Hunting

Isuzu D-Max AT35: Is this the ultimate hunting truck?

Carlton Boyce puts the Isuzu D-Max AT35 by Artic Trucks to the test on the unforgiving Welsh wilderness.

I am sitting in an Arctic Truck with a 360-degree view of the North Walian countryside. The wind is howling, and the vehicle is shuddering in the face of a wind that has travelled here more or less undeflected since leaving the Americas more than 4,000 miles away.

“You buy a car like this for the possibilities it opens up – it can carry five people and tow 3.5 tonnes across terrain you’d struggle to walk across, and there’s still room for a moose in the back.”

There’s rain too, and a lot of it. I duck out in a brief lull to fire off a few snaps and almost instantly fall over. The autumnal weather had been even wetter than usual – and the peat is water-logged and unpleasantly springy underfoot. But we’re here to clamber to the top of a very tall mountain in a powerful four-wheel-drive vehicle without the aid of a track, much less a road.

 

Many of you will already be familiar with the standard Isuzu D-Max, a vehicle renowned for its rugged, simple mechanicals and five-year warranty.  It’s a winning combination, and while it might play second-fiddle to the Nissan Navara on the road, it yields to none off it.

So you can imagine how impressive the D-Max is after being fettled by Arctic Trucks, the company made famous in the Top Gear Arctic special in which a modified Toyota Hilux was driven to the magnetic North Pole. The combination of pumped-up bodywork, taller suspension and huge flotation tyres captured the viewers’ imagination in a way that few cars have, before or since.

It was inevitable that a car manufacturer would approach Arctic Trucks to ask them to build a production model for its range, and the first one out of the blocks is Isuzu with the D-Max AT35.

We’re here to clamber to the top of a very tall mountain in a powerful four-wheel-drive vehicle without the aid of a track, much less a road.

The changes are relatively few, but carefully judged. The stock suspension is replaced by Fox coilovers at the front and heavy duty dampers on the rear, which give a modest 20mm lift. The body is then raised by a further 30mm, which gives enough space to squeeze in 315/70 x R17 (they measure 35 inches in diameter, hence the AT35 name) Nokian all-terrain tyres.

The front and rear wings are then extended to cover them and the speedometer is recalibrated to take the extra rolling circumference into account. Four Arctic Trucks branded mud flaps and a 3,500kgs receiver hitch on the back complete the work, which adds around £10,000 to the cost of the D-Max Utah upon which it’s based.

For the men with whom I’m sharing the D-Max’s cabin view, off-roading is their commute not a hobby, and they were keen to test the vehicle to its limits. As a seasoned off-roader I can usually judge what is traversable and what isn’t pretty accurately, but I consistently underestimated the AT35’s ability. Aside from sodden peat and polished rock, we climbed long, steep, shale-covered climbs and dodged unmarked sink holes and hidden rocks the size of sheep.

We took turns to drive and we were especially impressed with its ability to amble gently across fragile and boggy moorland without churning the ground up; the heather underfoot was left almost unmarked, partly due to the extra ground clearance, partly due to a tractability that enabled the use of a feathered throttle almost everywhere, and partly thanks to the flotation tyres that reduce the D-Max’s ground pressure by about 25 percent compared to the standard car..

For all its bulk, the AT35 is surprisingly easy to drive. Sure, the engine’s a bit gruff, and the automatic gearbox is a bit crude – and yes those huge tyres do tremble and pitter-patter at speed – but you could live with one as an everyday proposition without having to make too many compromises.

But you buy a car like this for the possibilities it opens up, and nothing this side of an Argocat would do a better job of hauling you and four friends across terrain you’d struggle to walk across.

That it can simultaneously carry a tonne of equipment in the back – making even the largest deer or moose a relatively insignificant load – and tow 3.5-tonnes should the need arise, makes the AT35 almost the perfect hunting and expedition vehicle for anyone looking to explore the wilder parts of the world.

 

Key stats: Isuzu D-Max AT35

Price: from £30,995 (plus VAT)*

Power: 161bhp

Torque: 295 lb ft

0-62mph: n/a

Top speed: 112mph

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