Isuzu en­lists Ice­landic off-road ex­perts Arc­tic Trucks to in­fuse some ex­cite­ment into its D-Max pick-up truck. wheels’ Sony Thomas tests it in the UAE

Friday - - Travel -

A pick-up truck used to be a ve­hi­cle that some­one would buy be­cause they had to. It was a purely func­tional choice for those liv­ing and work­ing in the rough coun­try. More of a ma­chine that helped its own­ers get along with their daily chores, these slog­gers sel­dom had any emo­tional ap­peal. But things have changed now, with pickup trucks be­com­ing as much an ur­ban sta­ple as sport util­ity ve­hi­cles (SUVs) or sa­loons and bought more for their butch looks and road pres­ence than their util­i­tar­ian mer­its.

While Ford, GMC Chevro­let and Toy­ota have all got mod­els that are pop­u­lar among such buy­ers, Isuzu is not a name that you would ex­pect to fea­ture in that seg­ment. The Ja­panese au­tomaker’s D-Max is a purely com­mer­cial, no-frills pick-up truck that you would pic­ture parked in the mid­dle of a con­struc­tion site or trans­port­ing a team of main­te­nance per­son­nel than in some swanky part of town. This im­age is what Isuzu’s lo­cal deal­er­ship Ge­navco is seek­ing to change. And to bring about this shift in per­cep­tion of a bor­ing work­horse to a fun, ad­ven­tur­ous ve­hi­cle, it has tied up with none other than Ice­landic truck mod­i­fier Arc­tic Trucks. The Nordic off-road spe­cial­ists, who have al­ready souped up many ve­hi­cles from Toy­ota and Jeep to Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai, laid their hands on the Isuzu D-Max a few years back and the re­sul­tant D-Max AT35 has been on sale in Euro­pean mar­kets for a while. This beefed-up ver­sion of the Isuzu pick-up is now of­fi­cially on sale in the UAE.

One glance at the AT35, and you know Isuzu has man­aged to achieve what it wanted to. It is quite the an­tithe­sis of the reg­u­lar D-Max. Stand­ing tall on mas­sive 35in all­ter­rain BF Goodrich rub­bers cov­ered by four sub­stan­tially flared wheel arches, 30mm body lift with a 25mm sus­pen­sion lift, ex­tended side step,

along with Arc­tic Truck badges and de­cals all over, the Isuzu AT35 is any­thing but dis­creet. Adding fur­ther cred­i­bil­ity to its tough pos­tur­ing is a pair of 18 LED spot­lights, solid un­der­body pro­tec­tion, and an Arc­tic Trucks-branded sports bar over the bed. Un­like the cos­metic up­grades given to many trucks and SUVs by man­u­fac­tur­ers them­selves, the changes to the AT35 are not just su­per­fi­cial. The fact that these up­grades have been ex­e­cuted by the world’s most ac­com­plished ex­perts in off-road mod­i­fi­ca­tions adds great value to the Isuzu truck’s cross-coun­try cre­den­tials. Whether it’s strad­dling size­able rocks up in the moun­tains or tack­ling the dunes, this pumpedup D-Max is ready to take on any topographical chal­lenge this re­gion can throw at it. It doesn’t come with any fancy tech­ni­cal frip­pery like hillde­s­cent con­trol or crawl con­trol. But the switch­able low-range four-wheel drive, along with im­pres­sive ap­proach and de­par­ture an­gles would make it a great off-roader in ca­pa­ble hands.

While most Euro­pean mar­kets get a 2.5-litre twin-turbo diesel en­gine, Isuzu has equipped the regional ver­sion with a 3.0-litre twin-turbo diesel paired to ei­ther a five-speed man­ual or a five-speed auto.

It makes 163bhp and 400Nm of torque, all of which is avail­able from as low as 1,400 rpm. It’s peppy and rel­a­tively re­fined for an oil burner, but the clat­ter seeps in freely through the fire­wall, which could take some time get­ting used to, es­pe­cially for driv­ers of rel­a­tively quiet and serene petrol-en­gined ve­hi­cles. While its off-road abil­i­ties have been boosted sig­nif­i­cantly, the AT35 strug­gles to keep its com­po­sure on the road. The ride is choppy, and the steer­ing am­bigu­ous in its re­sponse.

Don’t ex­pect much so­phis­ti­ca­tion in­side, as the cabin is es­sen­tially the same as the D-Max’s with lots of hard plas­tics around. But the seat­ing po­si­tion is good, perch­ing the driver up at an em­pow­er­ing height. It comes with a few added ex­tras like Blue­tooth con­nec­tiv­ity and a rear-view cam­era – handy con­sid­er­ing its di­men­sions.

At Dh125,000 for the man­ual ver­sion and Dh135,000 for the au­to­matic vari­ant, the Isuzu D-Max AT35 isn’t ex­actly cheap. But this is the cheap­est en­try point you can have to a ve­hi­cle mod­i­fied by Arc­tic Trucks. That badge im­me­di­ately el­e­vates a ve­hi­cle’s im­age as a ca­pa­ble of­froader. If a leisure toy to play it rough

Whether it’s strad­dling SIZE­ABLE ROCKS up in the moun­tains or tack­ling the dunes, this PUMPED-UP D-Max is ready to take on any TOPOGRAPHICAL CHAL­LENGE this re­gion can throw at it

in the wilder­ness on week­ends is what you’re look­ing for, the AT35 makes a com­pelling case for it­self. Just bear in mind that it will not dou­ble up as a fam­ily car for long high­way trips.

The cabin is es­sen­tially the same as that of the D-Max Dou­ble Cabin GT pick-up, sport­ing a red and black theme

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