REVIEW | 2019 Isuzu D-Max Arctic AT35 offers cool armour for Jozi roads

12 November 2019 - 08:49
By Brenwin Naidu
The 2019 Isuzu D-Max Arctic AT35.
Image: Supplied The 2019 Isuzu D-Max Arctic AT35.

A slew of specialised pickups joined the SA market this year. Some contenders swaggered in, wooing us with the self-assurance of Faf de Klerk pulling off a meeting with Prince Harry wearing nothing but patriotic underpants.

Others meekly strolled on to the scene, lacking conviction, proffering little more beyond sticker kits and press releases peppered liberally with the word “limited” from start to finish. Efforts that left one with the same disdain as did that ugly Tweet from one Mbuyiseni Ndlozi.

Allow us to run through the list quickly and you can make your own call as to which products belong in which camp. There was the Ford Ranger Raptor, Nissan Navara Stealth and Mahindra Scorpio Pik-Up Karoo.

Toyota had a number of wares, including the Hilux in Legend 50 and GR Sport guises, as well as the Land Cruiser 79 Namib. Volkswagen dropped the Amarok Canyon. Isuzu did an X-Rider Black version of its D-Max, formerly known as the KB-series.

The 2019 Isuzu D-Max Arctic AT35.
Image: Supplied The 2019 Isuzu D-Max Arctic AT35.

And then there was the emergence of the D-Max Arctic AT35 from the skunk works. It arose from a collaborative effort with legendary Icelandic firm Arctic Trucks. An example of the model managed to suck in its waist and squeeze into our narrow Parktown basement for an evaluation last week.

From the get-go, its creators promised that this heavily-fettled D-Max comprises “more than a suspension and body lift”, but what a terrific stance has been created by those two enhancements in any case! Some numerical highlights, very quickly, for the interested outdoorsman or woman: the height has been increased to 1,980mm from 1,860mm and ground clearance is now at 268mm vs 220mm.

Factor in those 35-inch BF Goodrich All-Terrain tyres (yes, you read right, 35 inches!) and the AT35 is one towering brute indeed. A marvel to behold, but less enthusiasm can be expressed about the simple act of ingress and egress.

Seriously, clambering up into and out of the thing can be an undignified process that partly involves pull-ups and squats. Once seated, you will find an especially commanding, tank-like view of surroundings. The corners of the side mirrors are filled with the sight of swollen wheel arches, extended to accommodate those large-diameter wheels. Disappointingly, not much has been done to the interior, where the regular, hard plastic fare soldiers on.

The 2019 Isuzu D-Max Arctic AT35.
Image: Supplied The 2019 Isuzu D-Max Arctic AT35.

But perhaps we should be mindful of the rugged application and the idea that Isuzu never really aspired to imbuing its D-Max with the luxuriousness of certain rivals in the category anyway. Honest, unpretentious, tough as nails — simple. And that is how it feels at the helm.

Very little doubt that you could traverse any imaginable off-road terrain with unflinching ease. Certain elements beneath, such as the dampers, were taken from the Fox Performance catalogue of parts. A disclaimer: my stint with the Isuzu was spent entirely in the cityscapes, suburbs and on freeways.

And the experience was expectedly intensive, from the cumbersome, plodding nature of those chunky rollers to the intrusive roar of the 2,999cc, turbocharged-diesel four-cylinder. This is the same unit as found in the non-Arctic 300LX, with 130kW and 380Nm. In this case, you can have it only with a six-speed automatic.

What else is unique about the D-Max Arctic AT 35? Well, only 50 are set to be built annually at the Straundale manufacturing facility in Port Elizabeth. It lays claim to being the only Isuzu Motors facility globally to receive Arctic Trucks International’s stamp of approval to build such a model. You will see the insignia on the mudflaps.

Though the burly Japanese was a tough companion to steer around town, its presence afforded a certain shield. The kind of assertiveness you need to protect yourself from the malevolence one encounters on Johannesburg roads. You know, once the heady ubuntu haze of a Rugby World Cup (RWC) victory has dissipated ...

Is the D-Max Arctic AT 35 “more than a suspension and body lift” as its parents state? Well, not really ... But it is pretty damn cool either way, you have to concede.

Pricing: R785 000