Big-wheel conversions of local one-ton bakkies by the Icelandic company Arctic Trucks have been around for nearly a decade. But now Isuzu South Africa has introduced the Arctic AT35, the toughest D-Max thus far, as a fully-fledged model in its range, built on a dedicated line in its Port Elizabeth assembly plant.
Arctic Trucks converted bakkies, including an Isuzu KB-based derivative, have been available in the country for a while now – assembled in the Knysna workshops of the local affiliate of the company, run by Geert Jurgens, since 2012. After the demise of this operation in 2015, the company 4WD Truckin’ in Pretoria and Strijdom Park, Johannesburg, built AT35 versions of the Toyota Hilux, Nissan Navara, Ford Ranger, and Volkswagen Amarok.
However, anyone who purchased an Arctic Trucks version of a double-cab or extended cab one-tonner was only covered by a warranty from Arctic Trucks or its chosen assembling partner, as local manufacturers were not keen to underwrite or back up any conversion of their bakkie products.
Still, the Icelandic company built up quite a reputation for its superior off-road abilities and reliability. Its first Hilux-based offering was featured on Top Gear after it conquered the North Pole, and in 2010 several Reykjavik-conceived, ice-crunching Toyota Hilux AT38 and AT44 bakkies, including 6×6 versions, were built locally.
These huge AT Hiluxes were deployed on various expeditions in Antarctica, including numerous trips to the South Pole and a visit to the SANAE base. The big-wheeled vehicles also set a few world records, including the longest distance ever driven on Antarctica and completing the longest traverse of the continent from coast to coast.
At the time Toyota South Africa had the opportunity of adding an AT35 version to its line-up. Two such vehicles were built, but despite some initial interest, the Japanese giant decided against the AT-conversions as it was not prepared to accept any warranty risk – even though the products from the Icelandic company proved utterly durable overseas.
This enviable reliability record did motivate high-profile distributors such as Toyota of Norway, Toyota in Russia, and Toyota in the United Kingdom, as well as Isuzu Motors UK, to extend manufacturer warranties to limited runs of Arctic Trucks products. Yet, this trend was never recognised or valued by South African assemblers or distributors. Until now.
Fully supported model
Following the success of the updated D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 introduced by Isuzu UK in Britain late last year, the AT developed vehicle was evaluated by a team under the guidance of the highly regarded Dominic Rimmer, executive of technical services at Isuzu Motors South Africa.
After undergoing full local validation, with the local Isuzu engineering team playing a hands-on role to ensure the D-Max Arctic AT35 conform to all quality, reliability, and durability requirements from Isuzu, the tough-looking bakkie was accepted as a fully supported model from Isuzu Motors South Africa.
The Isuzu factory in Struandale, Port Elizabeth, is the first and currently the only Isuzu facility globally to receive international approval to build a production Arctic Truck model. And not a moment too soon.
With Ford introducing its highly regarded Ranger Raptor model, Toyota releasing the Hilux GR Sport limited edition (and its Legend 50 derivative), Volkswagen bringing a Dark Label derivative of its Amarok, and Nissan announcing its Navara Stealth edition, the D-Max Arctic AT35 is Isuzu’s high-riding answer to this onslaught of limited edition derivatives.
The exclusive new limited-edition AT35 flagship is based on the D-Max 300 4×4 double cab LX auto but with the addition of big 35-inch BF Goodrich tyres on 17-inch rims, the vehicle height is increased from 1,860 mm to 1,980 mm with 268 mm of ground clearance (up from 220 mm), a wading depth of 718 mm (up from 600 mm), while the breakover angle increases from 22,4 degrees to 31,4 degrees.
The additional height also improves approach and departure angles to 36 degrees and 28 degrees respectively, and other changes include flared wheel arches, heavy duty Fox Performance suspension and dampers, Arctic Trucks mud flaps, a 245/70R16 spare wheel, and an emergency ResQ Puncture Repair kit as standard.
The Arctic AT35 starts life alongside regular D-Max models in the plant but is then moved to a special conversion area within the body shop where it is hand-built by a select group of artisans and technicians to exacting standards. It is now available through dealers on an exclusive order basis and Isuzu plans to build fifty units annually in Port Elizabeth.
The AT35 interior is standard D-Max and the familiar three-litre intercooled turbodiesel engine of Isuzu, delivering 130 kW and 380 Nm of torque, and mated to a six-speed auto transmission (with no changes to gear ratios but with a recalibrated odometer to compensate for the larger tyres), beats under its hood.
On the roads from Mandela Bay to Oyster Bay, there were minimal differences in the behaviour of the AT35 compared to a normal D-Max. Yes, it was slightly slower on take-off due to the resistance of the bigger tyres but surprisingly, road noise on tar was minimal, and there was no discernible impact on steering feel or its turning circle. Its diesel consumption was only slightly higher than that of the standard model.
Damping was firmer at high speed but quite supple at lower velocity, making it a viable road trip vehicle, and off-road and on sand, it was in a class of its own – with the ability to traverse technical and soft terrain with minimal ground- or vehicle impact.
No wonder then than Isuzu is aiming its new flagship model at avid off-roaders, professionals who need to travel to inaccessible places, adventure travellers wanting to conquer difficult terrain en route to distant destinations, and city dwellers looking to make a bold statement. It is a vehicle engineered for those who need to do tough jobs in tough environments.
Only one Arctic AT35 derivative, with auto transmission, is available and its retail price of R785,000 (slightly less than the R786,000 asking price for a Ford Ranger Raptor) includes a full factory warranty and dealer backup. This comprises a five-year/120,000 km warranty, Isuzu Roadside Assistance, a five-year/unlimited km anti-corrosion warranty, and a five-year/90,000 km Service Plan. Service intervals are every 15,000 km or 12 months and extended cover can also be purchased.
Our vehicle: Isuzu Arctic AT35 3.0 D-Max 4×4 LX Double Cab
Engine: 2,999 cc, four-cylinder, turbodiesel, direct injection
Maximum power: 130 kW @ 3,600 rpm
Maximum torque: 380 Nm @ 1,800-2,800 rpm
Transmission: six-speed automatic, four-wheel drive, low-range
Tyre size: 35×12.50R17LT
Wheels size: 17×10 AT Black Alloy
Width: 2,040 mm (1,860 mm – standard model)
Height: 1,980 mm (1,860 mm – standard model)
Ground clearance: 268 mm (220 mm – standard model)
Approach angle: 36.0 ˚ (30.0 ˚– standard model)
Departure angle: 28 ˚ (22.7 ˚ – standard model)
Breakover angle: 31.4 ˚ (22.4 ˚ – standard model)
Wading depth: 718 mm (600 mm – standard model)
Payload: 911 kg (945 kg – standard model)
Consumption: 8.6 ℓ/100 km (manufacturers’ claim)
CO2 emissions: 227 g/km
Bigger, wider, higher: it makes a huge statement and looks good anywhere.
We do not like:
Higher fuel consumption, will not fit into a normal garage, very focused in its application.
RoadTrip Rating: 82%
Text: Ferdi de Vos | Images: Isuzu South Africa