We might not need an extreme off-roader, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want one. Charles Rangeley-Wilson is first in line for the latest incarnation of Isuzu’s D-Max.
Once a year, I yearn for one of those double-cab pick-ups with tyres like monstrous doughnuts and a snorkel. The kind you see in Iceland, which is where I am when I yearn for one. I’m usually driving some Daewoo or SsangYong hire car, gingering my way along a pot-holed track looking for a fishing hut in the twilit wilderness. Headlamps, sometimes two, but often eight, appear in the rear-view mirror. Within seconds, they’re on my tail, filling the reflection. I’ve hardly time to avoid the next sump-trashing bump before the beast flashes past and is off into the distance, bathing me in a cloud of volcanic dust.
You’d think it was the military or some snow-crazed troll-hunter, but no, it’s just Mrs Olafsdóttir, who’s forgotten the milk. You see, no Icelander drives a Daewoo: these are reserved for the use of tourists. Icelanders all drive doughnut-tyred pick-ups, tricked up to the max on rock-hopping suspension—and they use them to nip to the shops. How the Icelanders must love to watch us nannying along the marble-run roads, wishing we’d signed our collision-damage waiver forms. How easy would my tours around Iceland’s rivers be in one of those, I think, as Mrs Olafsdóttir blitzes over the lava field.
It was, therefore, with curiosity and longing that I accepted an invitation from Isuzu to join the company for a day’s off-roading in the latest version of its venerable D-Max, fettled into full-fat glacier-munching form by Arctic Trucks (AT), the most respected tricker-outer of off-road vehicles in Iceland, where tricking out is an artform.
You see, the puzzlingly over-engineered nature of these vehicles when ranked outside the supermarket in downtown Akureyri in midsummer is explained by an Icelandic winter. Not only is there nothing else to do when the night closes in, but that’s when the endless, eerie and empty landscape becomes the biggest off-road track in the world. Once the snow falls, Icelanders have a right to roam— the more extreme, the better. Isuzu showed us a picture of this new truck halfway up a wall of snow, almost vertical and dwarfed by a wave of white. In the following shot, the truck was at the top.
It’s an article of faith with AT that every vehicle its team breathes on should be able to head anywhere off-road, without winches or any other form of external assistance. For these hardy islanders, it’s all about the tyre choice, tyre pressure and ground clearance. I’m no expert, but there was nothing at the Millbrook proving ground that this AT35 couldn’t handle—and that was with me at the wheel.
Despite their Icelandic ubiquity, this is the first time an AT pick- up has been available for UK customers. AT and Isuzu are banking on a niche market among farmers and country sportsmen—or perhaps just mad green-laners—for this kind of hardcore off-roader, even in our temperate landscape. I doubt they’re wrong.
AT has 25 years of experience adapting vehicles for extreme off-road use. Isuzu’s D-Max, the best-selling pick-up in Scandinavia, is a favourite. AT has taken this already capable vehicle and propped it up on Fox dampers, whopping great wheels and Nokian Rotiiva tyres. From a practical point of view, this means it grips like a spider, but, with the air let out, these same tyres will float over deep snow with the lightest of footprints (the truck has an on-board re-inflation pump).
All this extra hardware improves ground clearance, approach and departure angles, too, which means it will go anywhere: up and down slithery canyons of sand and mud, through puddles you could bury a hippo in, over ruts like felled trees all in a row, we did it all.
I’m not wholly convinced of the need for such an extreme off-roader in our green-and-pleasant land, but I’m sure that there’s a bunch of (probably) men who’ll develop a reason to buy it. Me? I’ve taken note of the AT address in Reykjavik. An extended salmon-chasing test drive is called for.
On the road: Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35
Priced: From £31,499
Annual Road Fund Licence: £295 (for vehicles registered after April 1, 2017: £1,200)
Combined fuel consumption: 33mpg
Top speed: 112mph