What is it?
One of the most extreme pick-ups we’ve ever tested. Based on the best-selling Isuzu D-Max, the AT35 is the result of a technical collaboration between off-road specialists Arctic Trucks and Isuzu UK.
If the former enterprise sounds familiar, it’s perhaps because you’ve seen the company’s work. Responsible for preparing the Toyota Hilux pick-up truck in which Jeremy Clarkson and James May drove to the North Pole, Arctic Trucks is known the world over for producing some of the toughest off-road vehicles in existence.
As part of the first official collaboration between Arctic Trucks and a mainstream manufacturer, the Icelandic specialists set about transforming the basic D-Max from utilitarian workhorse to continent-crushing off-roader. This was done through making a raft of significant chassis changes to the standard truck. These include, but are not limited to, specialist 35in Nokian Rotiiva AT off-road tyres, 17x10inch alloy wheels, Fox Performance Series dampers and flared wheel arches.
Arctic Trucks has its own supply of D-Max stock it can convert, or you can bring your own Isuzu (or Toyota, Jeep etc) in for conversion - although the latter at considerably more cost. On the subject of cost, well, we're not really sure what it is. We're told every AT truck is different, and it'd be impossible to give a firm price. Mysterious…
The AT35 certainly looks like a well-developed package, though, and with the Land Rover Defender recently going out of production, demand for capable off-roaders is potentially set to soar. But you have to ask: does a vehicle with such off-road-focused enhancements have the all-round usability to appeal to buyers in the fast-growing lifestyle pick-up truck market?
What's it like?
In a word? Unstoppable. In the majority of cases, when a 4x4 manufacturer invites us to test one of their vehicles at Millbrook, we’re restricted to a number of carefully selected off-road routes in order to ensure that their vehicles come back in one piece. Not so with the AT35. From bone-rattling ditch runs to sump-cracking boulder fields, Isuzu encouraged us to tackle it all.
For two hours we pushed the AT35 far beyond the limits of a conventional SUV. With a 125mm increase in ride height over the standard truck, the AT35 had no trouble clearing ruts and hilltop crests that would have left anything this side of a Defender stranded. The all-terrain tyres also gave impressive levels of grip. Thanks to their wide footprint, instead of sinking into the deep mud like conventional all-terrain rubber, they simply floated across. Not once did we lose traction or trigger the ABS. Truly remarkable.
On the road the AT35 is surprisingly well-mannered for a vehicle with such extensive off-road alterations. Body roll is well contained, the steering is predictable and, thanks to a wider stance, there’s a decent amount of grip.
But don’t mistake this for a car in which you’d want to do long distances. At low speeds the off-road biased Fox dampers struggle to smooth out small imperfections, while on the motorway the wider rubber generates more road noise than the standard truck. It’s far from unacceptable, but we predict that it would become grating after extended periods behind the wheel.
Like the standard D-Max, the AT35 is only available with the standard Isuzu 2.5-litre twin-turbo diesel engine. The motor is known to be bulletproof – hence the five-year/125,000 mile warranty - but it sounds rough and agricultural under load. And with only 161bhp and 400lb ft, straight-line performance is rather sedate.
Like the engine, the interior of the AT35 is also starting to show its age. Where vehicles such as the Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux have cabins that could rival entry-level SUVs, the AT35 feels distinctly utilitarian. Hard plastics litter the dash and the optional infotainment system is past its best. If a luxurious cabin is high on your list of priorities, we’d look elsewhere.
Ergonomically, it’s clear that the interior was primarily designed for the rigours of commercial use. There’s plenty of space up front, visibility is decent and the double cab provides space in the back for two adults to sit comfortably.
The AT35 retains the standard D-Max’s impressive towing capacity; it can tow trailers weighing up to 3500kg and its load bed will take 1055kg. For reference, the Ford Ranger matches the Isuzu for towing capacity but can’t carry as much weight.
Should I buy one?
With its aggressive looks and relatively low running costs, the AT35 will appeal both to buyers in the market for a lifestyle pick-up and those who are looking for a serious off-roader. Unfortunately, buyers in the former camp are likely to be disappointed. Compared with a standard D-Max, or rivals such as the Mitsubishi L200 or Volkswagen Amarok, the Isuzu is just too compromised to be used on a daily basis.
For those looking for a specialised off-roader, the AT35 is a more tempting proposition, but we're guessing that to convert a standard pick up to the same specification as the AT35 would cost significantly more than the £30,999 Isuzu is asking for the entry level extended-cab model. Still, is it a worthy alternative to the iconic Defender? It absolutely is.
Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35
Location Bedford On sale 25 July; Price £30,999 (for standard D-Max); Engine 4 cyls, 2499cc, diesel; Power 161bhp at 3400rpm; Torque 400lb ft at 1400-2000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd automatic; Kerb weight 2110kg; Top speed na; 0-62mph na; Economy na; CO2 na