Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 2022MY Review
The D-Max. A multi award winning pickup that has found favour amongst 1000’s of loyal customers, many of whom work in the agricultural industry and who choose a vehicle more for it’s workhorse capability rather than looks, trinkets and bling. But for those that need something that is able to tackle more extreme conditions Isuzu partnered up with Icelandic firm Arctic Trucks to produce the AT35, a pickup that combines functionality with pretty brutish looks.
Based on the range topping V-Cross trim spec in the conventional D-Max line up, a team consisting of both Arctic Trucks technicians and Isuzu staff fit Bilstein performance suspension components consisting of front springs and dampers, rear dampers, and additional front and rear body lift which provides 50mm of elevation over the standard vehicle. 17” matt black alloy wheels are fitted with huge 35” 315/70 all terrain tyres enclosed by colour coded wheel arch extensions. Extended profile side steps blend in with the wheel arches, providing the truck with a harmonised profile front to rear. The modifications increase ground clearance to 266mm at the front, 290mm at the rear allowing an approach angle of 35 degrees. Isuzu claim that the modifications to the suspension and tyres provide ‘a softer, faster ride over rough surfaces and a lighter footprint over delicate terrain, without compromising on-road behaviour’.
Arctic Truck branding is evident throughout the cab interior. Door entry guards, carpet mats and headrests display the AT35 logo, and on the vehicle exterior the badging is evident in a number of positions on the bodywork, mudflaps and side steps.
The Base Truck
I’ve reviewed this generation of D-Max previously, and that report can be read here. It’s important to note that the D-Max has, in 2023 received a minor makeover but as of yet the AT35 has not inherited these changes and is at the time of writing based on what is now the previous model.
Given the power outputs offered by other pick up manufacturers such as Ford and Volkswagen in their new generation of truck, the AT35 could be accused of being a sheep in a wolfs clothing, with its 1.9 litre engine producing ‘just’ 164PS. Others would argue that having just shy of 300PS available when you’re towing a trailer full of sheep to auction is pretty pointless – after all generations of farmers were quite happy using Land Rover Defenders with a fairly lack lustre power unit. Not only that, visits to the filling station would no doubt be more frequent.
In the cab, as the AT35 retains the goodies that come with the V-Cross, the specification offered being at a pretty high level. The 9” touchscreen has smartphone integration (and there’s a wireless charging pad), there’s a CD player, leather seats (heated at the front) and dual zone climate control. Driver aids are in abundance – cruise control (adaptive with the auto box), forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, lane departure warning, blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert are all included as standard, as is a reverse camera and front and rear parking sensors.
Weights and Measures
Critically, despite the additional weight of the conversion, the AT35 has a payload of over 1000kgs (just). This means it is treated as a commercial vehicle for taxation purposes allowing the VAT to be recovered by VAT registered owners. A crucial point for many, and that payload figure is something that the Ford Ranger Raptor and Volkswagen Amarok Aventura fail to achieve, with expensive implications for some.
Braked trailer capacity is 3500kgs, and the loadbed measures 1495mm long, 1530mm wide and 490mm deep.
On The Road
Some of my observations from the previous test can also be applied to the AT35, with many aspects including the drive train being the same. It has to be said though that, with more refined products being launched from rival manufacturers the truck is starting to feel a little dated, and dare I suggest it agricultural. There are times on the open road that more power really would be appreciated, and there were a number of occasions when overtaking manoeuvres had to be abandoned as the engine just ran out of breath.
The truck supplied was fitted with the automatic gearbox. Again, comparisons with other pickups now boasting advanced transmissions with up to 10 ratios are unavoidable, and whilst these units seem to provide seamless, almost imperceptible changes, the 6-speed box in the Isuzu feels like it’s working hard and is a little too insensitive to changes in load. This means that shifts often seem to happen late or not at all, and are performed with a bit of a ‘lurch’, especially when being driven hard. On balance though, gentle running in urban environments was acceptable enough, the less desirable traits becoming more apparent the harder the AT35 is driven.
In the cruise, the truck is very quiet, on a motorway the most noticeable sound is generated, unsurprisingly from those huge, all terrain tyres, but even that is perfectly acceptable. At lower speeds, and in more general driving the engine noise is very intrusive, and again, competitors are well ahead in this regard. Although those buying the AT35 for its strengths may not be too concerned about this those looking at other models of the D-Max will certainly notice the noise when taking it out for a test drive after perhaps having had a demonstration in a HiLux, Ranger or even a Ssangyong.
Ride quality on the road is surprisingly good. A little ‘wallowly’ at times but even unladen there isn’t the excessive bounce that you sometimes experience in a pickup. Any harshness in the road surface is initially absorbed by those tyres, and then presumably by the uprated dampers.
Build quality can’t be faulted – everything fits perfectly and there is a total absence of knocks, squeaks or rattles whilst driving.
The cab environment is generally OK – the dash design is practical, and visibility over the top is good, something not offered in all pickups. The multimedia screen isn’t the most intuitive and was a little laggy at times, and the fact that you had to acknowledge a safety warning every time the truck was started was irritating to say the least. Isuzu should be commended however for not falling into the trap of including heating and ventilation controls into the screen, a pet hate of mine. Nice, simple physical controls are located where they should be, below the touchscreen. Cab storage is good, but the nowadays quirky standalone CD player located in a lidded area above the glovebox takes up quite a bit of room.
Whilst I was unable to take the truck on any serious off road routes on this occasion, I have driven various D-Max models on some very challenging courses in the past and it is where this pickup excels, and, in my opinion trounces all of the competition with the exception of the Ford Ranger Raptor. It is built with practicality in mind rather than vanity, and there is no doubt that the modifications that make the AT35 mean that the ‘go anywhere’ capability of the vehicle will be extended even further.
The official WLTP Combined fuel consumption figure for the automatic model is 30.7 mpg which seems pretty reasonable, and with the trip computer showing an average of 32.5mpg in the time I had the truck, possibly conservative too. The AT35 is blessed with a 5 year / 125,000 mile warranty and service intervals are 12 months or 12,500 miles, whichever comes first.
As a reviewer, it’s vital that I take into account who the AT35 is aimed at, what they’re looking for in a truck and how practical (and cost efficient) the asset will be. Under normal circumstances here, I’d probably start with the dated powertrain, the noise, lack of power and the hunting gearbox. However… these aspects will be of little concern to the farmer in remote Scottish highlands with miles of fields, forests and other forbidding terrain to cover each day, in the worst weather that a northern winter can throw at him or her. Those sheep need to be gathered, taken to market many miles away, or a lost or injured animal be found in a huge, inhospitable area of land. The AT35 will take more in its stride than any other mainstream production pickup, and do it well. That’s all that will matter to many – that and the 1000kg+ payload which Isuzu and Arctic Trucks should be commended for in managing to retain. The 5 year warranty and excellent dealer network, often situated in rural locations will give an owner peace of mind.
It also looks really, really good.