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Driven: Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35. Image by Isuzu.

Driven: Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35
Mad D-Max looks like it could take on the Apocalypse and win; so, naturally, we bloody love it.


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Isuzu D-Max 1.9D Arctic Trucks AT35

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: The looks, the attitude, the go-anywhere ability

Not so good: The preposterous price, the standard D-Max drivetrain

Key Facts

Model tested: Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 Double-Cab auto
Price: D-Max range starts from 16,499 (excluding VAT, CV price); Arctic Trucks AT35 from 37,995 excl. VAT, car as tested 38,838.75 (excl. VAT; 46,606.50 inc. VAT)
Engine: 1.9-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: all-wheel drive, six-speed automatic
Body style: four-door one-tonne pick-up
CO2 emissions: 205g/km (if bought privately, VED 1,200 first 12 months, then 450 per annum for next five years then 140 annually thereafter; if bought as a CV, flat 240 VED)
Combined economy: 36.2mpg
Top speed: 112mph
0-62mph: N/A
Power: 164hp at 3,600rpm
Torque: 360Nm at 2,000- to 2,500rpm

Our view:

Stance. It counts for a lot. Obviously, it has been appropriated by the modding fraternity, who use it to talk about cars that ride so close to the deck that they'd probably struggle to clear a cat's eye, but there are certain production cars that just sit right; and they can be of all shapes and sizes. The Hyundai i30 N. The BMW M4. The Range Rover Sport. They all simply look right, when all they're doing is just standing still.

But none of them have the gobsmacking stance of this Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35. Sure, a set of 35-inch Nokian Rotiiva 315/70 all-terrain tyres wrapped around some black 17-inch alloys do a lot of the visual work - the AT35 certainly has wheels which fill its arches. Oh, and you might now note that said arches are blistered, colossal great extrusions that stick out from the main bodywork almost as far as the HGV-sized door mirrors. With a load of chrome detailing - including some vertiginous side steps - a set of mudflaps and the Isuzu's angry-looking face, this is a pick-up that wins hands down for kerb appeal. There is nothing in this class which can, currently, hope to compete with the D-Max Arctic Trucks.

If that AT epithet seems familiar to you, then yes, it is the company that many moons ago prepared a Toyota Hilux for a certain BBC TV car show, one where a trio of middle-aged men raced to the North Pole. Anyway, the truck company is based in Iceland and has a speciality in fitting out pick-ups with the sort of gear that would see them capable of crossing the Darien Gap. Now, that all-terrain technology and ZFG attitude can be yours on an average British road. Honestly, imagine this Isuzu trundling down the buttery Cotswold stone streets of Bourton-on-the-Water and you've got a good idea of the shock value it affords.

But what's the point of it all? Is there a point? Does something that looks as monster truck as the AT35 really need a point, anyway? Well, Isuzu has been selling the Arctic Trucks AT35 for a while, but this is the 2018 model - and there's a difference under the bonnet. Gone is the old 2.5-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel that made 164hp and 400Nm, and in its place is a snorting 4.4-litre, twin-turbo V8... no, sorry, we're lying; in its place is a 1.9-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel. Which not only lacks for 600cc compared to its predecessor, but which is also down on peak torque to the tune of 40Nm. OK, there are some plus points; for instance, the new 1.9 is Euro 6 compliant without having to resort to the use of AdBlue, and the whole truck is 49kg lighter than the old 2.5, but really? A brute that looks like something ported straight out of The Walking Dead... with a mere 164hp and 360Nm?

Those figures make this one of the weakest of the current one-tonne pick-ups for outputs. Only the Toyota Hilux wades into battle with less power (150hp) but it at least delivers 400Nm by way of compensation. Most of the rest of the rivals in this class are at 180hp and 430Nm, at the very least, and they don't resort to wide arches, bubble tyres and the sort of elevated ride height that requires a ladder just to get in the cab. And, what with the larger rubber at each corner and an old-hat six-speed autobox, the AT35 is not fast. Not in the slightest. There's no 0-62mph time, as Isuzu won't quote one, but we wouldn't be surprised if the Arctic Trucks took about 16 or 17 seconds to crawl up to the benchmark speed. It's pretty glacial from a standing start, so plan your exit from side junctions accordingly.

It's also not cheap. It's 37,995... EXCLUDING VAT. Which, if you add on the 20 per cent tax, as we're guessing not many people could genuinely register the AT35 as a commercial vehicle and get away with it, means 46,600 for the truck as tested. And for that money, what you get are the wheels and tyres, the fancy Fox Performance suspension, a ride height jacked up by 125mm (55mm by the suspension, the rest courtesy of the Nokians) over a regular D-Max and the wheel arch extensions. There are some Arctic Trucks badges inside and out, but otherwise this is standard D-Max fare.

Oh, it's well-equipped. Toys include keyless entry and go, seven-inch infotainment on a colour touchscreen (incorporating DAB, Bluetooth, satnav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), leather upholstery with heated seats, a shark-fin antenna, tinted windows and a tailgate damper. But as the regular D-Max's cabin is rather basic - certainly in a world now containing the Mercedes X-Class, Volkswagen Amarok, Fiat Fullback Cross and Ford Ranger 'lifestyle' rivals - then you might feel a bit short-changed by the Isuzu's plain fascia and cheap-looking leather. You'll also be annoyed by its bizarrely weedy heating system, which needs to be kept on an indicated 25 degrees C just to keep the cabin tolerable; drop to 22 degrees and the interior starts to feel nippy. For a company with 'Arctic' in its name, you'd think the heater would be able to cope with a minus-50 windchill, never mind a bleak January day in the English East Midlands.

You might also believe, along with the sluggardly performance, that the D-Max is going to be primitive to drive. And there are certainly elements of its dynamics that support the theory. The chunky winter/mud tyres allow for a lot of lateral movement on the tread blocks, so the AT35 isn't that great in the corners. The tyres also introduce elevated road noise to the cabin; not a roar, so much, more of a background susurration that never really goes away. The 1.9 is not only underpowered, but it sounds rough and raucous if you decide to go anywhere beyond 3,000rpm, while the automatic gearbox is far from the best exponent of its type - often hunting for gears or feeling like it is stuck between ratios.

It's not sounding good for the AT35, is it? Expensive. A bit pointless, in the UK climate. Noisy. Slow. Not that sharp in the corners. Not even very good on fuel; we saw a 29mpg average, across 350 miles, with a best of something like 33mpg on the motorway at a steady 70mph. And yet, do you know what? We absolutely love the D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35.

Rationally, there is no way we could recommend this as a sensible choice in a marketplace flooded with cheaper, more talented competitors. But since when has life always been about rationality and sensibleness? Cut loose once in a while. Enjoy yourself. Buy this bloody brilliant Isuzu. Because you don't need a pick-up to be sharp in the corners, so you don't really care about the mediocre handling. The tyre noise is not loud enough to have you reaching for the Ibuprofen every time you get out of the truck.

Once you're up and rolling, the engine still has enough grunt to make the sort of progress that allows you to keep up with traffic, without becoming a hindrance to road flow - as long as you don't use more than about 40 per cent throttle, both the motor and the transmission are fine. And the ride is improved by having the equivalent of small bouncy castles at the corners of the Isuzu, so there's far less of that 'ladder chassis bobble' you get with other unladen pick-ups on leaf springs at the rear. It makes it one of the most comfortable big trucks on sale right now. And comfort is a big selling point on these things, trust us.

There are more positives, like the fact someone seems to have appropriated a couple of prison searchlights for the main beams, such is their ferocity, but in essence the Isuzu D-Max AT35 is just bursting with character. It bestows an imperious seating position on its driver, towering loftily above almost anything else on the roads which weighs less than 7.5 tonnes. It has a cosseting ride by the standards of this class, and of course there's that 'stance' we talked about at the top of the piece - when you're parking next to Land Rover Discovery 3s and making them look like toy cars, it's hard not to be highly amused by this Isuzu.

Allowing you to live out your most demented Tonka Truck fantasies, the D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 isn't the most level-headed of purchases, but it sure is one of the coolest. We adore it.


Ford Ranger: Improved by a facelift and it has a barrel-chested five-cylinder engine, but you pay a lot of money for a Wildtrak range-topper. Looks good; doesn't look as good as the AT35, though.

Mercedes-Benz X-Class: If you thought a re-bodied Nissan Navara was expensive at 40,920, then the refined, suave X 250 d looks a positive bargain up against the D-Max Arctic Trucks.

Volkswagen Amarok: While the Isuzu might look tough, the Amarok has the true muscle; in top-spec Aventura trim, it has a 224hp/550Nm V6 TDI. And that makes a heck of a difference to the drive...

Matt Robinson - 23 Jan 2018    - Isuzu road tests
- D-Max images

2018 Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 drive. Image by Isuzu.2018 Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 drive. Image by Isuzu.2018 Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 drive. Image by Isuzu.2018 Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 drive. Image by Isuzu.2018 Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 drive. Image by Isuzu.

2018 Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 drive. Image by Isuzu.2018 Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 drive. Image by Isuzu.2018 Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 drive. Image by Isuzu.2018 Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 drive. Image by Isuzu.2018 Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 drive. Image by Isuzu.


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