REVIEW | 2020 D-Max AT35 is a locally built T-Rex of a bakkie
The AT35 is based on a D-Max 3.0 TD 4x4 LE spec but its road stance and attitude is amped up with prominently flared wheel arches and comically large wheels which not only leave it towering pretty much over every other car, but also 12cm wider than a Ford Ranger Raptor, the only other alternative bakkie with a similar outlook in the new car market.
It also gets the standard bells, whistles and analogous regularity of the top-tier D-Max model but minus any special touches reserved for its uniqueness. It’s a reasonable digital score inside a largely bland cabin with a touchscreen infotainment system, Bluetooth telephony and as many USB ports, automatic climate control, full electric windows and exterior mirrors that fold, a steering wheel with multifunctionality and full leather seats.
It gets keyless entry and an extended side step as standard fitment. This may not sound as much of a wow factor in a normal bakkie but it’s a blessing for entry and egress in this 1,980mm high Isuzu that stands 268mm off the ground.
The "AT" in its name stands for "Arctic Truck" a reference to the company that fits the off-road accoutrements and is the same company that famously prepared the Toyota Hilux that Top Gear took to the North Pole. The "35" is the size of its 35x12.50 R17LT BF Goodrich monster rubber.
The 130kW and 380Nm produced by its four-cylinder turbo diesel motor that’s connected to a six-speed automatic transmission felt adequate enough to propel the goofy rubber up to speed with relative ease but in truth it lumbers about at slow urban speeds. Additionally, the loss in steering sharpness due to its ample shoes makes it a laborious steer in town.
Thankfully the humongous rubber proved largely inaudible on tarmac during a 1,000km round-trip to Limpopo province and, also showed good enough grip and composure even for confident stampeding down a few mountain pass roads.
There are more drawbacks, least of them being heightened fuel consumption of 11.3l/100km.
Also, the fair ride quality of regular D-Max species has also been lost and in place is a harder, more jarring experience on roads with surface imperfections, despite being equipped with Fox shock absorbers and dampers.
Initially, in my mind, the AT35 drew imaginations of a star off-roader that could thrive at the Dakar Rally in standard trim but I’m afraid there are more snags associated with its terminator looks.
The huge rubber and extended height offer excellent axle articulation through deep ruts, 718mm wading depth, and superb traction in most surface conditions make it fairly invincible in many off road conditions, particularly in sand dunes.
But narrower forest paths with low hanging branches or narrow dongas might pose an issue for the added girth and height.
Despite the red flags it’s quite easy to fall for the AT35. It’s an handsome bakkie but I can’t recommend it ahead of the equally burly and locally made Ford Ranger Raptor that offers a far superior ride quality, has better off-road tech in the form of driving modes, a newer, more powerful engine with a 10-speed transmission and a bespoke interior for roughly the same price.
Isuzu 3.0 TD D/C 4x4 LX AT 35
WE LIKE: Looks, off road ability
WE DISLIKE: Steering in tight spots; poor ride quality,
VERDICT: An ego-stroke par excellence
Motor News star rating
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Economy * * * *
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Ford Ranger 2.0Bi-Turbo double cab 4x4 Raptor,157kW/500Nm — R836,700
Type: Four-cylinder diesel turbo
Type: Six-speed automatic
Type: Part-time all-wheel drive
Top speed: N/A
Fuel Consumption: 8.6l/100km (claimed); 11.5l/100km (as tested)
ESC, hill-start assist and hill descent control, trailer sway control, ABS, electronic brake-force distribution, brake-assist system, 6x airbags, reverse camera, remote controlled central locking, antitheft alarm system, fog lamps, daytime running lights, heavy-duty towbar, power adjustable folding and heated side mirrors, power-assisted steering, leather interior, automatic climate control, cruise control, twin 12V power sockets, power windows, Bluetooth, 20cm touchscreen.
Warranty: Five years/120,000km
Maintenance plan: Five years/90,000km
* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit