Once a year I yearn for one of those double-cab pick-ups with tyres like monstrous doughnuts and a snorkel. The kind you see in Iceland, which is where I am when I yearn for one. I’m usually driving some Daewoo or Ssanyong hire-car, gingering my way along a pot-holed track looking for a fishing-hut in the twilit wilderness. Headlamps, sometimes two but often eight, appear in the rear-view mirror. Within seconds they’re on my tail, filling the reflection. I’ve hardly time to avoid the next sump-trashing bump before the beast flashes past and is off into the distance bathing me in a cloud of volcanic dust.
You’d think it was the military or some snow-crazed troll-hunter. But no, it’s just Mrs Olafsson, who’s forgotten the milk. You see, no Icelander drives a Daewoo or a Ssangyong: these are reserved exclusively for the use of tourists. Icelanders all drive doughnut-tyred pick-ups, tricked up to the max on rock-hopping suspension. And they use them to nip to the shops. How the Icelanders must love to watch us nannying along the marble-run roads wishing we’d signed our collision damage waiver forms. And how easy would my tours around Iceland’s rivers be in one of those, I think, as Mrs Olafsson blitzes over the larva field, lupins shivering in her slipstream.
So, it was with a mix of curiosity and longing that I accepted an invitation from Isuzu to join them for a day’s off-roading in the latest version of their venerable D MAX fettled into full-fat glacier-munching form by Arctic Trucks (AT), the most respected tricker-outer of off-road vehicles in Iceland … where tricking out is an art form.
You see, the puzzlingly over-engineered nature of these vehicles ranked outside the supermarket in downtown Akureyri in midsummer, is explained by an Icelandic winter. Not only is there nothing else to do when the wolfish night of winter closes in, but that is when the endless, eerie and empty landscape becomes, with the first covering of snow, the biggest off-road track in the world. Once the snow falls Icelanders have a right to roam. The more extreme the better. Isuzu showed us a picture of this new truck half-way up a wall of snow, almost vertical and dwarfed by a wave of white: and in the next shot, the truck at the top!
It is an article of faith with AT that every vehicle they breathe on should be able to run anywhere off-road without winches, or any other form of external assistance. For these hardy islanders it’s all about the tyre choice, tyre pressure and ground clearance. Well, I’m no expert, but there was nothing at the Millbrook proving ground that this AT35 could not handle … and that was with me at the wheel.
Despite their Icelandic ubiquity, this is the first time an AT pick-up has been available for UK customers. AT and Isuzu are banking on a niche market amongst farmers, country-sportsmen, or maybe just mad green-laners for this kind of hard-core off roader, even in our temperate landscape. I doubt they’re wrong.
AT has 25 years experience adapting vehicles for extreme off-road use. Isuzu’s D Max, already the best-selling pick-up in Scandinavia, is a favourite. So, AT have taken this already capable vehicle and propped it up on Fox dampers, whopping great wheels and Nokia Rotiiva tyres. From a practical point of view, this means it grips like a spider. But with the air let out these same tyres will float over deep snow with the lightest of footprints (the truck has on on-board re-inflation pump). All this extra hardware improves ground-clearance, approach and departure angles too. Which means it will go anywhere: up and down slithery canyons of sand and mud, through puddles you could bury a hippo in, over ruts like felled trees all in a row. We did it all.
I’m not wholly convinced of the need for such an extreme off-roader in our green and pleasant land: but reason, not the need. That there’s a bunch of … er probably men … who’ll develop a reason, of that I am sure.
Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35
OTR from £30,999
Annual road fund licence £295 (for vehicles registered after 1.4.2017 – £1200)
Combined fuel consumption: 33 mpg
Power 163 bhp
0 – 60: 15 secs est.
Top speed: 112 mph