Arctic Trucks started making a name for itself in this country after Top Gear took one of its modified Toyota Hiluxes to the North Pole in 2007 but the Icelandic firm has been around since 1990 taking rugged pick-up trucks and making them capable of astonishing off-road feats.
As well as Toyota and Nissan, Arctic Trucks work on Isuzus and the D-Max AT35 is a rare AT conversion in that you can buy directly through a brand dealership.
To the untrained eye the AT35 might just look like a D-Max with some big wheels but the Arctic Trucks treatment is far more comprehensive than that.
Isuzu D-Max AT35
Price: £38,545 (CVOTR)
Engine: 1.9-litre, four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive
Top speed: 112mph
Economy: 30.4mpg (NEDC)
CO2 emissions: 220g/km
The wheels are indeed big – the 35 part of the name comes from the height in inches of the wheel/tyre package. But Arctic Trucks also perform a complete body lift on the D-Max, separating the crew cab body from the ladder chassis and inserting spacers and mounts to lift it clear of the bigger wheels.
While they’re at it, the engineers take a grinder to the chassis, modifying or replacing chassis rails and other parts to accommodate the wheels and allow for better suspension travel.
Suspension, too, is custom-fitted to the AT35, with Fox performance parts designed to cope with the rougher treatment the truck is expected to deal with. Further reinforcing its “capable in the extreme” image, the D-Max is fitted with a full length Arctic Trucks-branded skid plate to protect the four-wheel drive running gear from rough terrain.
Since the AT35 is marketed as extremely capable and we’d recently tested the standard D-Max on road, we decided to spend some time testing its off-road chops.
We headed for Drumclog Off Road Centre in Lanarkshire, where we were given free reign to explore its 1,400 acres of outdoors playground.
It might not have been Arctic conditions but there was plenty to test the AT35’s mettle. We pointed it up and down steep slippery inclines, pushed it across wild cambers and rutted tracks that tested its remarkable axle articulation to extremes and drove it up a river or two.
Frankly even given the impressive variety of surfaces and routes at Drumclog it felt like we’d barely scratched the surface of the AT35’s abilities. It shrugged of everything with ease, ploughing across rocky, rutted trails, through deep water and up vertiginous slopes. The only thing to catch it out was a patch of mud so deep that it touched the running boards. Even then, the site’s experts reckoned some less road-biased tyres might have seen it through rather than getting bogged down.
While some truly hardcore buyers will put their trucks through worse than this, most will find the AT35 is all the pick-up they need and more beyond.
Although their focus is on being a tough-as-nails machines, another part of the appeal of Arctic Trucks is undoubtedly the way they look.
The D-Max AT35 is a seriously mean-looking thing, especially in our test truck’s Obsidian Grey Mica. The combination of the raised ride, hugely flared arches, massive black alloys, a black roof bar fitted with blindingly bright light bars and a visible skid plate make it truly intimidating. It looks brilliant and brilliantly out of place pretty much everywhere. It certainly stood out among the humdrum Edinburgh traffic.
And while it’s designed for off-road use, it’s surprisingly manageable in traffic. The turning circle is appalling and its width can be a problem in car parks but apart from that it’s no worse than any pick-up to drive. In fact, the bigger wheels and longer suspension travel make it more comfortable than the standard truck, although you have adjust cornering speeds accordingly.
Inside, a few Arctic Trucks stickers and branded headrests that clash with the standard truck’s leather don’t do anything to lift the practical but plain cabin but it all feels built to last.
As with other high-spec D-Maxes, there’s a seven-inch touchscreen with CarPlay and Android Auto, keyless entry and go, heated seats and other goodies. But you don’t buy a pick-up for a luxury interior, you buy one for its ruggedness and versatility and the AT35 has that in spades.