Car Reviews

Arctic Trucks AT38 Review – The Truck That Top Gear Took To the North Pole

It’s not every day I get excited about a car that hasn’t got a 0 to 60 time in its brochure. I’ve double-checked, it’s not there. I’ve even Googled it and can’t find an answer. But driving through the rain to Bristol where I was going to test this vehicle, it was the last thing on my mind. As was its top speed. Or weight. Or even horsepower.

Today wasn’t a numbers game. But in a game of Top Trumps, this would most certainly come out on top.

There are certain vehicles one has to drive in a lifetime. The iconic Ford GT40 is up there, as is Michael Keaton’s Batmobile and Bond’s amphibious Lotus. But as I shook Patrik von Sydow‘s hand, CEO of Arctic Trucks, and the behemoth that was commandeered by Top Gear to reach the magnetic North Pole rolled on past me, I knew this was at the top of my list.

Named after its Icelandic maker, Arctic Trucks, and its tyre size, the AT38 is based on a 2007 Toyota Hilux Invincible. And while its 3.0-litre diesel engine has been vastly untouched, its suspension and bodywork has had an overhaul to see it through the majority of obstacles. This made it embarrassingly difficult for me to haul myself into the driver’s seat which is now sat a lot higher than stock.

Being sat at such a commanding height has its merits, though. Visibility is astonishingly good – you need it when traversing the icecaps at staggering speeds –  and you’ll never feel like more of a big-league when driving through a sea of vehicles half your height. But this is where the major changes end inside.

Apart from a line of switches below the dashboard and holes where the BBC camera equipment once sat, the interior of the truck is much the same as its factory-spec counterpart. Where I was expecting roll bars and levers sat a CD player and cup holders. It wasn’t uncomfortable either and I could more than imagine myself driving to work and back sat in the unchanged Hilux seats.

There’s a definite air of simplicity to this vehicle. The mantra of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ rings true even louder as I turn the key, the 3.0-litre turbo diesel roars to life and I rest my hand on the factory original auto ‘box. Sliding it into drive I’m told to not worry about specifics such as kerbs and I skulk out of the dealership over their raised carpark boundaries.

No drama, no rattles or squeaks, this truck is as calm and collected as the Lexus I drove down in – a characteristic I wasn’t expecting from its muscled exterior.

I must admit, I didn’t push the AT38 to any of its limits – fortunately for Bristolians, there aren’t any glaciers to scale for at least another 1,000 miles. But it didn’t take long to realise how sophisticated and refined the truck was on the road. Apart from some tyre noise at higher speeds, the AT38 was perfectly comfortable to the point I almost forgot I was in a machine so capable.

According to Carrim, who’s in charge of project and commercial development, this is down to the matching of the tyres to the suspension. Both parts form a single system which absorbs and reacts to bumps. So on the road where tyre pressure is high, unwanted movement in the suspension is minimal. This results in a stable ride with little body roll, despite its upgraded parts being raised 90mm over stock.

Get to a sand dune however, flick a switch and lower the tyre pressure to as low as 4psi, and it’s got all the movement you need to stay connected with the surface.

Of course, large wheels assist with the traction. So large in fact, that to accommodate them under the body of what is not a small vehicle, they had to move the front axle futher forward.

While the engine is modified to cope with cold weather conditions via a heavy duty battery, raised air intake and fuel heater, it makes no extra power or torque over the standard Hilux. But I’ve driven the standard Hilux and at no point did I request anymore oomph than what was available.

It seems to me that there are few vehicles I would trust to take on such a task as reaching the North Pole. But as the name suggests, this Arctic Trucks AT38 is very simply invincible. But driving around Bristol in the rain wasn’t what it was built for. Maybe next time I need to take it somewhere a little more challenging.

Alex Harrington

Alex started racing at a young age so certainly knows his way around a car and a track. He can just about put a sentence together too, which helps. He has a great interest in the latest models, but would throw all of his money at a rusty old French classic and a 300ZX. Contact: [email protected]

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