Muscular, slightly ridiculous and ultimately charming, the Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 is a pick-up that’s thoroughly over-engineered for everyday life but oozes kerb appeal in the way that truly capable cars always do.
The D-Max was already a respectable competitor in the 4x4 pick-up truck market and the range has improved since the brand swapped out the older 2.5-litre engine for a more modern, more efficient 1.9-litre variant a couple of years ago.
With entry-level models undercutting much of the competition and a variety of higher-specification trims like the Blade and XTR to appeal to the company car and family market, there are strong options across the range.
The AT-35 edition is a different breed entirely, though.
Built for extreme conditions - what does Arctic Trucks mean?
Founded in Iceland as an offshoot of Toyota Iceland, Arctic Trucks partners with mainstream manufacturers of off-roaders to re-engineer models for extreme conditions. The company has tinkered with everything from Toyota Land Cruisers and Hiluxes to Lexus LX570s and Mercedes Sprinter vans.
The Isuzu D-Max AT-35 is one of the most affordable models to carry the Arctic Trucks seal of approval and was the first Arctic Trucks pick-up available in the UK from manufacturer main dealers.
Equipment, practicality and technology
Key upgrades to the standard line-up include Bilstein dampers for increased mobility over rough ground as well as all-terrain Nokian Rotiiva 35-inch tyres fitted to 17-inch (and 10-inch wide) wheels.
The wheel arches have been modified to accommodate the mini-monster truck rubber and the combined effect of the new suspension, tyres and wheels is an increase in ride height by 125mm compared with a D-Max on standard running gear and 110mm compared with the D-Max XTR. This improves approach, departure and break-over angles - all key stats for anyone planning on taking the truck off road.
Towing capacity is unchanged compared with the wider range at 3.5 tonnes in a braked trailer and maximum payload remains at 1,141kg.
Inside, the dash is dominated by the large touchscreen infotainment system and around the cabin there are various Arctic Trucks badges, including a brushed metal plaque, kick plates on the door sills and embroidered headrests on the stitched leather seats.
Beyond that, the cabin is actually fairly subtle, appropriate for a car that’s very much a practical tool and not something designed simply to look tough in the city. It’s based on the Blade trim level in terms of standard equipment. That means technology and comfort-wise the cabin is pretty high-spec but, while the build is robust, the material choice - aluminium aside - feels fairly typical of a commercial vehicle and not up to scratch when compared with a modern SUV.
Driving the Isuzu D-Max AT-35
I’ll be up front - suburban streets, Tesco and the odd trip on the motorway was about as rigorous as our test got, aside from a couple of B-Roads around Fife. With that in mind then, the Arctic Truck didn’t exactly get thrown around ice fields and wasn’t given a beating off road to fully test its approach and departure angles or extreme condition claims.
I’ve driven a number of D-Max models over the years, however, and even the fairly pedestrian trials I put this one through were enough to see that upgraded suspension has improved the ride compared with other models in the range, as well as boosting its off-road credentials. The body roll is still there, but it’s considerably more controlled and the bounce you used to experience in rear-wheel drive mode at speed is reduced too.
The steering is slow, which means the D-Max still has a lumbering quality - all the more so due to that added height. So while the dimensions are only slightly changed by the wider wings, the AT35 feels much bigger when you’re trying to park it at the supermarket or weaving through parked cars on a suburban street and towering over everything in sight. The clear reversing camera picture on the big nine-inch touchscreen was a god-send then, backing up merely nerve-wracking as opposed to utterly nerve-shredding.
The 1.9-litre engine is considerably more refined than the old power plant but it’s still pretty agricultural sounding and you can really hear it under acceleration in the cabin. It pulls well though and, while the 162bhp four-cylinder diesel isn’t the quickest, it is reasonably responsive even if it does make a racket in the process.
Most people who buy a D-Max AT35 in the UK probably aren’t Arctic explorers and, given the £40,500-plus price tag it’s unlikely they plan to use it to ferry rubble around a building site either.
So why would you buy a pick-up over a similarly priced SUV? The pick-up won’t handle as well and - however much equipment you cram into the cabin - generally pick-ups are less refined and less comfortable too.
But, in a market where lifestyle models like SUVs and crossovers have replaced the saloon as the family car of choice, pick-ups bring a level of authenticity few other cars can match.
If genuine off-road capability and the knowledge that you could handle pretty much anything the British weather could throw at you is what you’re after, then it doesn’t get more authentic than the D-Max AT35.
Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT-35
Price: From £40,500 (CVOTR); Engine: 1.9-litre, four-cylinder, diesel; Power: 162bhp; Torque: 266 lb ft; Transmission: Six-speed automatic; Top speed: 112mph; 0-62mph: 12.7 seconds; Economy: 36.2 mpg; CO2 emissions: 205 g/km; Load bed dimensions: L 1485 mm, W 1530mm, D 465mm; Payload: 1099kg; Braked trailer weight: 3500kg; Unbraked trailer weight: 750kg