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Custom 2008 Isuzu D-Max review

By Matt Raudonikis | Photos: TM Photo, 27 Feb 2018 Custom 4x4s

Custom 2008 Isuzu D Max feature review

Mark Petersen’s D-Max shows that careful planning and purchasing can build an off-the-shelf go-anywhere 4X4 tourer

None could ever say that 4X4 owners aren’t spoilt for choice when it comes to aftermarket accessories for their vehicles.

This article was originally published in 4x4 Australia’s March 2010 issue

Bars, lights, winches, wheels, tyres, recovery gear – the list is as big as your imagination and if there’s a need for a specific product, it’s a fair bet that some bright bushie will be out in the shed to develop it soon enough.

The best place to witness the extent of the 4X4 aftermarket industry is at the National 4X4 shows held in Melbourne and Brisbane each year.

Unlike your average 4X4 store, which probably only sells product from one or maybe a couple of equipment manufacturers, the shows gather products and services from all the big players in the industry, together in one place.

Additionally, there are hundreds of smaller suppliers there that are producing equipment you might not find on the shelves of even the bigger stores.

Mark ‘Peto’ Petersen is the event manager for the National 4X4 Shows, so it comes as no surprise to find that he has a fairly well equipped and set-up 4X4 of his own. Mark’s Isuzu D-Max is a rolling showcase of some of the products you will find at the shows and it displays what can be achieved with clever planning and purchasing.

“My work revolves around my hobbies,” Mark says. “Four-wheel driving, fishing, boating, jet skis, on- and off-road motorcycles are all regular activities. I have an adventurous family who love camping and enjoy travelling off-road to camping locations. Our favourite place in Australia is Cape Tribulation, in the Daintree Rainforest.”

The Isuzu D-Max is fairly new to the Australian market but it’s a familiar vehicle thanks to its close family ties with the Holden Rodeo. Because of this, there was a comprehensive amount of 4X4 equipment already available for the D-Max when it hit our showrooms in 2008.

Thanks to the abundance of gear and the Isuzu’s truck-tough build quality, the D-Max makes a good base from which to construct a custom 4X4 tourer. Mark bought his 2008 D-Max when looking for a tough, go-anywhere 4X4 in which to take the family away. A 4X4 dual-cab ute was ideal for this and also for carting the family’s dogs.

Living on the south-east Queensland coast, the 4X4 island paradises of Fraser, Moreton and Stradbroke are only short ferry rides away and the D-Max spends a bit of time on the beaches. Mark is planning an east to west continental crossing for 2010, returning via the Gulf and Cape, so the D-Max has to be equipped for anything.

Isuzu I-Venture Club heads to Fraser Island

“The D-Max has been set up to tour with the family. We use tents but I wouldn’t mind a roof-top camper. I use the ute every day, to carry the dogs, mini bikes, surf gear and camping gear,” Mark says.

Starting from the ground up, the D-Max is fitted with 245/70R17 Cooper STT tyres. They are fitted to Dick Cepek Torque alloy wheels.

Like just about all the one-tonne 4X4 utes available, the D-Max rides on a live rear axle with an independent suspension design at the front (IFS). For simple robustness and load carrying, the rear axle is suspended on leaf springs while the IFS uses torsion bars.

The suspension on Mark’s ute has been replaced by an Old Man Emu kit from ARB, comprising new leaf packs, torsion bars and Nitrocharger shock absorbers. A problem with most leaf-sprung utes is the ride quality when unladen, but the OME leaf packs are a two-stage design to improve ride.

History of ARB

The vehicle is largely riding on the first stage of the spring pack when it is unladen, and the secondary stage provides additional support when a heavy load is added to give the best of both worlds. The up-rated torsion bars are made to eliminate sag, and take in to account the added weight of a steel bullbar and power winch on the front end. All up the OME suspension has raised the Isuzu around 30mm at the front and 50mm at the rear.

Under the vehicle you’ll also find a high-flow muffler from Miami Mufflers and Ballsy braided stainless steel brake lines from Spinners Automotive, (both located on the Gold Coast). Braided lines don’t flex as much as conventional rubber hoses and give a firmer, more positive feeling to the brake pedal.

ARB equipment is also used on the outside of the D-Max with a steel bullbar, side-rails and side-steps all in place to protect the sheet metal when in the bush. The bullbar is also the place to mount further accessories and Mark has added a Mako TDS 9.5 (9500lb) electric winch from Avenger 4X4, a pair of Lightforce 240 XGT lights, and an aerial for the UHF radio.

Product test: Lightforce Genesis LED

Also clearly visible on the outside of the ute is the canopy which comes from Razorback. Unlike many other ute canopies, the Razorback is made from steel, the same sort of steel that is used in vehicle panels, so the finish on it closely matches that on the rest of vehicle. The Razorback also incorporates roof rails with a 100-kilogram load rating to carry stuff up top.

A unique feature of the canopy is that the lock on the rear window is linked to the vehicle’s central locking system, and operates with the key/button along with the door locks. Mark’s Razorback canopy was the first in the country to incorporate this feature. Under the canopy the ute tub paintwork is protected by a Speedliner spray-on lining and in the tub you’ll find a Waeco CF60 Fridge mounted on a slide, and a pair of Waeco CoolPower packs.

Product test: Waeco CDF-11 fridge

These power packs are used in lieu of a second vehicle battery to power accessories such as the fridge without worrying about discharging the main vehicle battery. They are ideal for vehicles where a cramped engine bay prohibits the fitting of a second battery, although this isn’t the case with the Isuzu.

They use a 36Ah AGM battery and are charged via simple cigarette-lighter-style plugs wired in to the load area of the ute. They are also portable, so Mark can remove the fridge and power packs from the vehicle and have them close at hand, at a camp or picnic site if required.

The engine bay remains fairly standard. The 3.0-litre intercooled turbo-diesel engine provides Mark with all the torque and performance he needs for his trips away and daily grind. The only addition is a Safari snorkel to aid breathing and water crossings.

Economy is a strong point of the Isuzu diesel and Mark says he was running in the 8L/100km region when it had the standard tyres on, but that has since blown out to around 9L/100km with the bigger mud terrain tyres and other accessories. A small price to pay for traction and durability.

Tucked in behind the standard battery is a Couplertec electronic rust proofing unit. The Couplertec prevents rust by running a low voltage current through the vehicle which adds electrons to the metal to suppress the rust process. It’s valuable insurance for any vehicle, let alone one that gets out on the beaches regularly.

Inside the ute is fairly standard too, but there’s a Department of the Interior roof console fitted which also mounts the GME TX3400 UHF radio. A Garmin GPS72 provides the navigation when in the bush and a Navigon street finder gets Mark around town.

Product test: GME TX3350 UHF radio

Next on the list of things to do is acquire an LCD screen and DVD player for the rear to keep the kids entertained on the longer trips. Mark says he enjoys driving the D-Max and regularly gets comments on how it looks.

“The vehicle has been designed to promote the National 4X4 shows, with exhibitors placing aftermarket products on it too; it gets a lot of good comments everywhere I go. It’s been built to be driven off-road and that’s where I take it as much as possible.”

Mark went on to say that he doesn’t know how long it will stay looking this good, as with all the off-road use it is subjected to, there are bound to be a few scratches appearing soon. At least he has fitted appropriate protection inside and out to ensure it won’t let him down.

Aussie 4x4 aftermarket industry

What’s just as amazing as the huge range of 4X4 equipment available from aftermarket companies, is how many of the manufacturers are Australian. In many respects, Australia leads the way in 4X4 equipment, and Mark’s Isuzu showcases just some of its products.

The ARB bar work and Old Man Emu suspension were all designed and manufactured at ARB’s Melbourne factory. Safari snorkels also come from the Victorian capital. Lightforce lights are made in South Australia and GME radios come out of a factory in Sydney.

So good are Australian products that they are exported worldwide, where they are considered industry leaders. Part of the reason for our success is that the products are designed for, and tested in some of the toughest conditions in the world – the Australian outback. This rigorous testing has built the reputation of these companies, as the best in the business, and they protect their credibility with ongoing R&D to keep their products ahead of the field. It makes you proud to be an Aussie.

2008 Isuzu D-Max Dual Cab
Owner: Mark Petersen
Engine: 3.0-litre intercooled turbo-diesel
Power: 120kW @ 3600rpm
Torque: 360Nm @1800rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual

List of modifications
Intake: Safari intake snorkel
Suspension: ARB Old Man Emu leaf springs and torsion bars; greasable shackles and OME Nitrocharger shocks
Wheels: 17-inch Dick Cepek Torque alloys with Cooper STT 245/70R17 tyres
Exterior modifications: Colour coded ARB Bullbar; side-rails and steps; Mako TDS 9.5 electric winch; Lightforce XGT 240 driving lights; Razorback steel canopy; Couplertec electronic rust-proofing unit
Interior modifications: Department of the Interior roof console housing GME TX3400 UHF radio; Speedliner spray on cargo bed lining; Waeco CF60 fridge with dual Waeco CoolPower 36 packs; Garmin GPS72 Navigon street finder satnav

Special Thanks to:
ARB 4X4 Accessories: arb4X4.com.au
Avenger 4X4: avenger4X4.com.au
C&B Mobile, for fitting of Razorback canopy, console and Avenger winch: awlc.com.au
Cartright Isuzu, Southport: (07) 5557 7333/isuzuute.com.au
Couplertec: couplertec.com.au
Exclusive Tyres and Wheels: coopertires.com.au
Lightforce: lightforce.net.au
Miami Mufflers, Speedliner and muffler: (07) 5576 3511
Spinners Automotive, Ballsy Braided Brake Lines: (07) 5520 3085
Waeco: waeco.com.au