As chilly conditions grip Britain, having temporary possession of a vehicle that makes even a Ranger Raptor look try-hard-tough has been a boon for this writer. Subtle it isn’t, effective at simply crushing the ice on all roads, it most certainly is.
Iceland’s famous pick-up fine-tuning firm has done a cracking job with the latest D-Max. For starters, it totally looks the business, especially in the ‘Valencia Orange’ of the press test model.
AT35: Arctic Trucks, 35-inch tyres
Black five-spoke 17-inch wheels, along with lots of dark grey or black exterior trim pieces provide a nice contrast to that ochre paint. The lifted D-Max wears AT35 and Arctic Trucks badges, features a strengthened chassis and comes with 35-inch all-terrain tyres.
The giant rubber sits under dramatically widened arches, each of which has a deep notch inset with a plaque. Look closely and you see recommended pressures for on- and off-road adventures. As for the heavy duty suspension, this was developed in partnership with Bilstein.
There are modifications for the inside too including special AT-branding on the head restraints, sill guards and floor mats. Seats, which are basically still the Isuzu originals, nonetheless are covered in a tough but premium look-and-feel leather.
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Durability just about guaranteed
Nobody will be in any doubt that they’re seated inside what in basic form is a light commercial, albeit really well tweaked. As it should be for the money that the AT35 costs. It’s as good as a Ford Ranger and that’s high praise. Not all plastics are of the soft variety, for example, but they’ll be extremely long lasting. That includes each of three gloveboxes (lower, upper and dash-top) and a sturdy pop-out cupholder.
Something else which says durability and sensibility is a quick to adjust row of heating and cooling switches, with seat warmers lower down beside the auto transmission selector or manual gear lever. And ahead of it there is one simple dial for bringing in the front axle: twist for low or high ranges. You hear it being engaged too, adding to the feel of this being a proper four by four.
Surprisingly benign handling
In two-wheel drive, even on wet roads, I found the D-Max to be well tied-down, something that can’t be taken for granted with these kinds of vehicle. Those chunky-knobbly tyres also play a huge part in a fantastic level of grip on the tarmac. Naturally, electronic guardian angels will keep the back end from sliding should you purposefully or accidentally provoke that.
I’ve never driven a series production vehicle which has such powerful full beam headlamps but here again, it’s an Arctic Trucks modification. A light bar which is fairly subtle (see pic), sits atop the roof. When the driver pulls the stalk for extra illumination, this long row of LEDs provides incredibly bright light.
A personal list of things which would be nice-to-haves includes heating for the steering wheel and one-press up/down for the three panes which don’t have that. These are tiny things though, and when there are so many other great things about the interior – a deep cubby bin, a hand brake, old-school circular speedo and tacho – those omissions are easily forgiven.
Those who need to tow will want to know about the 3.5 tonnes capacity, and the tray will take a payload of up to a tonne. Performance is also fairly good, bearing in mind the AT35 has an (unmodified) 1,898 cc diesel engine and this 5,265 mm long truck is far from a lightweight vehicle.
Excellent economy (given the weight and drag)
Power is 121 kW (164 PS), with torque of 360 Nm (266 lb-ft), while zero to 62 mph takes 12.7 seconds with manual transmission. The automatic alternative, which also has six ratios, takes an extra point three of a second longer. Top speed is 112 mph. For both. Combined consumption is 33.6 (man) or 30.7 mpg (auto) and CO2 averages are respectively 220 and 241 g/km. Finally, weights, which are 2,175 and 2,205 kg.
Our emissions-linked tax system is likely the reason why the 3.0-litre V6 diesel available in Isuzu’s bigger markets (e.g. Australia, South Africa, Thailand) doesn’t come to Britain. Still, the four-cylinder alternative is not only hard to find fault with – OK, it’s not the quietest, it has to be said – but has a reputation for rugged longevity.
Mention of Ford’s Dakar-look pick-up earlier is also a fitting way to help size-up its sort-of rival, Isuzu’s equally rare (in Britain) AT35. Easily the worst thing about the Ranger Raptor is its thirsty petrol engine, as fabulously torque-tastic as it is. And then there is also the question of price. Which means there are in fact two big reasons why the D-Max is the more sensible alternative. Well, possibly not that sensible but if the Isuzu, bulging oversized wings and all, is a bit bonkers, it is magnificently so.