IT'S BEEN the mainstay of the pick-up market for many farmers and rural people, but now the Isuzu D-Max has had a serious makeover and as well as catering for the workaday user, it's moving upmarket.

That's a smart move because there's a polarisation of the market happening and by the end of this year, there will be just three main contenders for you to choose a new pick-up from. Ford, Toyota and Isuzu – in that sales order – will be the only mainstream manufacturers left in the competition for your business.

VW's Amarok, Mercedes X-Class, and Fiat's Fullback have already exited stage left and the redoubtable Mitsubishi L200 and the Nissan Navara will exit stage right by the end of 2021, leaving the way clear for a more sharply focused pick-up sector.

So, there's a lot to play for and Isuzu wants to fill up as much of that void as it can, with the intention of ousting Ford's Ranger as the No 1 selling truck.

It is upping the ante with a fresh new look, an accent on safety – a factor which is becoming ever more important for fleet buyers – and the 2021 D-Max is smarter and designed to be even more capable off road. It is also going to be decidedly more upmarket at the top of its food chain, whilst retaining a rugged purposefulness at its 'working' end.

That means there's still a single-cab available which is supplemented by extended and double cab versions. All are powered by a 1.9-litre, 168bhp diesel, which might seems a bit lacking in size, but it packs the same punch of the outgoing 2.5-litre motor.

And, despite being a fair bit lighter than the previous D-Max, importantly it is still rated to carry up to 1200kg and tow the 3.5-tonne max. There's a choice of gearboxes, with either a six-speed manual or six-speed auto.

At the moment, Isuzu's stats show that 50% of sales are for all-purpose buyers, with a split of 30% for business and 20% for 'adventure' making up the whole. But the new D-Max is intended to change those ratios significantly, with added emphasis to the 'adventure' buyer.

It is setting its sights high. In 2020, it sold 3154 models, but taking that difficult year aside, it had been selling 5000-plus numbers, up to a total of 6220 in 2015. This year, it is targetting a volume of 5000 but hopes to double that figure by mopping up that void left by those departing the market-place by 2025.

There are now three ranges – Business, All-purpose and Adventure – with a choice of four trim levels, ranging from the Utility spec', through the DL20 and DL40 designations up to the top of the head V-Cross models.

The Business end is functional, with frumpy steel wheels and a choice of 4 x 2 or 4 x 4 models, but even here there are some added niceties, like automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, DAB radio and stop-start facility. They even have advanced driver assist systems in place, like autonomous emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, speed limiter and lane departure warning.

The All-purpose range has two distinct spec' levels, the DL20 and DL40, with the former adding things like heated front seats, rear parking sensor and some smarter styling on the exterior, including 18-inch alloy wheels.

On top of that, the DL40 gets bi-LED headlights, chrome bits and pieces around the outside, plus front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.

There's also leather upholstery and an eight-way adjustable driver's seat and a multifunction touchscreen infotainment system.

Incidentally, Isuzu doesn't use a radar system for its auto-braking and other function, opting instead for stereo-imaging via a pair of cameras at the top of the windscreen. This makes the system more reliable and not so easy to be hit by accidental damage and more accurate, even when wet, because the cameras' view of the road ahead is kept clear by the window wiper function.

The V-Cross designation comes in distinctive 'gun metal' exterior styling, rather than chrome, on the front grill, door mirrors and door handles, as well as an upmarket leather interior.

Importantly for those who really need to make use of the four-wheel-drive capability, there's also now a rear diff lock for when the going is really tough. And, the ladder-style chassis has been beefed up to make the most of that, with added underbody protection keeping big bad rocks away from the working bits.

Here's something I bet you didn't know? Every D-Max now weighs under 2040kg which means that it can legally drive at 70mph when allowed to do so. Many other double cab pick-ups exceed that weight limits and are, therefore, subject to goods vehicle speed limits which are 10mph lower on single and dual carriageways!

Having driven both the manual and auto gearbox versions, the latter of those has been upgraded significantly, with gear changes up to 25% faster than previously. So smooth is the auto, you'd be hard pushed to find an excuse NOT to buy it!

On the outgoing D-Max models the auto box was a little clumsy and wasn't inspiring off-road. But this new, faster and more robust unit is superior in almost every way. It is, crucially, also a bit more sure of itself when tackling rough terrain off-road.

A whole new suspension set up has also taken some of the choppiness out of the off-road experience and produced better on-road manners, but there's still no getting away from the fact that rear springs are still the dampers of choice on most pick-up trucks and the D-Max is no exception.

Like almost every other truck in this genre, the D-Max pick-up actually behaves a lot better when there's a load in the back. This helps iron out the leaf spring bounce and makes it much better at negotiating roundabouts and the like.

Inside the cabin, it will be a breath of fresh air for seasoned D-Max owners. Everything is much smarter, especially in the higher end models and there are added USB and power points to keep your 'office' on the move.

There's also a noticeable increase in space inside the cabin and the double cab is a genuine five-seater. Leg room, especially in the rear, is much better and the result of a longer wheelbase, with plenty of cup and can holders, plus a sizeable cubby hole in front of the gear lever and a centre console 'bin' under the armrest.

There's also the ability to flip up the seat bases in a 60/40 split or fold down the seat back, by doing so this reveals where the vehicle jack and tool kit reside, though there's also some useful space to hide valuables.

Prices start from £25,145 for the 4 x 2 single cab – but with the VAT reclaimed that stands at £21,009 – and range up to£39,244 for the V-Cross double cab with auto box, or £32,759 without the VAT. Expect to save about £1800 by opting for manual gearing.

The new D-Max is also backed up by a five year, or 125,000-mile manufacturer’s warranty and has five years of roadside assistance built in to the price.