft-touch material than you’ll have ever seen in an Isuzu. It’s still rather utilitarian with wipe-clean surfaces, but it’s inoffensive and relatively easy to use. The Pioneer infotainment system isn’t so easy, and there’s no smartphone mirroring for Android users, but the navigation seems to work well. The stereo system made Purple Rain, Sign of the Times and a Stone Roses album sound great, aided by an unusual optional subwoofer. Dire Straits, Sade and the Batman soundtrack remain untested.

There’s manual air-conditioning (no climate control luxury here) with a big lever to close off the air coming in from the outside world, some comfortable heated seats covered in leather and suede, a wonderful Alcantara-covered chunky steering wheel with audio and cruise control buttons, and an armrest that’s just too low down and hides the four-wheel-drive controls.

The interior of the Isuzu D-Max XTR is rather utilitarian.

Get the right setting and the Isuzu D-Max XTR is, seemingly, unstoppable off-road. There’s a proper low-range option and variable speed hill descent control, lockable centre diff and big, chunky 32-inch tyres. A forest track will barely have the car breaking a sweat, and it’s likely it’ll get you places even a Land Rover wouldn’t. And those side steps are tough, taking impacts from tree stumps without even a mark.

It’s not too bad on-road either, although no pickup truck can ever be described as refined. Potholes are disregarded, speed bumps ignored and kerbs treated as guidelines, but it’s vague in a straight line, gets clown around by the wind, and takes so many turns of the wheel to change direction that Milton Keynes is to be avoided.

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There's little that can stop the Isuzu D-Max XTR pickup.

Engine noise is present, too. Amazingly, there’s only a 1.9-litre four-cylinder diesel under the bonnet, with just 163hp and 360Nm of torque. That makes progress slow, and the automatic gearbox hunts for different gears at speed, but it’s still strong enough to tow 3.5 tonnes of trailer and carry 1,136kg of payload.

As a company car, it’s tax-efficient, even if it’s not particularly fuel-efficient – my week with the D-Max saw me average 28.4mpg – and it’s spacious enough to operate as a family vehicle. It’s tough enough to take on any terrain, just about refined enough to work on regular roads, and is scary enough to clear a path in front of you against even the biggest SUV.

The Isuzu D-Max XTR will get you anywhere

If the zombie apocalypse does happen, it’s the Isuzu D-Max XTR I’ll want to be driving. Sadly, Isuzu has now taken the D-Max away from me, so I guess I’ll have to go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over.

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Phil Huff

Phil Huff has been writing for national newspapers, magazines, regional titles and countless websites since 2003. Specialising in travel and the automotive world, Phil is happiest when exploring foreign lands in foreign cars.