Taking a stock model to an independent tuning operation may seem a touch fatuous, if no tuning is carried out, states Iain Robertson, but in a case of getting the look without destroying the manufacturer’s warranty a visit to Arctic Trucks can make sense, even if the price tag virtually doubles in the process.
A few years ago, I enjoyed a run of test pickup trucks, from Toyota to Volkswagen and Ssangyong to Isuzu. It was an excellent opportunity to test the market viability, product affordability, technological dependence, legal elements related to carrying capacities and the sheer fun aspects. All of them were four-wheel drive examples, in crew-cab, 4/5-seat variants and, being well-loaded, demonstrated a complement of SUV qualities carried into ostensibly lower priced commercial vehicles. As niche-fillers, they sell in moderate numbers to a more retail-type of customer base, as it is the base and entry-level models that prove their individual strengths on building sites, on off-road grounds and in carrying out field tasks for utilities and special services operations like the Lifeboats Association. By the way, the Isuzu was the best overall across all tests.
Just as vans, vehicles more familiar with work duties, have become recent fashion fads across Europe, led by a revolution that commenced in North America during the 1960s, the pickup truck has been enjoying a sometimes fraught existence, usually as a ‘tax dodge’ for businesses. Yet, you need only look at the success Volkswagen has achieved with its light and mid-range commercials to appreciate that there can be money in muck. With list prices ranging from £80,000 to £120,000, the motorhome sector has grown in league with demand during the pandemic era and most owners do not even bat an eyelid at the steep options lists. It is a slightly weird scenario that the light commercial industry has adapted to with a degree of market eagerness (probably knowing that it could collapse tomorrow, as readily as it grew). While some vans do possess a direct relationship with cars from the same family, it is easier for them to feature more car-like appeal, which extends from suspension and engine range to smarter interior detailing. It is not as elementary for others.
The negative issues for pickup truck buyers usually resided around the reported one-tonne pickup load decks that were most obvious on the standard versions of the vehicles with two-person cabs. Extend the passenger carrying capacity and the deck shrank, often leaving insufficient space for a trials bike, unless the rear tailgate was also lowered and used as a practical load extension. It did not take long before VOSA in the UK recognised that Construction and Use regulations were being flouted, often by way of simple consumer error. Many load decks were re-rated to less than half-a-tonne, which precluded them from the tax reductions being claimed. Naturally, each of the manufacturers reacted speedily, either by dimensional, or volume means and returned their decks to one-tonne and the inevitable savings that had attracted so much interest in the first place, which could amount to an annual road tax bill of £250, rather than four, or five times that amount, figures from which the equivalent SUV user could never benefit.
Of course, comfort levels are somewhat improved in a typically hiked-up estate car body, not least across the back bench, which cab design makes intentionally upright and unyielding. Yet, most pickup users seldom transport chums on their leisure pursuits, the back seat becoming a useful repose for wetsuits, camping gear and picnic baskets. However, there is nothing to stop carmakers from installing the same multi-way adjustable leather front seats that fill the cockpits of their better grade SUVs. Factor in high-end stereo equipment, a better heated steering wheel complete with remote controls, a more comprehensively equipped dashboard and carpets and the transformation is almost completed. Already the £20k pickup has become a £35k luxury item. However, Isuzu is not alone in inviting 4×4 conversion specialists to contemplate an expansion of the offering, which can either add a fresh line of profit to the carmaker, or extra sales of gear to the specialist, in Isuzu’s case, Arctic Trucks, a highly regarded exponent of the scene.
To avoid issues related to Vehicle Type Approval, diminishing the warranty value (125,000mls, five years) and even creating unreliability, the engine and transmission remain as virgin as the factory intended. With turbo-diesel access to 161bhp and class leading torque, the unit is already renowned for its 3.5-tonne towing capacity
The Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35’s chassis and bodywork are re-engineered to accommodate its 17.0-inch diameter, black alloy wheels and enlarged 315/70 R17 all-terrain tyres. The suspension system is overhauled with an optimised and elevated Bilstein performance kit composed of front springs and dampers, rear dampers and additional front and rear body lift, to provide a total front and rear elevation of +50mm over the standard D-Max pick-up. The ground clearance grows to 266mm at the front and 290mm at the rear, with an approach angle of 35°, a departure angle of 29° and a break over angle of 34°. The combined effect results in a softer, faster ride over rough surfaces and a lighter footprint over delicate terrain, without compromising on-road behaviour. The bodywork of the AT35 is enhanced by the extra-wide colour-coded wheelarch extensions, which create additional clearance and amplify the vehicle’s raised stance, while conveying a dramatic poise. The vehicle is also equipped with Arctic Trucks extended profile side steps, strengthened Arctic Trucks mud flaps and a versatile 2.0-inch rear multifunction receiver hitch, enabling the quick and easy fitment of tow balls, winches, rear-mounted steps and more.
The cab benefits from a black interior headlining, a 9.0-inch multimedia system complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and an eight-speaker sound system. The leather seat trim includes the Arctic Trucks branding incorporated on the headrests and users benefit from a wireless mobile phone charge point, Arctic Trucks door entry guards and a premium carpet mat set. The vehicle is finished with Arctic Trucks and AT35 badging throughout the exterior and interior along with dedicated locking wheel nuts and an Arctic Trucks torque wrench.
Conclusion: Now here’s the rub…the price starts at £47,999 and you can factor in an additional £1,500, should you desire an automatic transmission. It is costly but, to the company car user, it offers tax savings over an equivalently priced family car and will take its user over much rougher ground and survive.