Car review: Isuzu D-Max AT35

Carlton Boyce / 28 November 2016

An off-roader that’s something very special indeed…



Score 10/10

The standard D-Max pickup truck is already probably the best-in-class, so you might reasonably wonder why the engineers at Isuzu felt it necessary to hand it over to Arctic Trucks for modification.

If the name rings a bell, it is probably because Arctic Trucks built the Toyota Hilux that Top Gear drove to the magnetic North Pole. It made for great television and secured the Icelandic company’s place in the public’s affections. The only real surprise is that it took a car manufacturer so long to offer an Arctic Truck-modified vehicle in its showrooms; after all, few high-end pickups are bought as working tools, so if you’re going to indulge in what is essentially a not-very-good-car for tax or aesthetic reasons, why not pimp and tweak it into something really special?

Something very special

And the AT35 (Arctic Trucks 35-inch wheels) is very special indeed. For a start, the standard suspension is unbolted and replaced with Fox Performance Series components, giving a 20mm rise. This might not seem like a big deal, but it is; Fox is best known for producing beautifully engineered performance suspension that is used by the world’s best off-road cycles, UTVs, motorbikes and racing trucks.

The factory wheels are junked too, and 17-inch wheels with 315-profile tyres are fitted – and they stick out so far that the wheel-arches need extending to accommodate them. The result is a 125mm lift over the standard D-Max, a seemingly small boost that looks much bigger in real-life. You climb up into an AT35 and all but the tallest will need to use the side-step as part of their two-stage entry.

No need to compromise

The AT35 is much wider than the standard car too, which causes no little consternation in cities and narrow country lanes. You are never in any doubt that the AT35 is a single-minded vehicle that has fewer compromises than almost everything in its class. Its raison d'être is to nonchalantly despatch the sort of terrain you couldn’t easily walk across.

At this, it excels. I spent half-a-day with three men whose job entails driving across mountains and moorland where there are no tracks. For these men, getting there – with a tonne or so of tools and materials in the back – is a commute, not an end in itself. We took the AT35 to places I didn’t think were navigable, and it walked up and down them at little more than a tickover.

An off-roader with a light footprint

I’ve done a lot of off-roading in my time, and can usually judge the likelihood of successfully crossing rough terrain pretty well but the D-Max floored me. It simply moved from A to B with no discernable effort, no matter how greasy and slippery it was underfoot.

We had to use sheer power to make our way up a super-slippery slope just twice, and these were rocks that had been polished smooth by thousands of pairs of walking boots, and then lubricated with heavy rain. I walked up one in order to take some photographs of the AT35 ascending, and I fell over. Twice.

Just as importantly, the AT35’s footprint is light. We travelled over an area designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and left nary a mark. In fact, trying to retrace our route was much harder than it might have been simply because the heather was undamaged and showed no sign of our passing. This is not a problem they have when they’re driving the same route in their usual four-wheel-drives…

Despite having leaf springs at the back the ride was good and the axle articulation even better. The three key areas for effective off-roading are the right tyres, good ground clearance, and effective axle articulation; if you can keep those grippy tyres firmly planted on even the most severely undulating ground you’re almost always going to be able to maintain at least a modicum of forward progress.

Of course, few buyers will ever take it across such hostile ground (if for no other reason than they’re risking a prison sentence if they did…) but the fact that the AT35 can do it is proof that the guys at Arctic Trucks know what they’re doing; this is no gym-pumped poseur.

Few niggles

Yes, it has an appalling steering lock and no, the fuel consumption isn’t very good. Yet I did 300 motorway miles in a day in complete comfort, my only niggle being a pitter-patter through the steering wheels thanks to those huge Nokian tyres. (They are so wide that the ground pressure they exert per square inch is so low that an AT35 can actually float across soft slushy snow.)

Few people will need a vehicle like this, and those who do won’t baulk at the price: I’m not sure that anything else at that price could go where I took it – and it’s considerably cheaper than the Mercedes Unimog, which is the only mainstream vehicle I’ve ever driven that offers a usefully higher degree of off-road ability.

For the rest of us the AT35 offers a chance to dream of long, snowy Scandinavian adventures, albeit at a price. Is it worth £10,000 more than the D-Max Utah it’s based on? Only you can answer that, but for what it’s worth I think it is.

Because I’ve just ordered one…

Stats

Power – 161bhp

Torque – 295lb ft

0-62mph – ages

Top speed – not very much

Kerb weight – 2,110kgs

CO2 emissions – 220g/km

VED class – Band K

Towing capacity (braked) – 3,500kgs

Towing capacity (unbraked) – 750kgs

Warranty – 5 yrs/125,000 miles

Price – £34,495 (plus VAT)

Price as tested - £34,495 (plus VAT)

Best-in-class

Any car that goes as well as it looks deserves to do well, and while the AT35 is always going to be a niche car, it will do very well.

The best of the rest

Nothing. Although Toyota is playing catch-up with a similarly fettled Hilux.

Left-field alternative

A Mercedes Unimog makes the AT35 look positively weedy. As well it might: prices start at six figures. (Plus VAT.)


Carlton Boyce If you enjoy Carlton's inimitable style of writing, you'll love his motoring column - to have each one delivered straight to your door every month, subscribe to Saga Magazine today!

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