IT COMES as no surprise that the common Aussie ute has enjoyed growing success over the last decade.
This article was first published in 4x4 Australia's April 2012 issue.
With the amount of combinations available, utes offer a great deal of practicality to a wide range of people. But with so many brands available, how do you work out which will suit you best? For Andrew Cargin, it was a simple matter of ticking the check boxes.
It had to be robust, well-made and priced fairly. Being an astute fellow, Andrew admitted that an Isuzu D-Max would not be the first name that springs to mind for many folk. However, as Andrew pointed out, compare features, performance and fuel consumption and the D-Max adds up to a solid case with a good return of bang for your buck.
Isuzu is known for building tough trucks and robust diesel engines. That provides a level of confidence in the product; plus with the money he saved, there was a tidy bit more to spend on accessories.
Now here’s the kicker – Andrew was originally looking at a 2WD, it was his wife Karen who put forth a solid business case and justification for the little extra investment to get the 4X4 version. Your wife’s a clever woman, Andrew.
After all the research, Andrew and Karen happily took possession of a brand-new 2010 LS five-speed manual 3.0-litre turbo D-Max dual cab (affectionately known as Max).
While Max the dual cab has commercial origins, his duties reflect just how adaptable these vehicles are to the enjoyment and pursuit of recreational activities, with Andrew and Karen spending any free time available away touring and exploring to find those secluded spots for fishing and camping.
Starting with a good solid base, it’s then the modifications – to suit the individual needs of the owner – which culminate in making a great touring rig. While the D-Max has sufficient numbers to deal with most situations, it never hurts to have a few extra ponies on tap when pulling a load or negotiating difficult terrain.
Whether travelling dusty gravel tracks or fording creeks, Andrew keeps the air clean, cool and dry for the 3.0-litre diesel via a Safari Snorkel, allowing the engine performance enhancement Chip It diesel tuning chip to work its magic. From the smile on Andrew’s face, the results speak for themselves.
Throttle response is crisp, and the diesel feels more assertive during overtaking manoeuvres, yet still returns a respectable fuel figure. The D-Max is also fitted with an electronic exhaust gas temperature (EGT) sensor to keep a watchful eye on engine stress levels, along with a turbo timer allowing sufficient time for temperatures to normalise after a heavy haul.
Obviously we all need to carry gear on our trips away, and utes are hard to beat for storage room. An ARB canopy was added to the tub to provide security and weather protection for the rear drawer system, with some Rola roof bars up top for the longer, bulkier items.
With all that gear, the OEM suspension looked a bit soft, so Andrew opted for a more robust set-up incorporating a full Tough Dog Suspension system consisting of matched heavy-duty shocks and springs that have provided a 50mm lift.
Not only has the D-Max benefitted from some extra ground clearance, but both on- and off-road ride comfort is significantly improved with greater stability in the corners. And it puts the limited slip diff more effectively to work, leveraging the improved wheel articulation for ruts and washaways.
To make sure he doesn’t waste any of the suspension flex offered by the Tough Dog set-up, Andrew enlisted the help of some Dick Cepek F-C II all-terrain 265/75 R16s running on the standard alloy rims. Having quality frontal protection to minimise vehicle damage and provide improved occupant safety is a must.
Andrew fitted a black powder-coated Opposite Lock steel bullbar complete with a Kingone 9500lb electric winch to lend a hand when Andrew needs to be self sufficient in recovery. Andrew’s also installed a Redarc dual battery controller to make sure the main starter stays in tip-top condition with a second battery located in the rear to feed the Engel 40L fridge keeping the food fresh and the drinks cold.
It also provides any other power for camping requirements. There’s also an electronic brake controller for when Karen and Andrew decide to hook up the camper trailer for longer trips into more remote locations. With any long trip it’s not about simply getting to the destination, there are always lots of interesting distractions and exploratory sojourns along the way.
If Andrew and Karen find a picturesque spot and decide to stop for lunch, within minutes they’ve got a comfortable undercover shaded area. Thanks to the FoxWing awning they’re quickly out of the sun, enjoying a cold drink or simply the tranquillity of their surrounds.
And if the sun should run out before the fun – not a problem; the D-Max has an impressive set of Lightforce Genesis driving lights up front guaranteed to part the dark curtain of night.
Stepping in to let Karen take a rest from navigating, there’s a VMS in-dash double-DIN touch screen system which provides the interface for both street and off-road navigation duties, with the added bonus of audio integration and a reversing camera.
If Karen falls asleep and the VMS refuses to speak with the satellites overhead, Andrew can always check in with the others in the convoy, thanks to the very tidy GME 3340 40-channel UHF radio, which is perfect for any vehicle with limited dash real estate as the main unit is very compact and all the relevant function buttons are housed directly on the handset.
I asked Andrew how he’d rate the overall experience of setting up a D-Max? He told me the D-Max just feels robust and reliable. “The accessories we’ve fitted have made us self-sufficient and more comfortable. I’m really impressed with the diesel, especially now the Chip It enhancement has unleashed its potential without any real detriment to the fuel consumption.”
I also asked Andrew if there was anything he’d change. “I’d like to change out the two front seats to something more suitable for the long hours in the saddle. They’re a bit basic and that’s probably from the vehicle’s commercial origins. They’re okay for around town or maybe a few hours, but more than that and they start to leave you a little saddle sore.
I’d probably go for a Razorback canopy next time; I’d like the convenience of having central locking.” Andrew did mention that of all the accessories fitted the most important so far have been the bar and lights for safety – oh and he was rather keen on how the dual battery system kept his fridge humming and the ales at the end of the day icy cold.