Isuzu has a fair reputation across Australia, right back to the days of Holden-badged Rodeo utes, Jackaroo wagons and diesel-powered Gemini sedans. Plus, there’s its long-held reputation as a truck maker.
That status continues today, with Isuzu Ute now a stand-alone brand offering four-wheel drive D-Max utes and MU-X wagons. Last year Isuzu Ute Australia’s showroom tally was a respectable 16,674 units. Both D-Max and MU-X are honest and capable machines with sharp showroom pricing, and both make pretty decent workhorses and tow vehicles.
Yet the Thai-built machines are not always the flashiest or the fanciest of rigs out there in a very competitive field of four-wheel drives in 2015. With just the two products on offer, Isuzu Ute doesn’t have a lot of metal to attract customers.
This is all good news for aftermarket specialists Harry Suzuki and his trusted sidekick Scott Leadbetter. This pair’s iM Accessories business can dress up and rev up the D-Max and MU-X without sacrificing any inherent abilities.
Harry is renowned across the off-road racing world for his feats with Isuzu products at the 1988 Australian Safari and his long association with racer Bruce Garland in Safaris and Dakar adventures. That association with Isuzu continues, and Harry brings a wealth of technical knowledge to the business of giving the Isuzu product a little more on-road character and off-road capability.
Harry and Scott’s iM Accessories is a recent spin-off from Isuzu Motorsports, with that part of the business catering for hard-core off-road racers around the globe. Now iM has a catalogue of gear for the D-Max and MU-X – from custom-fitted and iM-badged floor mats to body kits and engine chips.
“The dealers love this stuff,” Harry says. “We can add a bit of extra spark, give them something that looks different and goes better. With our gear they can dress up an MU-X with $10,000 worth of stuff and still be cheaper than a (Toyota) Prado.
“And nobody anywhere really specialises in such a package of Isuzu gear.”
Scott says the pair sees there are global opportunities for the Isuzu extras that are currently distributed across Australia by Queensland dealer Brisbane Isuzu Ute.
“Developing all this product goes hand-in-hand with Harry’s knowledge of the cars, his knowledge of the brand, his knowledge of the quality of the componentry,” Scott says. “We’ve gone into every aspect of Harry’s racing and technical knowledge to put this kit together with reputable factories to our unique specifications. Harry knows every little nut and bolt on these vehicles.”
The iM products are sourced from around the world – Australia, Germany, Japan and Thailand. Chief among the go-better bits are custom shock absorbers for both D-Max and MU-X; Harry knows a bit about ironing out bumps in the track while keeping vehicles under control.
“We changed the valving; everything. The original suspension was too harsh. Now it’s quite comfortable,” Harry says.
There are different sets and different tunes for ute and wagon and on the D-Max the external canister is piggy-backed on the Thai-made, racing-style shocks; there wasn’t room for this on the MU-X, which uses remote reservoirs.
The specs, down to the seals and oil, are all Harry’s. Both full sets of four shocks cost $1562.
On the unladen D-Max there’s still movement at the rear, it’s just much more controlled with better rebound control and less jiggling and axle hopping. The front end is firmer and steering control has improved.
The MU-X with iM shocks offers a more comfortable and controlled ride. It also steers with a tad more precision and sits much flatter through the turns on rough or smooth roads. Braking control is also better with less wheel skipping on rougher surfaces. All this translates to more off-road comfort and better traction for both vehicles. That’d be further improved by dropping down a size or two from the 20-inch wheels and low-profile Nitto rubber.
To make the most of the Isuzu pair’s improved ride and handling dynamics, iM also offer under-bonnet gear. There are rose-coloured silicone intercooler and radiator hoses for $383 and a HKS exhaust system at $1009, which is said to bring on another three to five per cent power lift. The stainless-steel exhaust is 60mm to the silencer for the MU-X, 75mm after that with a 105mm tip and 60mm all the way for the ute with a 105mm tip.
Then there’s Harry’s tailored engine chip which can give the 3.0-litre Isuzu diesel a 15 to 20 per cent power increase over the factory’s 130kW. It’s priced at $82.
With Isuzu engines long understood to be under-stressed for reliability and durability, Harry originally had this engine-control module delivering even more power. But this meant more fuel and more exhaust smoke. The ECM uses German and Turkish components assembled in China.
Chief among Australian-made product here is the sleek iM snorkel laid back against the windscreen pillar. It’s one of the pieces developed from wind-tunnel testing and Harry’s racing experiences; there’s no ram head to be knocked off by overhanging trees or blocked by rubbish. This $591 snorkel is one iM product that is already attracting serious attention from Isuzu off-road racers in other countries.
The result of all this extra air flow and fuel pumped in to the Japanese four-cylinder is much smoother engine responses from the get-go and better acceleration. Both the iM-kitted D-Max and MU-X become more tractable vehicles with smarter highway manners than the factory rides.
To top all this off are two good-looking body kits, inspired a little, admits Harry, by some dress-up gear available in Thailand for Toyota’s Fortuner.
For the MU-X there are front and rear skirts, guard flares, door mouldings, door sills plus a mid-mounted rear spoiler. The rear skirt features four fake exhausts and there’s an iM chrome badge here and there.
The effect on this pearl white wagon lifts the MU-X a class or three. It’s a more sophisticated looking machine with this $2825-priced and well-finished body kit, made in Thailand.
The $1595 kit for the D-Max – with mild flares, door mouldings and rear-quarter panels – also gives this black ute a touch more character and presence on the tar and in the scrub without compromising off-road ability. And the black spoked Road and Terrain wheels seen here are the Brisbane Isuzu dealer fit; Harry and Scott are negotiating with ROH for a unique iM Accessories design down the track.
There’s also iM weathershields for the Isuzu windows plus Australian-made floor and dash mats for the interior.
Harry Suzuki and Scott Leadbetter might be on a good thing here. This iM Accessories gear looks and feels top quality while adding more go and show to a pair of good vehicles. Isuzu vehicle prices leave some wriggle room for adding extra gear, which should encourage more showroom traffic.
“The average person out there doesn’t want to drive around in another ute or another wagon that can look a bit bland.”
Click here to read the full range review of the Isuzu MU-X.