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By Mark Jones

Road Test Editor

WATCH: Isuzu D-Max AT35 takes to the mud like a duck to water

This bakkie has everything South Africans love - big wheels and plenty of power.

South Africans have a real love for bakkies. Even more so when they are big and bad, and it is no different for me. The Citizen Motoring enjoyed every moment we got to spend with the order-only Isuzu D-Max Arctic AT35.

Watch Isuzu D-Max AT35 make a splash

The AT35 is a collaboration between our local boys, Isuzu Motors South Africa, and Arctic Trucks. The latter is based out of Iceland and world renowned for re-engineering and converting four-wheel drive vehicles for extreme type conditions. Built on the same line as the standard Isuzu D-Max bakkie, the Struandale plant is the only facility in the world accredited by Arctic Trucks to produce the AT35.

Despite some AT35 chrome badges on the front fenders and real tailgate, this is no sticker kit upgrade. Hidden under the aggressively flared wheelarches and Arctic Truck mudflaps are huge 35-inch BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres mounted on 17×10-inch AT black alloy wheels, riding on a purpose designed lift kit and heavy duty Bilstein dampers.

ALSO READ: X-factored Isuzu D-Max X-Rider makes long awaited return

There are also wider profile side steps, which are much needed as the AT35 is somewhat higher than a standard Isuzu D-Max.

In technical terms, the ground clearance is raised from 232 mm to 266 mm. This in turn increases the AT35’s height from 1 810 mm to 1875 mm, while the standard wading depth of 800 mm climbs to 865 mm.

The approach angle goes up to 33 degrees from 30 degrees, with an improved departure angle of 23 degrees, up from 18 degrees. The break-over angle goes up from 22.5 degrees to 34 degrees.

Isuzu D-Max AT35
The rougher the terrain, the happier this bakkie. Picture: Mark Jones

Muddy puddles

It is at this point that I strongly suggest genuine 4×4 experts stop reading now and go have a brandy and Coke. Or shoot a bok or something, because with all this hardcore tech under me, and in way less technical terms, the best I managed was to go play in some puddles and mud at Gerotek.

In my defence there was this section on one of the dirt roads that was completely covered in water. And as I was about to go barrelling into it, I spotted a duck having a good old swim in it and slammed on the brakes to bail out.

ALSO READ: New Isuzu diesel engine could arrive as a mild-hybrid in 2025

I could have sworn I saw the duck smirk, and think to himself: “Go ahead big boy, mess my morning bath up if you must. But know there is a recovery tractor just waiting to come tow you out of here.”

The mud under the AT35 was seriously soft, and no matter how good the AT35 is, I don’t think it would have ended well if I gone ahead with my initial plan to test this bespoke Isuzu D-Max to the limit.

Plenty of power

Since we were at Gerotek, I decided to give the AT35 a run at the clock on tar. It was 100 percent not what this Isuzu is about with those big wheels and increased size. But I can say that despite only having 140 kW of power and 450 Nm on tap from its long serving 3.0-litre four-cylinder diesel, the AT35 was quicker than all the previous generation Ford Rangers. This includes the 3.2-litre, five-cylinder. And all the current generation Toyota Hilux models, minus the 165 kW GR Sport.

Those previous generation Ford Rangers were not fast. I was so convinced that I would run out of road before I hit 100 km/h in the then bi-turbo diesel Raptor, I didn’t even bother taking it to Gerotek. But what has happened since then, is that Ford has stormed ahead. Their new 3.0-litre V6 turbo Raptor has brought the go to match the show. And ain’t nobody catching that bakkie on dirt or tar.

Isuzu D-Max
The cabin of the Isuzu D-Max AT35. Picture: Mark Jones

Dated tech

And what Ranger has also done is moved the benchmark ahead in terms of technology, refinement and comfort. And it is here that the age of the Isuzu is exposed. Despite being based on the top-spec D-Max V-Cross, analogue instrument cluster displays, low-res, small infotainment screens and a diesel sounding powertrain is not going to cut it at this very top end of the market.

ALSO READ: LISTEN: Pothole-proof Isuzu D-Max AT35 no threat to Raptor

As much as I enjoyed my time with the Isuzu D-Max Arctic AT35, this bakkie is for Isuzu diehard fans. At R1 120 620, I would opt for the similarly priced, far more modern, and brutally fast Ford Ranger Raptor.

Isuzu D-Max AT35 road test data

Isuzu D-Max AT35 data

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