DRIVEN: Isuzu D-Max AT35 is a moerse capable 4x4, but its price doesn’t make sense

Published Jul 31, 2023


Until the 1860s, the picturesque Attaquaskloof Pass, situated inland from George in the Western Cape, was essentially the “N1” for Ox Wagons.

It came about when Gouriqua Khoi Khoi showed the old elephant routes to early explorers, who were seeking the most feasible route for wagons, which couldn’t handle steep inclines.

Parts of this historic route are still accessible as a somewhat challenging 4x4 trail on the Bonniedale Farm, although to access it you’ll have to make an appointment with its owner.

And it was here that Isuzu decided to introduce South African media to its new D-Max Arctic AT35.

But speaking of old mammal trails there is one big elephant in the room that we need to face when speaking about the Japanese company’s bakkie new flagship.

Priced at R1 120 620 the D-Max AT35 is the country’s fourth most expensive bakkie derivative, and falls just R64 000 shy of the new Ford Ranger Raptor. It also costs R241 000 more than the D-Max V-Cross that it’s based on.

Although it does have some really cool kit, which we’ll get to in a moment, when it comes to performance and technology for the money, the Isuzu simply cannot compete with the Raptor, in our opinion.

There are no engine modifications to speak of either, although Isuzu says its AT35 is aimed at a more traditional bakkie customer who values low-speed off-road trundling above all else.

And while it’s hard to make a value case here, Isuzu South Africa plans to make no more than 100 of these per year, so there is a big exclusivity factor. Given the success of its predecessor, it’s unlikely the company will struggle to sell its small allocation.

So let’s take a look at what it can do, shall we?

It’s built right here in Isuzu’s Gqeberha plant in the Eastern Cape, where it has a dedicated body shop for fitting the special components imported from Arctic Trucks of Iceland.

The AT35 has a unique chassis set-up, which includes a lift kit that raises the ground clearance to 266mm, up 34mm over the D-Max V-Cross that it’s based on. This special bakkie is also fitted with heavy-duty Bilstein shock absorbers to further enhance its off-roading prowess.

The Arctic Isuzu rides on 35-inch BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres, hugging a set of 17-inch AT black alloy wheels, and to visually harmonise the wider track, flared wheel arch mouldings have been fitted.

Other exterior add-ons include wider side steps and AT35 chrome badges on the front fenders and tailgate.

For what it's worth, the conversion also improves the approach, breakover and departure angles, now a respective 33, 34 and 23 degrees, up from 30, 22.5 and 18 degrees, while the wading depth increases from 800mm to 865mm.

We put this all to the test on some challenging trails on the aforementioned Bonnievale farm in the Western Cape. Here we found numerous rocky inclines and declines that would likely have led to bent side steps in a regular double cab 4x4, but here the Isuzu’s increased ground clearance came into play.

Most of the sections required 4L low-range gearing and there were a few obstacles that required diff lock engagement, but on this trail the AT35 gave me a greater feeling of confidence than I’ve ever remember feeling in a 4x4 vehicle.

It feels like it could handle just about anything you throw at it.

The engine and low-range gearing also felt perfectly calibrated for low-speed off-roading. The hill descent control was perhaps a little too lenient when it came to picking up speed, however manually shifting the six-speed auto gearbox into first gear and feather-footing the brake pedal worked perfectly well on the steeper downhill sections.

We did a bit of dirt road and highway driving on our way to and from the venue. It’s in these situations where you might feel happier in a Raptor.

At higher speeds on dirt, the tail end can get a bit twitchy, for instance. And the ride quality, as well as overall performance from the unmodified 3.0-litre turbodiesel engine, which produces 140kW and 450Nm, are really no better than adequate by bakkie standards.

However, to be fair, unlike the aforementioned coil-sprung Ford, the D-Max AT35 is still a proper one-tonner, with its payload listed at 970kg, while the braked towing capacity remains at 3 500kg.

Interior specification mirrors the D-Max V-Cross, with standard amenities including a 9.0-inch infotainment system, wireless charging and eight-way electric driver’s seat adjustment.

Driver assist gizmos come in the form of Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning and Prevention, Lane Keep Assist, Forward Collision Warning, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Autonomous Emergency Braking, among others.

While it’s hard to make an outright value argument for the Isuzu D-Max Arctic AT35, it will appeal to those seeking a more traditional bakkie package with added exclusivity and the ability to hit some of the most hardcore trails with ease.

It’s not for everyone, but die-hard Isuzu fans will no doubt feel very much at home in this beast of a bakkie.

Being an official conversion carried out at the Isuzu factory, it also retains the five-year or 120 000km warranty and five-year/90 000km service plan.

IOL Motoring