Isuzu's D-Max has always been a solid middle-of-the-market ute; nothing more, nothing less. It's not as slick as many of its rivals, those heavily manicured (Ford Ranger) and marketed (HiLux) marvels, and it doesn't pretend to be anything other than a hardy ute – but it has a real rough charm. Much like myself (or so I like to think). It is what it is, and proudly so.

This latest round of changes marks the first time the D-Max has undergone any substantial updating since 2012, so cue much rejoicing. The 2017 D-Max has a new engine, a new nose and it now has a six-speed auto.

MORE: Read the full Isuzu D-Max 2017 range review here

We tested a D-Max crew cab LS-T 4X4 for a week over a variety of terrain and in varying conditions. Is the D-Max about to nip at the heels of top-sellers like HiLux and Ranger? Read on.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

There are four trim levels in the D-Max crew cab range: SX, LS-M, LS-U and the top-shelf special edition LS-T (denoting 'Terrain'), which we road-tested.

2017 Isuzu D-Max LS-T (image credit: Marcus Craft) 2017 Isuzu D-Max LS-T (image credit: Marcus Craft)

The LS-T is auto only and costs $54,200. For your cash you get, as standard, 'leather-appointed' seats, the new entertainment system with 8.0-inch touchscreen display, in-built sat nav and reversing camera, passive entry and start system, LED running lights and tail-lights, front fog-lights, chrome grille, lockable tailgate (also chrome), roof rails, 18-inch alloy wheels, hill descent control, climate control aircon and more.

The leather-wrapped steering wheel, is tilt-adjustable only, and has controls for audio, Bluetooth and cruise control. The audio set-up plays MP3 files and CDs. There are two USB ports in the centre console; and one in the back of the centre floor console for rear-seat passengers.

Air conditioning, power windows and wing mirrors, and proximity unlocking are also standard on the LS-T.

The D-Max isn't pretty, but it looks pretty good – if you get my drift.

All seats in the dual-cab are leather trimmed and the driver's seat is six-way power adjustable.

There are plenty of storage areas: decent-sized upper and lower glove boxes, cup holders (two between driver and front-seat passenger, one below each of the two in-cabin front-side air vents, plus two fold-down cup-holders in the centre floor console for rear-seat passengers), as well as door bulges, seatback pockets, tool space under the flip-up rear seats, and a few little slots for your other bits and pieces.

2017 Isuzu D-Max LS-T (image credit: Marcus Craft) 2017 Isuzu D-Max LS-T (image credit: Marcus Craft)

Our test vehicle also had a few touring-friendly accessories, including bullbar ($2674.10), snorkel ($949.30), and loopless soft tonneau ($578.60) – all RRP and dealer fitted.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

That new Euro 5 engine is a 3.0-litre four-cylinder common rail donk punching out the same power as the previous generation engine – 130kw at 3600rpm – but has muscled up 50Nm more in the torque stakes: 430Nm at 2000-2200rpm.

This engine – official moniker Isuzu 4JJ1-TC Hi-Power – has been built especially for Australia so we should all feel more than a little bit chuffed. It has, among other things, newly designed pistons, fuel injectors, fuel pump and now has a larger EGR cooler.

The engine – "a world first for Isuzu", according to Isuzu – produces more power at lower engine rpm, and more torque, and is "more fuel efficient and produces less toxic exhaust emissions" – again, according to Isuzu.

But the engine's not the only thing that's improved. The new six-speed Aisin-sourced auto replaces the previous generation's five-speed.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

The D-Max has copped a bit of an exterior makeover, which, if anything, has only succeeded in softening its looks rather than the macho maximisation (copyright me) Isuzu was likely aiming for.

Doesn't matter. And it's easily fixed with a bullbar anyway – just check out our photos for proof.

2017 Isuzu D-Max LS-T (image credit: Marcus Craft) 2017 Isuzu D-Max LS-T (image credit: Marcus Craft)

Yep, the front end's been interfered with. Styling upgrades include a chrome-look grille, a sleeker bonnet, and stretched-tall foglight surrounds, with a squat body that sweeps back past cannonball-shoulder-muscle wheel-arches.

The interior is a nice place to be; it's basic but comfortable with hard-wearing surfaces and durable materials everywhere.

The D-Max isn't pretty, but it looks pretty good – if you get my drift.

Apparently, all that body work has resulted in Isuzu being able to again lay claim to the D-Max having one of the lowest coefficient of drag (Cd) in its class – or so they say.

The interior is a nice place to be; it's basic but comfortable with hard-wearing surfaces and durable materials everywhere. Even with leather all over the place, it still manages to not look or feel posh, but it's certainly not a place for paupers either.

2017 Isuzu D-Max LS-T (image credit: Marcus Craft) 2017 Isuzu D-Max LS-T (image credit: Marcus Craft)

What safety equipment is fitted? What's the safety rating?

The D-Max has a maximum five-star ANCAP rating. Safety gear includes six airbags (dual front, side and full-length curtain), ABS with EBC (electronic brakeforce distribution), ESC (electronic stability control), traction control and EBA (emergency brake assist), 'Hill Start Assist' and 'Hill Decent Control', plus three top-tether ISOFIX child-seat points in the rear seat – so in theory, it's as safe as houses.

We reckon, however, that it needs even more advanced safety gear – lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking and other tech – to draw more closely in line with the spec of other modern utes.

How practical is the space inside?

Day to day, the LS-T is easy to live with. Unlock the doors with the smart key and kick the engine over with the stop-start push button; it's just to the left of the steering wheel.

2017 Isuzu D-Max LS-T (image credit: Marcus Craft) 2017 Isuzu D-Max LS-T (image credit: Marcus Craft)

The driver's seat is easy to adjust; mirrors are power adjustable and the air con's control dial is a big one – you can't miss it.

The touchscreen media system is simple to operate. The screen is big and bright, making it easy to spot and punch your options. Sure, the unit doesn't have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and it doesn't do your tax returns or update your Tinder account, but it has a stack of other stuff, including built-in sat nav, that you can play around with while inside.

It has well-weighted steering for something this big and butch.

And inside, this five seater, as mentioned, is comfortable and durable, if not eye-catching.

The front seats are supportive, although the front seat bases are a touch too short for whining tall people; and more side bolstering wouldn't go astray.

Elsewhere, the cabin is roomy; I sat behind my own driving position and had ample room at head, knee and shoulder height (FYI: I'm 194cm tall in high heels; 174cm without).

2017 Isuzu D-Max LS-T (image credit: Marcus Craft) 2017 Isuzu D-Max LS-T (image credit: Marcus Craft)

Build quality and fit and finish are solidly spot-on inside the cabin and out.

The D-Max's tray is 1552mm long (on the floor), 465mm deep and 1530mm wide across the top, 1105mm wide, between wheel arches. It has four tie-down points in the tray, one at each corner.

This D-Max has a 924kg payload, a maximum braked towing capacity of 3500kg and 750kg unbraked.

The roof rails on this LS-T are rated to carry a maximum of 60kg.

What's it like to drive?

The D-Max is 5.3m long, 1.9m wide (excluding wing mirrors), 1.85m high (excluding roof rails) and has a 3095mm wheelbase. Kerb weight is listed as 2026kg.

It has well-weighted steering for something this big and butch, with little residual 'play' at the helm to throw you off target when directing this Isuzu around town, along highways or out in the bush.

The D-Max – 3095mm wheelbase and 1570mm track – sits nicely on the road, stable and reassuring. There's a fair amount of diesel clatter when you get going and push the D-Max. Isuzu reckons it has improved noise, vibration and harshness levels but this is a loud engine when worked hard and you cop an earful inside the cabin. Doesn't bother me, but it'll bother sooks.

It has a 12.6m turning circle, making it a tough – not impossible – turnaround on tight bush tracks or squeezy carparks.

The LS-T has six-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels and our test vehicle had 255/60R128 Toyo Open Country A33 rubber. Seemed okay for the job.

When we first climbed into the D-Max it had less than 700km on the clock, hardly what you consider a run-in distance, but we didn't take it easy on the thing. Our week-long test included highway cruising, twisty backroads, gravel tracks and slow-slow 4WDing – all done laden and unladen.

The new engine is a goer of note; 380Nm of torque is now available from 1700rpm to 3500rpm. To put that into perspective: 380Nm was the previous donk's maximum output and now that is punched out over a wider rev range.

The new six-speed auto, with lock-up torque converter to improve fuel efficiency, is a nice unit – smooth as a safari suit in the 70s. It has adaptive logic control, meaning it will adjust the auto's gear changes to match your driving style and the conditions. It's probably so clever it won't change gears like an idiot just because you do.

The D-Max has double wishbones and coil springs up front and leaf springs at the rear. Ride and handling are about the same as before; it doesn't drive or ride like a mongrel dog over smooth roads or rough tracks and it soaks up bush bumps. It's a touch too firm without any load while on blacktop or fast dirt, but it doesn't punish driver and passengers.

Visibility is generally good, except through the rear glass, but wing mirrors, the driver's swivelling neck and a reversing camera negate that.

We completed a CarsGuide patented 'Suicidal Skippy' test: emergency braking to simulate avoidance of a collision with a kangaroo on the road in front of your vehicle. The D-Max's brakes (300mm discs at the front; 295mm drums at the rear) chopped the ute to a decisive, controlled stop. Impressive.

Off-road, the D-Max kicks a fair bit of arse. We tackled dirt backroads, tight bush tracks, short rocky climbs, as well as deep mud, and had no trouble.

First up, all the off-road numbers check out: 235mm ground clearance, 225mm wading depth, 30 degrees approach angle, 22.7 degrees departure angle, and 22.4 degrees ramp-over angle.

Its 4X4 'Terrain Command' system, operated via a dial near the auto shifter, is able to be switched on the move from 2High to 4High at speeds of up to 100km/h.

The D-Max is handy off-road, near unstoppable for much of what normal off-road tourers will tackle.

This Isuzu takes on 4WDing like it does everything else: it does a solid job of it, no fussing about. This is an old-school diesel ute, for better or worse.

Hill start assist (holding gear in ascents) and hill descent control (selecting gears to hold speed with engine braking) bolster the D-Max's beach-and-bush credentials. It needs limited slip diff / rear diff lock options though.

There are 'Folding Assist-Grips' (Jesus handles) in the cabin for when things get really bumpy.

The D-Max has plenty of underbody protection for 4WDing: under-front steel plate skid/splash shield and steel plate guards on the sump, transfer case and fuel tank leading edge; and it has sheet steel under the fuel tank.

There are some problems. It lacks safety gear, having the bare minimum for a top ANCAP rating, and that's it. Also, the D-Max depends on its electronic traction control when off-road; it does not have a Limited Slip Diff or a rear diff-lock, even as options.

Sure, the D-Max is handy off-road, near unstoppable for much of what normal off-road tourers will tackle, BUT having extra weapons in its off-road arsenal would further boost the D-Max's appeal.

How much fuel does it consume?

The D-Max crew cab auto is claimed to use 7.9L/100km (combined cycle). We recorded 11.61L/100km over 190.2km of mixed driving: stop-start city traffic, dirt, and a few hours of 4WDing – some of that was in very deep mud. It has a 76 litre fuel tank.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

It has a five-year/130,000km warranty, with five years of roadside assist and five-year/50,000km capped price servicing.

Servicing is recommended at 12-month/10,000km intervals. Prices are:$200 (first service), $400 (second), $260 (third) $590 (four) and $50 at 60,000km.