Editor's note: Ben Harrington is from the United Kingdom and test-drives pickup trucks we don't yet have in the U.S. Here's his take on the 2018 Isuzu D-Max AT35.
So, you thought your Ford Ranger was absolutely massive, or maybe you proudly boasted that your Land Rover Discovery was totally unstoppable. Well, it might be time to look away now, because in both cases the global 2018 Isuzu D-Max thinks otherwise.
What we tested was not just any standard D-Max, though; the one we drove had a thorough working over by Arctic Trucks, which created the Arctic Truck 35 or AT35, a factory-offered extreme off-road package.
By the Numbers
Here are just a few all-important pickup specifications and numbers for the standard D-Max that provides the foundation for the base AT35: It's powered by a 1.9-liter four-cylinder diesel engine producing 161 horsepower and 265 pounds-feet of torque at 2,000-2,500 rpm; it has a curb weight of 4,544 pounds; it delivers almost 2,500 pounds of maximum payload; and the bed is 58 inches long by 60 inches wide and 18 inches deep (with 43 inches between the wheel wells in the bed).
As with all D-Maxes, the AT35's engine can be mated to either a manual or automatic transmission, both of which have six gears. There are both high- and low-axle ratios (our test truck had 4.30:1 gearing) to choose from and locking differentials for when the going gets really rough.
That's the D-Max then, but what do you get in the AT35 to justify its fairly weighty $52,800 price tag? The most obvious upgrades are those massive 315/70R17 tires and the required fender flare extensions that house them. Those tires aren't just any off-road tires though; they're Nokian Rotiivas. Never heard of them? That's probably because they originate in Finland — the most northern tire manufacturer on the planet.
In Nokian Rotiivas own words: "We market our products in extreme regions where there is snow, forests and demanding driving conditions caused by changing seasons." You get the idea.
But it's what's underneath that really sets the AT35 apart from anything else in the mid-size class. Thankfully, when your pickup's this got this much clearance it doesn't take much crouching to sneak a peek at the important bits. Fox Performance Series suspension components (extended coils in front and re-arched leafs in back) have been fitted to the AT35, raising the D-Max 5 inches, which improves both the approach and departure angles, as well as helping to avoid coming into contact with any debris or ridges you may be driving over.
Arctic Trucks add-ons aside, the D-Max is a sorted, competent pickup in its own right. A 1.9-liter inline-four diesel engine may sound small for a vehicle of this size, but it actually creates more horsepower than Toyota's 2.4-liter unit found in the popular and athletic Hilux. Not only that, but when mated to the six-speed manual gearbox it returns more 40 mpg in city/highway combined driving, which keeps makes it one of the most economical (and unmodified) pickups on sale today. Opt for the automatic transmission and you can expect to lose around 4 mpg. We're guessing here, but some of this loss must be due to the fact it tends to hang onto lower gears when it really sounds and feels like it should have upshifted sooner. At least, that's been our experience.
On the down side, sit inside the D-Max and you'll find it can't compete with class leaders such as . As with all top-spec D-Maxes, there is leather upholstery throughout, heated front seat and electric windows but that's about it — there aren't many creature comforts after that. The plastics used are ultimately function-over-form choices and there's not much in the way of ergonomic design. For such a large mid-size truck, the lack of usable cupholders is pronounced and confusing — surely they're a prerequisite for designers nowadays. One feature that excels, however, is the Pioneer multimedia system; it's large, functional and easy to use.
Of special note, the D-Max does offer one nice, thoughtful bit in the form of a tailgate with dampened struts; that's not something many competitors offer. Yes, it potentially adds a couple of seconds onto loading time but it looks and feels far more civilized than a big, heavy, clunking tailgate banging down every time you pull the latch.
The AT35's unique selling point is quite clearly its go-anywhere off-road capability, but what if you spend a fair amount of time on the tarmac? Well, the extra width can be intimidating when negotiating narrow roads. The Fox suspension is clever and despite a little extra rolling around noise, the AT35 will get around aggressive bends when pushed, albeit a bit more slowly and with less refinement than others. The Nokian tires are primarily designed for, as you might guess, seriously rough surfaces, so if you're regularly doing 60 mph, the negative effects on ride quality and noise could prove irritating.
The Isuzu D-Max is a hugely competent pickup in its own right, both on and off-road. If it's ultimate off-road ability or just an imposing look straight from the main dealer you're after, though, look no further than the Isuzu D-Max AT35.
Cars.com photos by Ben Harrington