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FIRST DRIVE | Getting to grips with the R1m Isuzu D-Max AT35

The Isuzu D-Max AT35 is designed to tame inhospitable terrain without fear and in comfort.
The Isuzu D-Max AT35 is designed to tame inhospitable terrain without fear and in comfort.
Image: Supplied

Bakkies that cost more than R1m are becoming the norm in South Africa, and anyone can transform any bakkie into an Arctic Truck. It’s a kit offered by the Icelandic company with operations in the US, Europe and other markets, including here in SA. The company re-engineers and offers aftermarket tuning of commercial and lifestyle four-wheel drive vehicles to allow them to conquer challenging terrain. 

The Isuzu D-Max is the latest to benefit from these modifications, and whereas private individuals use independent workshops to steroid-boost their cars, the Isuzu D-Max transmutation happens at the company’s production plant in Gqeberha, ensuring OEM levels of quality fitment. 

The conversion of the Isuzu D-Max AT35 that is based on the top-range V-Cross model is centred on the crafting of bigger wheel wells and arches to house 35-inch BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres, leaving the D-Max AT35 80mm wider on each side than the donor car. A standard 18-inch spare wheel is equipped, and a ResQ puncture repair kit is provided. 

A specially developed suspension lift kit and Bilstein dampers (the previous generation had Fox shocks) raise the ground clearance —the distance from the bottom of the differentials to the ground — from the 232mm of a regular V-Cross to 266mm.

This also increases the overall vehicle height from 1,810mm to 1,875mm, bolstering wading depth from 800mm to 865mm. Approach, break-over and departure angles are now 33, 34 and 23 degrees, up from 30, 22.5 and 23 degrees.

I tested the new transformation on roads in the mountains in George, Western Cape. These included smooth tarmac and gravel where the vehicle showed acceptable refinement, not as much noise intrusion and sufficient poise for safe cornering at highway speeds and on loose sand surfaces past farms.

Driving aids include active cruise control, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, attention assist, lane departure warning and departure prevention system, lane keep assist system and emergency lane keeping.

The D-Max AT35 cabin is the usual V-Cross luxe and digitalisation, with model-specific embroidery on the seat head-rests.
The D-Max AT35 cabin is the usual V-Cross luxe and digitalisation, with model-specific embroidery on the seat head-rests.
Image: Supplied

More safety features include front and rear parking sensors, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, and the multi collision brake function that automatically applies the brakes when the dual front, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags are deployed.

Where it matters most, on climbing steep inclines with jagged rocks, ditches and a stream, the AT35’s ample rubber allowed for comfortable sailing over any challenge. The standard 140kW and 450Nm producing 3.0l motor and six-speed automatic transmission with low-range gearing and electronic rear differential lock offered the muscle needed to reach spectacular vistas high up in the mountains, and enough compression to descend back safely. The AT35 is also equipped with the more modern hill descent assist system. 

On gravel with corrugated surfaces the latest D-Max AT35 had less finesse with its new Bilstein dampers. They were largely unable to arrest the jarring and skittish ride through the usually comfy, electric and leather-clad seats with AT35 embroidery in the headrests. The rest of the cabin is standard V-Cross. 

The first drive verdict is of a stylish-looking bakkie with most of its practicality retained. It’s able to accommodate four to five passengers in a luxurious cabin with climate control, multi-display digital instrument cluster and nine-inch infotainment system with eight speakers, Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay, and wireless charging for smartphones.

Bilstein dampers form part of the suspension jack up.
Bilstein dampers form part of the suspension jack up.
Image: Supplied

The muscular D-Max AT35 has a load-carrying capacity of 970kg and comes standard with dampers for the rear tailgate allowing for comfort access. The tow rating of 750kg for un-braked trailers and 3,500kg braked are like regular models. Customers also have an extensive list of accessories to consider.

The D-Max Arctic AT35 is sold standard with five-year/90,000km service plan, five-year/120,000km warranty and roadside assistance. 

Price: Isuzu D-Max AT35 — R1,120,620 


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