2017 Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35
– Stylish and spacious
– Practicality and economy
– Flattens any kind of terrain
– Deserves more power
– Somewhat harsh ride
– Hard-plastic interior
Iceland’s Arctic Trucks gained international infamy after a few appearances in some British TV show about cars. More relevant to our region, the aftermarket offroad-outfitter set up a base in Dubai some years ago and started doing Xtreme versions of Toyota 4x4s for sale via the local dealer. Now Isuzu is also offering a monstered-up version of their D-Max pickup truck, dubbed the AT35 by Arctic Trucks.
The AT35 is based on a midsized pickup, so even though it looks as big and brawny as a Ford Raptor, it’s actually a smaller size that’s more manageable around town. Our top-spec variant is based on the recently-facelifted D-Max GT with the aggressive front bumper, LED running lights in the halogen headlights, and smoked LED tail lamps. The Arctic Trucks fitments include the flared fenders, unique 17×10 wheels, a lift kit with Fox Performance dampers, beefy 35-inch Nokian all-terrain tyres, custom roll bar, front LED driving lights on a bull bar, smoked LED tail lamps, body decals, AT-branded mud flaps and even electric side-steps that fold down automatically when any of the doors are opened.
Inside, there are no changes from the regular D-Max GT, with every cabin panel made of hard plastic, broken up only by the red-black cloth upholstery. The only mod seems to be the red auxiliary button installed to independently turn on the blindingly-bright LED driving lights up front.
Space is good, both front and back, with easy access thanks to the side-steps. The seat position is high, which is good as you need it to easily look down at the traffic below. There are two glove-boxes, a coat hook on the driver’s seatback, four cup-holders up front and none in the back. The bed has a liner and can hold all the cargo you’ll ever need, but to work as a daily-driver, we would’ve preferred a bed cover. The step-up to the bed is also expectedly high.
All the tech needed nowadays is present, including a resistive touchscreen with basic graphics. The touchscreen houses the passable stereo and the rear camera view (with misleading guiding lines). There are also physical shortcut buttons for the system, including one for a navigation system that wasn’t installed in our test car. Other features include basic keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, aftermarket Bluetooth phone and a very strong single-zone auto a/c with a digital display but not rear vents.
Powered by a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine for our market, it’s always a unique experience driving a diesel vehicle in the UAE. The motor makes a standard 161 hp at 3600 rpm and 400 Nm at 1800-2800 rpm, mated to a manually-shiftable 5-speed automatic and part-time four-wheel-drive. You can even get one with a 5-speed manual.
It’s not fast by any means, exacerbated by the heavy mods, as we clocked a 0-100 kph time of 12.5 seconds in hot May weather. However, it is torquey enough to be quick around town at lower speeds, and the fuel economy is remarkable, as we recorded 11.0 litres/100 km.
Gaining 55mm of additional ride height and standing 125mm taller than the standard double-cab 4×4 D-Max, the AT35 can initially feel intimidating to drive, but you sink into it rather quickly if you’re used to driving big cars. The power steering is fairly heavy, and offers feedback mixed in with all sorts of other vibrations. That’s because the ride is harsh relative to most SUVs, as it is in most work pickups, but the bigger potholes are still damped better than regular pickups like the Ford Ranger Wildtrak. Over speed bumps, the rear bounces up harder than the front due to the empty bed and load-bearing leaf-spring suspension.
On the highway, the ride doesn’t feel floaty for the most part, but the abundant road and wind noise is mostly drowned out by the clatter of the loud diesel engine.
But surprisingly, it handles pretty well without feeling wallowy or tipsy. Body control is better than expected on turns, with moderate body roll at most. Grip from those massive tyres is very good, although they are still easy to overwhelm on tighter turns. That said, the turning circle is manageable on city streets, which cannot be said for other aftermarket-modded trucks. The brakes offer decent stopping power and progressive in their action. On the whole, it drives far better than what you’d expect from a tall working-class offroader.
Buy hey, let’s talk about the offroad bit finally. In short, the AT35 can drive over any sort of terrain, be it soft sand, rocks or small forests. That part is obvious. With settings for 2-high, 4-high and 4-low, it certainly is equipped with the basics. There is no traction control, so you don’t have to worry about turning it off. And the ground clearance is immense, with the side-steps neatly out of the way.
Here’s the problem though — there’s just not enough power to do all the things on sand that the chassis is otherwise capable of. Out on the dunes, our stock Toyota FJ Cruiser back-up car was able to traverse up the tall steeper ones without straining as hard as the D-Max. Although the minor slopes are handled with ease, the diesel engine needs to be worked to redline on larger ones. There is no locking rear diff either. However, even with fully-inflated tyres, the AT35 still affords you more confidence than most 4x4s simply because it is near-impossible to sink into the sand and get it stuck unless you’re deliberately daft. If it can’t make it straight up a big dune, just back it up and try another route. It’s still a good offroad vehicle in that regard.
So the Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 is exactly as we expected it to be. But while that may not be a half-priced Raptor alternative, it is much more attainable, as prices start at about the same as a basic 2-door Jeep Wrangler and tops off at much less than the price of a top-spec 2-door one. For such a cool vehicle, that’s a bargain.
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