Unremarkable yet eminently practical vans and pickups do the business for thousands of farmers across the country but, for a small minority, such understated transport just doesn’t cut the mustard.
Those favouring a truck with flair, flamboyance and a shot of bodywork Botox have an increasing amount of choice beyond the workaday models.
Some readers will find their looks abominable; others may think they’re suitably bullish, but one thing we can all agree on is that they’re rather expensive.
See also: Tips for buying a second-hand pickup: Isuzu D-Max
Our pair of posers (we review the Ford Ranger Raptor online on Monday 25 January) both come in around the £50,000 mark, despite having few – if any – discernible performance improvements over the standard models.
The Isuzu D-Max AT35 is the work of Arctic Trucks – a master of adapting vehicles for exploratory missions to Antarctica and other horribly hostile environments.
But its commercial work on big-selling pickup ranges, including those of Toyota and Nissan, is more subtle compared with the highly bespoke builds on which it made its name.
That often means they’re more about looks than performance.
Tear off the tinwork and you’ll find the AT35 sits on largely the same platform as the D-Max Utility double-cab, which is less than half the price.
Engine, power, transmission, carrying and towing limits are all unchanged, which means it remains fairly agricultural (though, sadly, that applies to the interior, too).
The Ford Ranger Raptor, on the other hand, is smarter inside and out, but comfort and handling has been improved at the expense of practicality.
In particular, the payload has been slashed, sending its commercial vehicle status up in smoke at a cost of £10,000 for business buyers.
Isuzu D-Max AT35
Engine and transmission
No improvements here – Isuzu has remained loyal to the 1.9-litre block first fitted to the UK-bound D-Max four years ago.
The positive is that it doesn’t require AdBlue to meet Euro 6 emissions limits, unlike some of the competition.
It’s adequate for tootling around locally, but the diesel-induced rasp becomes wearisome on long journeys and it is irritatingly reluctant to chug around at low revs.
We had the automatic gearbox, which adds £1,000 to the bill and can be more hinderance than help.
It’s particularly sleepy from cold, resulting in lackadaisical dawdling at T-junction pull-outs.
However, claimed combined consumption is a respectable 36.2mpg for the auto (expect closer to 30mpg) and a little better with the manual version.
Arctic Trucks’ endeavours have focused on running gear, with meaty 35in Nokian Rotiva tyres and Bilstein suspension dampers raising the ride height by 125mm and offering stacks of articulation.
That has obvious benefits off-road – approach, departure and ramp clearance are all winners – but takes the turning circle out to almost 13m (standard models are 12.2m) and adds 100kg to the total weight.
This works to amplify the weaknesses of the on-road performance, where pillow-soft suspension makes it feel wayward and potholes throw it out of position.
There’s no change to the four-wheel-drive system – a typical switchable affair with an electronic dial for changing between the three modes: 2H, 4H and 4L.
No diff-lock for the rear axle, but hill descent control might come in handy.
Looks and interior
Flared wheel arches, branded badges, plaques and kick plates differentiate it from the cheaper D-Max models, plus there are extended profile side steps to help little people climb in.
All this takes the width to 2.17m – 300mm broader than the regular version – which is something that doesn’t go unnoticed on the road.
Interior comfort and appointment are more utility than luxury, and standard kit is largely the same as the Blade-spec edition.
The best bits are flat-folding rear seats, electric windows all round (though even the Utility model gets these) and surprisingly abundant space for passengers in the back.
Electric height adjustment of the driver’s seat is useful too, and there’s a 9in colour touchscreen with reversing camera.
Downsides are the quilted leather seats, which are not as comfortable as they sound, a lack of an automatic function for lights and windscreen wipers and generally cheap plastics and switch gear.
Unlike the Ford Ranger Raptor, the D-Max is all about off-roading and work.
So, while there hasn’t been a whole lot of effort to make it more comfortable to drive, it can still tow 3.5t and carry 1.1t – the two key farming metrics.
Farmers Weekly verdict
Off-road performance has improved in some conditions thanks to better tyres and suspension, but there are prices to pay – literally and metaphorically.
The AT35 outfit is both surprisingly expensive and overbearingly big.
The £50,000 price for VAT-paying buyers, which excludes extras such as a top roll cover (£1,300), aluminium under guard kit (£1,012) and spare wheel (£608), would be easier to justify if there was a bigger engine and smarter interior to match the thickset look.
Likes and gripes
The saving grace is that it still counts as a commercial vehicle – something the Ranger Raptor doesn’t – which is worth more than £8,000 to businesses.
Unless the extra ground clearance is indispensable, we’d stick with the standard D-Max.
Most of the components are the same and you could bag a Utility double-cab for less than half the price of the AT35.
Off-road pickup modifications are Arctic Trucks’ speciality.
The business started in Iceland in the late 1980s, adapting 4x4s for extreme terrain, and supplying research and exploration teams with the vehicles to reach some of the world’s most inhospitable sites.
Latterly, the company has turned its hand to tweaking mainstream vehicles.
As well as its partnership with Isuzu, which started in 2016, there are Arctic Trucks versions of the Nissan Navara and Toyota Hilux pickups.