Last year, utes accounted for 19 per cent of new vehicle sales, just a tenth of a percentage less than the mid-size SUV segment, Australia’s favourite. And last month, four of Australia’s ten best-selling vehicles were utes.
Suffice it to say, utes mean big business in Australia. In this segment, however, product cycles are long, making a new generation of ute a much rarer occurrence than in passenger car segments.
Despite this, 2020 marks the introduction of two fully-redesigned utes. They’re both related, and they’re both big news.
The third-generation D-Max has been available in its homeland, Thailand, since last October.
Despite a three-week factory closure due to the Coronavirus crisis, CarExpert expects the new D-Max will lob in July.
It uses an upgraded version of Isuzu’s 3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder that produces an additional 10kW and 20Nm, for a total of 140kW and 450Nm.
The big four is mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.
The D-Max has grown ever so slightly. When comparing the current and upcoming dual-cab 4×2 models, the wheelbase has stretched 30mm to 3125mm and width has increased 10mm to 1870mm.
Isuzu claims body rigidity is up by 20 per cent while kerb weight hasn’t increased.
There are larger brake rotors plus a revised steering ratio that promises a tighter turning circle, while the steering wheel itself now tilts and telescopes.
The D-Max’s electrical architecture has been comprehensively updated and the number of power accessories has increased.
New features include proximity entry with push-button start, dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, automatic headlights, and rain-sensing wipers.
The touchscreen infotainment system now measures 9.0 inches, the largest in its class, and includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
There’s also a 4.2-inch screen in the instrument cluster with a digital speedometer.
High-end models have bi-LED projector headlights and LED tail lights and an eight-way power driver’s seat, as well as lashings of satin chrome and piano black trim inside.
The availability of these features should help Isuzu at the upper end of the ute market, where the Ford Ranger Wildtrak does so well.
Last year, Isuzu held 15.6 per cent market share in the 4×2 ute segment – more than all its rivals bar the Toyota HiLux – but had only 7.0 per cent of the 4×4 ute segment.
In the latter, it was outsold by the Holden Colorado alongside which it was developed. This helped push the D-Max down to fifth place overall in ute sales in 2019.
The current D-Max has burnished its reputation for reliability but its lack of creature comforts and its dated interior hold it back when it comes to attracting buyers of more profitable “lifestyle” utes. Let’s see if the new D-Max changes that.
Though we’ve already seen the D-Max inside and out, the BT-50’s appearance remains a mystery. We do, however, know that it’ll use the same platform as the Isuzu.
The second-generation BT-50 features significantly different styling inside and out to its current platform-mate, the Ford Ranger, but uses the same mechanicals, including the same engines.
We expect this level of differentiation to continue between the third-generation BT-50 and its D-Max platform-mate.
As the D-Max will arrive here with only one engine, we expect the BT-50 to follow. Currently, the BT-50 offers a choice of 2.2-litre four-cylinder and 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel engines.
Should outputs remain the same as in the new D-Max, the new BT-50’s 3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine will therefore see a drop in power and torque compared to the current truck’s 3.2-litre.
The 3.2-litre produces 147kW and 470Nm, while the new D-Max produces 140kW and 450Nm. Isuzu offers a smaller, 1.9-litre turbo-diesel four in Thailand which would make for a suitable replacement for the current 2.2-litre but we don’t expect it to come here.
Though the current BT-50 was developed alongside the Ford Ranger, the two lines have diverged along the way.
The Ranger picked up a twin-turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel and an array of safety features such as autonomous emergency braking and lane-keeping assist, none of which made it to the BT-50. The Mazda lacks some of the Ranger’s convenience features, too, such as adaptive cruise control.
Though Ford got their start in this segment rebadging Mazda’s wares, the Blue Oval brand has taken the ball and run with it. The strength of Ford’s offering at the higher end of this segment has pushed it to second place in sales, within striking distance of the market-leading Toyota HiLux.
In contrast, the BT-50 was the seventh best-selling ute in Australia last year, even though Mazda was the country’s second best-selling car brand.
The BT-50 is markedly different from the cars and SUVs of Mazda’s range but a more contemporary features list and interior would help the BT-50 fit in better with a model range that has increasingly upmarket aspirations.