Who wants to be a Russian Oligarch? Why, anyone who buys an Isuzu D-Max AT35, that’s who. Confused? Bear with me because I assure you this will all make sense.
As well as being quite a mouthful, the Isuzu D-Max AT35 (hereafter known as the AT35 for brevity) is a pick-up truck. We see a growing number of these vehicles on the road, driven by an assortment of builders, plumbers, electricians, farmers, etc. I’m fairly sure, although I have no evidence beyond my own conviction, that this is down to the fact that they share a similar level of practicality with a traditional van but are infinitely better looking and a lot more practical when not in use as a working vehicle. You get all the practicality of a van with a bit more of the comfort and luxury of a car usually on offer. The AT35 has all of this but with one significant difference – It’s absolutely enormous!
This is because Isuzu have teamed up with Arctic Trucks to take a standard D-Max and prepare it for the worst the earth can throw at it. In case you aren’t aware, Arctic Trucks is an Icelandic company that has been building custom vehicles for polar exploration and the like for the last 25 years. What I’m trying to say is that they are experts at this stuff.
The Isuzu D-Max is already the best selling pick-up in the winter wonderland of Scandinavia but this apparently isn’t enough. The AT35 uses the same 2.5litre engine as the standard truck but the chassis has been strengthened, the suspension completely re-engineered to increase mobility over the worst terrain, and fitted with massive 35-inch tyres that help raise it an extra 125mm above the standard D-Max – the ground clearance is 318mm to be precise. This is a vehicle that tackles Alpine peaks in the same manner as you or I would tackle a speed bump. It can carry 1 tonne and tow up to 3.5 tonnes over pretty much any terrain you care to mention, and because it’s been raised up so much you can just about make out the curvature of the earth from the drivers seat. You can definitely make out the look of sheer terror on the faces of oncoming drivers as you rumble towards them.
It has to be terror because the AT35 has the equivalent effect on other road users as that of a large bull on the proprietor of a china shop. It’s may not look particularly angry or aggressive right now, but you wouldn’t want it to step on your toe. Those big tyres need big arches that add a significant number of inches to the width of the truck. It’s sits up high so the headlamps look you right in the eye. It parts oncoming traffic like an automotive Moses and from behind the wheel it’s a marvellous feeling.
Despite the size the AT35 is actually rather easy to drive, and a great deal of fun. A number of years ago I had an employer who kept a battered old Transit minibus for getting between sites and, being a group of excitable young men who didn’t have to pay for repairs, we drove it like a surprise entrant in the Paris – Dakar rally. Driving the AT35 gave me that same feeling again. It’s not fast by any definition of the word but the steering is good, the clutch is easy and, because of all that bouncy off-road suspension, you can chuck it into corners and roll around bends with a huge grin on your face. More importantly, when the road is long and straight and boring you can settle back, set the cruise control and waft along in comfort.
Isuzu have made sure the AT35 is comfortable by fitting leather upholstery, heated seats, and climate control. There’s also an option for the ‘Vision Pack’ which includes touch-screen Sat Nav, wireless phone connection and reversing camera to supplement the standard parking sensors. It may be a truck but as I said, it’s just as practical and comfortable as a regular car. I can’t even criticise the design either. The cab is big and roomy and although the buttons and dials look like they were designed to be operated by someone wearing oven gloves, they have a chunky appeal that suits the rugged image.
Which brings me neatly back to Russian Oligarchs. According to a friendly gentleman from Isuzu, one of their dealers has just completed an order for a Russian businessman who spent £50,000 on an AT35 for his son’s 18th birthday and that this is the kind of market they expect to cater to. I very much doubt that the customer was actually an Oligarch but I can certainly believe that a big pick-up truck with all the trimmings would be a desirable fashion statement in some circles. What I really find remarkable is that somebody managed to spend £50k? The AT35 starts at £31k (£33,500 for the larger double-cab with leather interior I tested) and as far as I can tell the options list consists of the Vision Pack and a spare wheel. That’s it. Unless there is a secret option list only available to Russians, or Isuzu charge £20k for Sat Nav and an extra wheel – they don’t. In other words, the AT35 is actually quite cheap for a truck that can almost literally go anywhere, is as well equipped as your family car and is brilliant fun to drive. So next time I call for a plumber don’t be surprised if I ask what you are driving…..?