2018 New Generation Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 Long-Term Test: Part 1

Update 1 start mileage: 7,275 | Mileage covered this update: 600 | Average fuel economy (UK mpg); City: 26/27 | Motorway: 30 | Mixed (A & B roads & dual carriageway): 28.6 

2017 saw the introduction of the new generation of Isuzu D-Max, and with it the special edition Arctic Trucks AT35 version. Isuzu sent me the huge beast for a three-month trial to see what it’s like to drive one on a daily basis over an extended time.

First off, let’s go over some of the points about this latest generation of D-Max, and I’ll add more detail on the AT35 edition I have on test.

  • New engine is Isuzu’s own 1.9 litre, in-line four-cylinder turbocharged diesel unit producing 162 bhp at 3,600 rpm and 265 lb ft (360Nm) of torque at 2,000 – 2,500 rpm, with a maximum speed of 112 miles-per-hour. No zero to sixty mph time is given.
  • Engine meets Euro 6 standards without the need for AdBlue.
  • Key design changes include new front end body design for more ‘masculine, sporty and powerful presence’.
  • New 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatic available, both of which are specifically designed for the D-Max.
  • Equipment for new-gen D-Max includes Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control.
  • Retains previous towing capacity of 3,500 kgs (7,716lbs) and bed payload of 1,099 kgs (2,422lbs).
  • Better pedestrian safety thanks to re-designed front bumper and bonnet.

Quick-fire details on the Arctic Trucks edition;

  • Includes upgraded and higher Fox Performance Series suspension, as well as body lift for greater ground clearance, improved approach/departure angles and better water wading depth over standard D-Max.
  • 35″ Nokian Rotiiva tyres (315/70 R17) on 17″ x 10″ Arctic Trucks wheels.
  • Increased offset to wheels for a larger track, and to accommodate the 35″ tyres.
  • Arctic Trucks brand on rear badge, front wing decals, mud flaps, door sills, headrests and floor mats.
  • Extended wheel arches.
  • Stitched Arctic Trucks logo in front headrests, as well as Arctic Trucks branded floor mats.
  • AT35 cabin gets leather upholstery, all-electric windows, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, climate control, keyless entry and start/stop button, 7″ Pioneer touchscreen system with DAB radio, Bluetooth, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and eight-speaker ‘surround sound’ package.
  • Price on-the-road is £45,545 (£37,995 CVOTR)

Who are Arctic Trucks?

Arctic Trucks are a company with a long and renowned history in Iceland and Scandinavia as a creator of 4×4 vehicles able to take on the most demanding terrains and conditions. They work with various vehicle manufacturers to re-engineer 4x4s and pick-up trucks for leisure and business use, professionals who need to access usually-inaccessible areas, and they also design and build specialist vehicles used for exploring the most hostile and extreme environments on Earth. In a nutshell, Arctic Trucks know what they’re doing when it comes to upgrading vehicles for off-road use.

Month 1

If you’ve been reading the articles on this site, and watching the video reviews on my YouTube channel, you’ll likely have gathered by now that I have a soft spot for proper 4x4s and pick-up trucks. I’ve had plenty of both on test, and in Isuzu’s case I’ve reviewed three of their previous generation D-Max’; the Eiger, the limited-edition Fury (long-term test), and the previous-generation 2016 D-Max AT35.

So when Isuzu offered me the chance to test their latest generation of Arctic Trucks prepped D-Max over a three-month period, I jumped at the chance immediately. The delivery day finally arrived, and the 2017/18 AT35 loomed large as I rounded the corner of the road and drove up to the monster.

The spec I’d had was the double-cab version with the stunning and eye-catching Venetian Red Mica paintwork. The paint colour is like a brick-red with some bronze added in, and it’s the colour I’d personally choose should I ever buy one. I absolutely prefer it over the black version I had previously, as the depth of the paint shows off the contours and lines of the D-Max, while making it seem even bigger and bulkier than its predecessor. Alongside the multi-spoke black Arctic Trucks alloy wheels, this is one truck that stands out from the crowd in (literally) a big way.

Rather than this being an all-new vehicle, Isuzu has revamped it in some areas, but not all. Design-wise, the front end is the most obvious exterior change, with an even more tough and powerful look thanks to a new front bumper, bonnet, grille and headlights, which now incorporate LED running lights for a more contemporary appearance.

Winter in my part of Yorkshire, England, took its time arriving this year, but when it did it arrived quite suddenly. A trip to Spain was scheduled not long after I’d received the Venetian Red D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35, and with weather reports predicting a cold weather front moving in while we were away, I decided we’d use the safer option of the D-Max – with its selectable four-wheel-drive – to travel to the airport 133 miles away.

This wasn’t exactly met with enthusiasm as my wife’s front-wheel-drive diesel Ford Focus company car gives twice the fuel economy of the Isuzu, but I assured my better half the D-Max would be comfortable, safer in the snow and absolutely most importantly had heated seats. The pick-up bed has a hard plastic liner but no cover (something that I’d personally opt for), so rather expose the suitcase and bags to the elements, I used the D-Max’s clever flexible 60/40 split rear seats, which have a folding base that anchors up and allows you to fit more gear into the rear.

A 2.5-hour journey on motorways was a good early test of the D-Max AT35’s cruising ability. I’d been sent the automatic version, which features a new six-speed setup with gear change control learning, which adapts gear changes to suit the driving style. In other words, if you’re being heavy-footed it’ll learn to hold the gears at the higher rpm for longer, whereas a light foot will see it changing up gears at a lower rev count.

Gear changes from the new automatic are getting up to speed, but tend to be quite random at times when using the cruise control. For instance, on a longer hill section it dropped from sixth to fourth completely unnecessarily a few times, which took it to a noisy 3,900 rpm (the redline is 4,250). To get around this I had to slip it into manual mode and select fifth gear.

Another example of the randomness is that for no real reason it’d suddenly drop down into fifth gear when cruising at around 70 miles-per-hour, even though sixth was clearly needed. I decided again to use the manual mode to drop back into sixth but that confused things even further. There’s a readout for what gear you’re in when using the manual shifter, but it was reading 6th when it was plainly in 5th, due to the jump in revs. I’d then choose fifth and, quite bizarrely, the revs would then drop down again. Up to now, I’ve not found the manual mode to be very good. The changes are slow and limited by what the computer deems to be too high or low a rev point, and as you’ve read it really doesn’t make sense of things at times. I wonder if Isuzu could change this with a simple ECU fix?

The D-Max’s new 1.9 turbo-diesel provides the same 160 horsepower as the previous generation’s 2.5 litre unit, but loses 30 lb ft of torque, taking it from a previous 295 lb ft (400Nm) to 265 lb ft (360Nm), the maximum of which is produced between 2,000 and 2,500rpm. This is at higher revs than the latter as well, which produced max torque at 1,400 – 2,000 revs-per-minute. Will this loss of grunt affect the Isuzu’s towing ability when it has the maximum load capacity behind? I’ll find out and let you know!

I digress. The AT35 gets up to motorway speeds without difficulty, and once in sixth gear and sitting at around seventy miles-per-hour, the revs hold at 2,000 rpm. With its wide front seats and a spacious, airy cabin, the Isuzu proves to be comfortable, especially with the heated seats on.

Not long after I’d been driving the D-Max at motorway speeds, I’d noticed that noise coming into the cabin was way lower than the previous version. For a start, the 1.9 TD engine is notably more refined, and certainly has far less impact on the sound it pushes into the cabin. Whereas the old 2.5-litre unit was agricultural with its vibrations and tractor-like noise whenever you accelerated, this new Isuzu engine is considerably quieter, and especially so when used at higher speeds.

The wind noise has also been lowered too, with a roof designed direct airflow over the tailgate which improves fuel economy, performance and level of cabin noise. With both of those points changed for the better and – surprisingly – the huge thirty-five inch Nokian Rotiiva tyres which really don’t put out much road noise at all, the Isuzu settled in for the long haul much better than I expected.

While at higher speeds the D-Max AT35 surprisingly drives quite nicely, with stable and planted manner and no floaty feel from the front end, which makes for a confident driving experience. One advantage to driving the bulked-up Arctic Trucks D-Max on motorways is that dawdling drivers in the outside lane quickly move over when they see this mini monster-truck starting to loom large in their rear and side mirrors.

The airport run allowed a good test of the Isuzu’s Pioneer touchscreen satellite navigation system. I’ve got to say that it’s an absolutely superb one, with supremely easy destination settings (I simply typed in the airport name), contemporary graphics with a clear route view in both day and night modes, plus it shows live, accurate traffic updates – which you can tap on for more detailed information – and an early option to re-route around the incident. It’s easily as good as some of most luxurious cars navigation systems I’ve used, so kudos to Isuzu for choosing the system wisely.

After a week in Madrid, and we’re back in the UK. As we leave the airport it’s clear that using the D-Max AT35 was the correct decision. The temperature is freezing. while hail has fallen and frozen over the carpark and vehicles. The lifted Arctic Trucks D-Max makes spotting it in the crowded carpark easy as it towers well above just about everything else.

After pushing the starter button, the new turbo-diesel engine fires into life without hesitation and the first thing to do is click both heated seats to the hottest setting. On the journey home, the temperature dropped further as we climb up into the Pennines and snow started to fall, quickly laying and covering the motorway tarmac, with the outside lane being deep enough that no driver wanted to use it.

Thankfully the Isuzu D-Max has ‘Shift-On-The-Fly 4×4’, which allows the truck to go from two-wheel-drive to driving all four wheels using just a turn of a dial on the centre console near the gear lever, and this can be done at up to sixty miles per hour too, meaning there’s no need to pull over to do so. Once this is selected, the D-Max instantly drives in a much more assured manner, so much so that I was physically able to relax even with the snow and sleet settling around us.

After a few hours we’re home safely, and surprisingly still feeling pretty refreshed considering the length of the drive. Certainly then, this new-generation Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 is comfortable enough to tackle long journeys with ease, and if you’re after a pick-up truck that’ll laugh at bad weather and tramp on for hours with the passengers in comfort, it’s something to consider.

In the next update

More snowy driving, how much difference does the Arctic Trucks version make off-road, rescuing a stuck driver from an icy hill road, video review and more. Don’t forget to Subscribe to my YouTube channel for more D-Max AT35 videos, plus you can follow my regular updates on the truck on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Do you own an Isuzu D-Max AT35, or have questions about them? Feel free to leave a comment using the form below.

Specs

Model (as tested)  2017/18 Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 automatic 
Standard spec includes  AT35-specific spec:  Fox Performance Series dampers front & rear, 20mm suspension lift, 30mm body lift, extended profile Arctic Trucks (AT) side steps, extended wheel arches, AT mud flaps, AT decals & chrome badging, custom ‘receiver’ hitches front & rear, 315/70 R17 Nokian Rotiiva AT tyres, 17″ x 10″ Arctic Trucks alloy wheels, Arctic Trucks branded front headrests, over-mats and aluminium doorsills, 

Other spec includes: Tailgate damper, keyless entry, push-button start, cruise control, LED front daytime running lights, leather upholstery, leather steering wheel, heated front seats, power drivers seat, power folding, adjusting and heated wing mirrors, automatic air conditioning, front & rear power windows, eight speakers, rear parking sensors, 7″ Pioneer multifunction touchscreen system featuring satellite navigation, DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and reverse camera, front and rear USB ports. Check Isuzu website for full spec and details

Safety ABS + ESC + EBS, TCS, Brake Assist System, front, side and curtain airbags, three-point rear seatbelts, door-open warning light, Height-adjustable front seatbelts, Insurance approved alarm & immobiliser, locking wheel nuts, adjustable Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Assist, ISOFIX child seat anchors with Top Tether (2 x rear sides), rear child locks.
NA
Off-road information  Ground clearance (min. at rear axle): 290mm (11.4″) | Wading depth: 700mm (27.5″) | Approach angle: 44˚ | Departure angle: 24˚ | Ramp angle: 32˚| Tilt angle: 49˚
Price  (correct April 2018) £45,545 total on-the-road price | CVOTR: £38,005
Engine  Diesel, 1.9 litres, 4-cylinders (in-line), 16-valves, turbocharged, Euro Stage 6 – no AdBlue needed
Power, Torque  Power: 160 bhp (163PS) @ 3,600 rpm | 265 lb ft (360Nm) of torque at 2,000 – 2,500 rpm
Drive, Gears (as tested)  Rear wheel drive & selectable ‘Shift-On-The-Fly’ 4WD (4 High/4 Low ratios) | 6-speed automatic
Towing capacity, truck bed payload, bed dimensions  Towing: Braked: 3,500 kg (7,716 lbs) | Unbraked: 750 kg (1,653 lbs) | Bed payload: 1,099 kgs (2,422 lbs) | Bed dimensions: L: 1,485 x W: 1,530 x D: 465 mm | Load space between arches: 1,100 cm (433″)
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, Euro NCAP  Max speed: 112 mph | 0 – 62 mph: Not stated | Euro NCAP rating: Not yet rated for 2017> model. Previous D-Max: 4/5 stars
Fuel economy (UK mpg), CO2  Based on 6-speed automatic: Urban: 30.4, Extra urban: 40.9, Combined: 36.2 | CO2: 205 g/km | Emission class: Euro 6
Weight (kerb)  2,061 kgs (4,543lbs)
Websites  Isuzu UK | Arctic Trucks

Words: Chris Davies | Photography: Chris Davies 

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