“He’s staring at us. He’s definitely staring. Look, now he’s pointing!”

My passenger is narrating the events unfolding before us.

“Is that… it is… he’s taking our picture! Now he’s waving at us!”

It might sound like we’re celebrities attending a gala event, but we’re really just a couple of average Joes driving through the middle of town. The thing is, we’re doing it in an Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35.

This is not the vehicle to buy if you favour keeping a low profile. We’ve been papped more times than Beyonce and if the driver of the oncoming Tiguan is anything to go by – who by now is blocking traffic so he can record the event for social media posterity – this is something any AT35 owner will have to quickly get used to.

This is not the vehicle to buy if you favour keeping a low profile

Based on the recently refreshed Isuzu D-Max, the conversion carried out by wilderness specialists Arctic Trucks is much the same as it was for the previous model: 17×10 wheels, 35-inch Nokian Rotiiva tyres, extended fender flares, body and suspension lift, wider side steps, and mud flaps nicked from a passing lorry.

Only double-cab models are offered now, but they gain the previously optional Pioneer media system and reversing camera as standard, on top of the usual niceties such as heated leather seats, keyless entry, and climate control.

Using the D-Max as a base does mean it inherits a few of its shortcomings – there’s no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, no rear diff lock, no lane-change function for the indicators, the concept of silicon damping and soft-touch plastics has completely passed the D-Max by, and the new 1.9-litre engine is both raucous and down on torque compared to the old 2.5 twin-turbo unit.

The AT35 does, however, inherit plenty of the D-Max’s strengths – it’ll tow for England (actually, it could probably tow England), doesn’t need AdBlue, offers generous rear cabin space, and as a working vehicle it’s about as dependable as they come.

But what do you think happens to an already half-decent pickup when you add monster truck tyres and enough ground clearance to pitch a tent under?

Two things, actually. Firstly, it becomes completely awesome. If ever a vehicle was designed to bring boyhood fantasies to life, this is it.

If ever a vehicle was designed to bring boyhood fantasies to life, this is it

And secondly, it becomes all but unstoppable. True, the Arctic Trucks set-up is geared more towards traversing a glacier than it is ploughing through axle-deep mud. While that means the AT35’s load-spreading stance and increased contact patch can count against it at times, the Rotiiva’s less aggressive all-terrain tread pattern still impressed us with a decent self-cleaning ability and surprisingly little tyre noise on the road.

For the stataholics, Isuzu quotes a 44 degree approach angle, 24 degree departure angle, and a 32 degree ramp-over angle, while ground clearance at the rear axle is measured at 290mm – 55mm more than the standard D-Max. And although the AT35’s wading depth is officially quoted as 700mm, more is easily possible with the proper technique.

Back on tarmac, the 1.9’s 40Nm torque deficit does mean the D-Max struggles to maintain headway on motorway inclines, exacerbated by Isuzu’s decision not to alter the diff ratios to suit the larger rubber.

In effect, the six-speed auto (admirably available at no extra cost) is convinced someone prised it open during the night and nicked a couple of cogs, such is the determination with which it spends its time hunting around for them. In fact, torque converter lock-up in top only seemed to occur once well north of 70mph.

But somehow none of this seems to detract from the fun that’s on offer.

Barrelling down the road leaves oncoming drivers visibly open-mouthed, the extra height adds a whole new dimension to the game of nosy neighbours, and it’s surprising how enthusiastically a two-tonne pickup with a foot of ground clearance can be thrown around.

Sure, there’s some industrial grade pitching over larger bumps despite the best efforts of the Fox dampers, but I never grew tired of the little wobble as the body settles on its springs when coming to a stop.

After living with it for a week, I’d just about managed to coax the D-Max to a 26mpg average – down slightly on the 28mpg I managed in the old one.

And while I’d also come to the conclusion that the 1.9 doesn’t quite have enough guts to offset the corrupted gearing, I couldn’t help feeling the effect wasn’t detrimental enough to stop me from wanting one. Desperately.

However, should you take a test drive and find yourself similarly lusting after a truck-sized lump of awesomeness, I do have one piece of advice:

Make sure you’re ready to have your picture taken.

Tester’s Notes

  • There’s no doubting the sheer level of awesomeness on offer here
  • However, unaltered gearing is a shocker, and new 1.9 doesn’t have the balls to offset it. New engine also best described as ‘raucous’
  • Still lacking reach-adjustable steering, lane-change indicators, any semblance of soft-touch surfaces
  • No rear diff lock, but useful 60mph shift-on-the-fly ability
  • Generous rear cabin space, 3.5-ton tow rating, good cargo box size, tailgate damper
  • 26mpg on test (just)
Entry-level Price £37,995+VAT Price as tested £38,838.75+VAT
Engine 1898cc 4-cyl turbodiesel Transmission 6-speed auto
Power 164ps @ 3,600rpm Torque 360Nm @ 2,000-2,500rpm
0-60 Not quoted Top speed 112 mph
Economy 36.2 mpg CO2 205 g/km
Dimensions 5295 x 2170 x 1980 (LxWxH) Kerb Weight 2061 kg

Alex Kefford

Editor

Freelance journalist, ex-offroad driving instructor and long distance road-tripper. If you have any questions about this piece, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.