The Arctic Trucks brand may have kicked off in its native Iceland through a collaboration with Toyota, but here in South Africa the name Arctic has been firmly established with Isuzu. This is the second D-Max bearing an Arctic Trucks badge in South Africa and it joins an elite class of bakkie that commands price tags of well over R1 million rand. Kyle Kock spent time with the AT35 on the Garden Route to find out if it is worth it.
What are we driving?
The second-generation D-Max Arctic AT35 slots in above the current range-topping D-Max 3,0TD V-Cross 4×4 model. Although Isuzu was at pains to point out that that comparison shouldn’t be made with the Ford Ranger Raptor. The reasoning behind this is that the AT35 is an extreme terrain vehicle, which is exactly what Arctic Trucks set out to do when it started fitting balloon tyres to bakkies and SUVs. The Raptor on the other hand is an off-road racer homologation special.
What is new on the Isuzu D-Max Arctic AT35?
So, at R1 120 620, what separates the AT35 from the V-Cross apart from the obvious R262 920. Well, the Arctic Truck builds on the bells-and-whistles specification of the V-Cross. From the outside, it’s easy to make out a difference visually, with bulging body-coloured fender flares, fat all-terrain tyres, and model-specific badges on the front fenders and tailgate. Look a little closer, and you’ll also spot plaques embedded in the rear fenders that help you re-inflate the massive 35-inch tyres to the correct pressure when you’re done off-roading.
Underneath, the AT35 shares the company’s 3,0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel that makes 140 kW at 3 600 r/min and 450 N.m between 1 800 r/min and 2 800 r/min with other models in the D-Max range. Drive is still sent to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic with shift on the fly technology from rear to high-range four-wheel drive.
Inside, the only separation of this model comes by way of AT35 logos embossed into the headrests of the leather-wrapped seats, gearshift boot, and floor mats. All the range-topping comforts are there however, including a 9,0-inch touchscreen infotainment system that supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a wireless charging pad for smartphones, and comprehensive safety specification.
What makes the Isuzu D-Max Arctic AT35 significant?
Think of the AT35 as the bakkie for those who wish to go off-roading regularly but want to be able to do so with a stock product with a factory-backed warranty and service plan. The Arctic Truck basics are there, including the massive wheel and tyre combination, though the bumpers look quite close to the originals. The beefier suspension set-up, by way of a lift kit developed specially for the AT35 with Bilstein dampers has resulted in important improvements in dimensions that matter to off-road enthusiasts; more ground clearance, increased approach angle, break-over angle, and increased departure angle. The wading depth has also increased from 800 mm to 865 mm.
What is the Isuzu D-Max Arctic AT35 like to drive?
Our launch drive took place on the scenic Garden Route, starting from George Airport and a small section of the N2, before turning off North and up into the Hessequa region of the Outeniqua mountains through the Bonniedale Holiday Farm. This area is home to a myriad of 4×4 trails of varying difficulty and one of the original Ox Wagon toll booths in South Africa that the Voortrekkers used to access the Karoo 160 years ago
On the road, there’s very little between a V-Cross and the AT35, with the electric power steering taking up all of the extra effort required to change the direction of the massive front tyres. It’s virtually undetectable. What I am able to convey is that there is a penalty to be paid in cabin comfort from the extra road noise that is part and parcel of fitting massive off-road biased BF Goodrich K02s (they cost around R7 000 each). There has to be a penalty at the pumps too, but CAR will only be able to confirm this through a proper road test.
As the launch convoy hit the gravel roads, many of the motoring writers present, myself included found the ride to be skittish, which was quite surprising because I don’t remember the previous generation model hopping around so badly. It was later discovered that the tyre pressures were far too high for the surfaces encountered, but we didn’t get the chance to drive the AT35s again.
On the trails, I was thoroughly impressed with the AT35’s performance. We managed a lot in high-range 4×4 and only really had to engage low range quite high up in the Hessequa hills, and this is also where the increased approach and departure angles came to the fore. With Hill Decent selected, the improved angles meant we could climb up and over a few rocks that those with lower bakkies might want to creep up to at significantly lower speed. Not once did I have to use the rear differential lock, which speaks to the AT35’s ability, but in hindsight would have preferred to have put it to the test for a more comprehensive driving experience.
There’s little not to like about the AT35 primarily because of the improvements in its off-road ability and the fact that you can have that without voiding a five years/120 000 km warranty with roadside assistance. There’s a standard five years/90 000 km service plan and service intervals are yearly or every 15 000 km and that does appeal to those not particularly keen on modifying their own bakkie through trial and error.
Does it live up to the Arctic Trucks brand? Well it’s difficult to say in an environment that the brand is not necessarily known for. The closest we can come to snow or ice in Southern Africa on a regular basis are sand dunes and we didn’t drive on surfaces that were particularly soft. On a rocky trail? The AT35 will definitely embarrass normal bakkies, but the problem is that most are not going to compare it with a normal bakkie. For this amount of money, there can only be one real rival for it, on- or off-road and the Ford Ranger Raptor is spoiling for a fight.
Isuzu D-Max Arctic AT35 Fast Facts
Price: R1 120 620
Engine: 3,0-litre, turbodiesel, four-cylinder
Power: 140 kW at 3 600 r/min
Torque: 450 N.m at 1 600r/min
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drive wheels: Selectable four-wheel-drive
Service plan: five years/90 000 km