Isuzu I
HomeHome > News > Isuzu I

Isuzu I

Jun 03, 2023

Isuzu put multi-day I-Venture trips on hold during COVID-19 for obvious reasons, but the popular customer drive program is now back with a bang and the sense of elation could be felt throughout the eager group of punters.

This trip was one filled with countless triumphs, very few tribulations, and looking through the photos it's hard to find one that isn't filled with smiles – which sums up this I-Venture outing.

I-Venture, for the uninitiated, is Isuzu UTE's off-road customer training program offering single- and multi-day trips aimed at showing people how to get out and use their 4x4s to their full potential. The program kicked off in 2015 and since then more than 5000 owners have learnt how to wheel their vehicles in a safe, encouraging environment across 246 trips hosted so far.

This particular multi-day trip costs owners a subsidised $2000, and that includes meals, instruction, and all the permits and planning duties taken care of by the Isuzu team. Turn up and drive, essentially.

It seems Isuzu is aware of how many concrete cowboys never leave the blacktop, making it their mission to change that. Of course, these trips are also about offering lifelong memories and, realistically, establishing lifelong customers.

High Country veteran Steve Cooney, who runs Brisbane Hinterlands 4WD Training provides solid, no-bullshit instruction and honest encouragement.

It was tempting, looking at the itinerary and route maps, to daydream about the various modified four-wheel-drives that would be more capable and possibly more fun on a trip like this. Thoughts of doing the trip in a kitted-out rig quickly dissolved though, as it became apparent a stock vehicle would require careful lines and a lot more focus –- with far less room for error.

We used a mix of stock MU-X and D-Max models, but spent most of our time in a Neptune Blue D-Max LS-U+, offering the same 140kW/450Nm as the rest of the range with plenty of luxury. Modern dual-cab 4x4 utes are capable out of the box, so this was a case study in what they can actually do on factory all-terrain tyres and, in this case, a modest 240mm of ground clearance and 800mm wading depth.

Arriving at Bright in the foothills of the Mount Buffalo National Park on the first night, the weather looked promising and it was evident we were in for a scenic trip. Punters had travelled far and wide for this I-Venture trip, some from as far as the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, arriving at the quaint Riverbank Park Motel for a feed and some much-needed shuteye before kick-off.

Day one commenced with a good ol’ country breakfast and succinct driver briefing, before the 14-vehicle convoy departed for the Great Alpine Way.

Bright's radiant foliage was replaced with leafless trees as we gained altitude, having been ravaged by the bushfires in 2019, but as we climbed so too did excitement levels as the panoramic views opened up.

The first stop involved airing down at the base of the iconic Blue Rag Trail – free traction as it was referred to by the instructors –and we opted for a safe 20 psi. Most of the group were Blue Rag virgins, but this is a trail that looks more intimidating than it really is from the base of the climb, and all were assured their vehicles would do it with ease.

We promptly offered to shoot ahead with the camera crew onboard, aware of the glacial pace organised groups opt for, stopping along the way to photograph the convoy as it navigated the snaking mountaintop trail. Photos don't do it justice, though, as the temperature drops and the rest of the world falls away before finally summiting the 1750m Trig Point, with 360-degree views of the High Country.

Friends, family and co-workers of the group were unfairly treated to jealousy-inducing Instagram updates as the group panned with their phones, doing their best to capture the enormity of the region from the breathtaking vantage point.

A fairly mild descent, taking sensible lines through the few rugged sections, put us back on the Great Alpine Way before arriving back in Bright for a steak and beer at the Alpine Hotel.Collective excitement was high, after a cracking first day. Beer helps with that, of course.

Day two was an early start, driving north-west to the Buckland River, with the first small water crossing of the trip before following the powerlines down to Mount Buffalo. The trails to Dandongadale were dry and dusty, as the convoy created some space for the sake of visibility, but the weather was forecast to take a turn so a brisk pace was maintained.

Another water crossing at King River took us onto the gnarliest descent of the trip along McDonald's Spur Track. The rain clouds were still holding out, but had it rained now, this section may have been impassable on the 18-inch wheels and HT tyres many of the vehicles were wearing.

A steep, rutted, rock section towards the end of the track required one-by-one radio instruction that tested the clearance limits of all vehicles– lifted and otherwise – as towballs, long-range tanks and diffs slapped a rock ledge on the way down.

Brake control was key, as each driver was guided down one of two ‘safe’ lines. A lot of stopping to assess, and a few precarious slides on the slick rock, every driver made it down without any real damage incurred.

We popped out at the end of McDonald's Spur track as the sun was dropping, briefly stopping at one of the High Country's many mountain huts, before driving on to the Mansfield Motor Inn to call it a night.

Over breakfast the following morning just about everyone spoke about how cold it was overnight as we gazed at the disappearing foggy road out of town. Fuelled up on scrambled eggs and instant coffee, the group drove towards Mount Buller, before fuelling up and taking the Circuit Road to Bindaree Falls for some sight seeing and selfies.

By the time we reached the Monument Trail, en route to Craig's Hut – made famous in The Man from Snowy River movie – the fog had thickened and all that could be seen ahead and behind were LED lights cutting through the mist.

The climb offered an eery experience starkly different to the panoramic views we were treated to on day one, as woody overhanging trees ushered us through the thick fog.Unfortunately it did mean Craig's Hut was only visible up close, but the fog felt fitting and the frigid temperature was a reminder of how gruelling the High Country would have been for the early drovers who worked the land.

Descending the same track, the fog cleared as the altitude dropped and, after a couple of hut visits, we made it back to Mansfield, all vehicles unscathed and drivers ready for the trip-end beers every 4x4 adventure should involve.

Owners, media and trainers shared their highlights of the trip over a few local lagers, with plenty of future getaway planning thrown in for good measure.

Isuzu builds a strong sense of brand loyalty amongst its I-Venture Club finishers, and you can bet they talk about their off-road adventures with family, friends, colleagues and whoever else will listen. But more importantly this program is all about infecting owners with the 4x4 bug, many of whom may not have otherwise left the bitumen, which in our eyes is a winner.

Bondi-based couple Glenn and Kimberley Holmes bought their 2022 D-Max X-Terrain to explore Australia the best way you can.

"We bought it to see Australia, step by step, and rather than blast away for a year we want to just pace ourselves," Glenn said.

"The idea is to get a caravan and go away for four or six weeks and then be able to park it and get on with other things.

Glenn and Kimberley told us they’ve got plans to "pimp up" their D-Max, but being new to the 4x4 world they’re using trips like this to gain off-road confidence first.

"We got a lot of experience doing the off-road driving here, and enjoyed learning more about the capabilities of the vehicle," Glenn said.

"It's totally stock now and part of the conversation is working out what to do to it. It's really about sorting the wheat from the chaff, and deciding how far we want to go."

No confirmed upgrades are on the Holmes’ wishlist, something that might change after three days of 4x4 chatter, but they do have trip ideas in mind.

"A long-range tank probably isn't a bad idea for trips like the Simpson Desert, but we’re in the planning phase – things like tyres, winch, snorkel too, but it’ll depend where we’re going," Glenn said.

"We want a slow intro, and the Simpson Desert would be a ‘nice to do’ but it's probably too soon for us at this stage. Cape York would be another really lovely one to do."

The couple took turns driving across the trip, sharing the trickier terrain and gaining experience for the future in a safe group environment.

"It's a little bit more fun when you’re not totally familiar with it, to do it in a group from a safety point of view," Glenn told us.

"Kimberley drove the second day and she really enjoyed discovering the ability of the vehicle."

Melbourne-based adventurers Kate and Martin Siebert did this I-Venture trip in their sensibly-modified 2021 MU-X LS-T.

Kate and husband Martin were hesitant to buy a 4x4, being passionate environmentalists, but decided to bite the bullet in 2021 with a focus on preserving the natural terrain they explore.

"One of the things that concerned us entering the space of four-wheel-driving is I didn't want to tear up the country and not look after it," Kate said.

"The reason I bought a four-wheel-drive is to get out into wilderness and appreciate the absolute beauty.

"I’m interested in taking my car to really remote places but leaving very little trace I was there. I’m interested in the big macro picture of everyone doing their bit to not leave a trace."

Having already tackled some longer adventures in their MU-X, the couple carried a cool and eager energy into the trip, keen to further their off-road ability.

"We did a big trip up through the middle of Australia and into Kakadu, heading back down through rural and remote Queensland and into New South Wales," Kate said.

"We’d also done the Blue Rag track ourselves, but it was great learning what technical elements of the vehicle we could activate to get us out of a tough spot.

"What we picked up over a few days, with someone helping us pick our lines, that education was key."

For Kate and Martin, the supportive group atmosphere and top-tier instruction was a highlight.

"It was really fun! I think three days is a minimum, to settle in and find your feet," Kate said.

"I don't want to do damage to my car or the environment I’m in, so I felt like I was able to relax into it a lot more with the group."

Modifications are well thought-out and sensible, with Kate opting for the essentials without going overboard – wheels and tyres, GVM upgrade, winch, protection and a drawer setup.

"It started with a bullbar because at that time I didn't want to hit wildlife and damage the car, and because of the long wait times I also didn't want it off the road," she explained.

"We fitted 17-inch wheels and all-terrain tyres, but I’ve never had to shop for wheels so wanted tyres we could easily replace in remote Australia.

"I also fitted it out with the underbody protection and then we moved to fitting out the inside.

"I got custom drawers built into the back, which allowed me to have a fridge and compressor integrated in, and a 12-volt system with two 100Ah lithium batteries with a management system and inverter that allows me to cook on an induction stove anywhere in the bush.

"We’ve also got solar so we can be off the grid feeding the fridge and also serving that 12v system without moving."

The couple's preferred method of travel is now by road and it's fair to say they’ve well and truly caught the 4x4 bug!

"I love being in it, I love doing long days of driving and I prefer it to sitting in airports waiting for flights!"

Neil Howard, who brought his brother Russell along for the trip, might be new to the 4x4 life, but he's running at it full-steam ahead as he prepares to sell his business and tour Australia indefinitely. The two brothers were an awesome addition to the trip, always down for a chat and keen to throw down plenty of banter along the way.

"I’m 60 next year and the plan is to sell my business and do laps around Australia in it. It's my time now," Neil told us, as he prepares to pack up shop and leave the city behind.

"In between now and then I’m just doing little trips like this, getting used to the 4x4 life,"

"It's the first four-wheel drive I’ve owned and I chose the D-Max because it had a good reputation for having an indestructible motor," Neil said.

Neil's D-Max was sporting a solid array of ARB gear, but he's got plenty more planned for the touring rig as he gets it ready to pull his new off-road caravan around the country.

"I went with an ARB bulbar with winch, underbody protection, recovery points, solid rails and steps, Base rack, snorkel, and also rims and tyres," he said.

"We’ve just done the electrical fit out with dual lithium batteries and driving lights. I’ve also got a solar panel and 135-litre long-range tank coming!

"The caravan is a 17.5-foot full off-road build for off-grid living, with toilet and shower and all that stuff."

When towing his caravan the D-Max isn't doing it as easily as Neil would like, so he's got it booked in for a tune that should provide a little more puff.

"I’m hoping for that little bit of extra torque and power, to make it a bit more enjoyable to drive when I’m towing," he said.

After tackling a range of stunning tracks and terrain on this I-Venture trip, Neil couldn't be happier with his build.

"I’ve loved it so far and it hasn't struggled on anything. I’m really happy with the D-Max." He said.

Brigitte Miles and Tanya Contis were counting down the hours for their new 2023 model MU-X LS-T to arrive and after around a year of waiting, it came just in time for this trip.

"We waited for a long time, so I started buying parts and ended up filling up the spare room!" Brigitte said.

Despite being fresh off the showroom floor with only around 1000km showing on the odometer so far, Brigitte had all of the parts fitted right out of the gate including a pre-registration Pedders GVM upgrade.

"I got rid of the 20s and put 17-inch PDW wheels on with Maxxis RAZR tyres straight away, which have been great in all conditions so far," she said.

Beyond the wheels and tyres, Brigitte spent a lot of time researching the best parts for her build factoring in warranty, local supply and suitability for the toughest terrain.

"We fitted Custom Offroad bash plates, Milford tow bar, Opposite Lock bullbar, Supernova spotlights, Ultra Winch winch, Yakima roof rack, and 270 awning because it had a rear bar that clears the boot sufficiently. We’ve also got Maxtrax and a shovel on top," Brigitte said.

"This is it for now. We can go and feel like we won't have any limitations as we see the countryside.

"We want to adventure and go places others can't go!"

The decision to buy an MU-X involved plenty of test drives, but Brigitte liked the rugged feel and "truck-like" engine.

"We loved the MU-X after looking at all the competitors, and this one had the right specs for us plus space for the dogs."

Brigitte and Tanya were mad keen about testing the limits of their MU-X from the moment we set off, and our bet is that they’ll definitely put it through its paces.

Five-time I-Venture finishers Martin and Rita Simmons trade cattle farming for off-roading any chance they get, with plenty of MU-X miles under their belt.

Their 2017 MU-X was the oldest vehicle on the trip and the only previous-generation model without a locking rear diff and the Rough Terrain Mode newer MU-X owners had at their disposal.

"Isuzu had a good name at the time for towing and things, which is why we bought it, and while our normal run-around car is actually a Tesla, we use this thing for trips," Martin said.

Martin kept the modifications to a minimum, but chose rugged parts that would last the life of the vehicle.

"It's got an aluminium bullbar with a winch on the front, two-wheel carrier on the back and an extra 80-litre tank underneath," he said.

"We took the back seats out and put in drawers, with a solar panel on the roof which charges a 150Ah battery."

Since buying the MU-X, the Queensland-based farming couple has taken regular trips to the sand islands on their doorstep, plus a few trips up north.

"COVID-19 stopped a lot of the trips, but we’ve been to Cape York, Fraser Island, Moreton, and across the Simpson from Alice Springs over to Birdsville," Martin said.

Despite having the oldest vehicle on the trip, the Simmons’ did it all with ease, even avoiding scraping their low-hanging long-range tank during the difficult descents.

Aside from better tyres, sitting on the standard 16-inch wheels, the Simmons have toured Australia with a stock ride height vehicle and have done it without a hitch… and they’re not stopping anytime soon.

"Next are some of the tracks from the centre of Australia down to South Australia, but we are busy running a farm, juggling babysitting duties and volunteering"

Iain and Christine are no strangers to dual-cab utes, upgrading their D40 Nissan Navara for a 2022 D-Max LS-U tray-back last year after much deliberation.

While in stock trim Iain says he is holding off on upgrading their D-Max with anything until it's "needed", after moving on his modified D40.

"At the end of the day, I might get a bulbar and I might do wheels, but I’ve been blown away with the overall ability over the past few days here," Iain said.

"I have got a light bar behind the grille that performs brilliantly."

Iain chose the D-Max after his mechanic clients started suggesting it, and 30,000km later he couldn't be happier with it.

"The fuel economy is great, even when towing. I’m down in the 8s/100km," he said.

The couple has plenty of trips around Australia planned, hoping to get back out on another adventure before year's end.

"We’ve already been in contact with Steve Cooney, looking at doing the Cape, Fraser Island, and a few others," Iain said.

"We’ve also got some great tracks near us, around Kyogle, which I’ve done a few times but I haven't taken the D-Max there yet!"