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 pick-up trucks becoming as much an urban staple as 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 all-terrain 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 pumped-up 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 hill-descent 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.

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.

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, which is quite 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 off-roader. If a leisure toy to play it rough 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.