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Isuzu Oz sets off on High Country i-Venture

Factory-backed customer off-road experience seeks to promote 4WD passions

2 May 2023

AFTER a forced hiatus, prompted by pesky COVID-19 restrictions, Isuzu’s multi-day i-Venture owner program has recommenced with an epic three-day adventure through Victoria’s High Country; tackling infamous terrain like the Blue Rag Range Trail, McDonalds Spur Track, and Monument Trail up to the iconic Craig’s Hut.


This is, we are told, the first time a journalist and owner has attended one of the Isuzu i-Venture trips, although we did it in one of their shiny press cars…of course. A two-for-one deal for Isuzu, and a cracking few days “in the office” for us.


We spent most of our time in a stock-standard 2023 Isuzu D-Max LS-U+, finished in striking Neptune Blue, which being a premium model did come heated seats that got an absolute workout across the chilly trip.


The LS-U+ model we were in offers up 140kW/450Nm from its 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine, mated to a six-speed automatic transmisison. The important numbers for us, which we certainly found the limit of, are the 240mm of ground clearance and 800mm wading depth.


What is the i-Venture program, many of you may be wondering?


Back in 2015, Isuzu launched what is still the only longstanding manufacturer-operated 4x4 training program in Australia. Across 246 single- and multi-day trips hosted so far, more than 5000 Isuzu owners have learnt how to properly wheel their 4x4 freedom machines.


It is not a money spinner for Isuzu either, we are told, with a subsidised cost of just $2000 per car for the multi-day adventures, and most owners bring a friend, partner or sibling to share the thrills. Think of it like a loyalty program, but instead of a free coffee you get lifelong memories in some of Australia’s most iconic off-road locations.


This program is exclusive to D-Max and MU-X owners and weve designed it to allow them to experience the full potential of their cars in a safe and encouraging environment—from tyre management and using their 4x4 system to learning to pick the best line through an obstacle,” Isuzu Ute Australia public relations manager, Mark Harman, told GoAuto.


We want our customers to use their vehicles to go their own way, which theyre able to do themselves after one of these trips.”


The i-Venture programs are hosted by well-known 4x4 instructor, and in many ways the face (and voice) of the program, David Wilson, who is better known as ‘Uncle Dave’ on these trips. His incessant banter over the radio keeps spirits high and smiles wide, but it is his top-tier off-road instruction that shines brightest.


We were also accompanied by Steve Cooney from Brisbane Hinterlands 4WD Training, who knows the VHC like the back of his hand, and offers no-bull instruction for beginners right through to advanced off-roaders.


What is unique about these events, is that Isuzu allows media and customers on the same trip to share thoughts, experiences and plenty of beers at day’s end. It offers us a unique opportunity to pick the brains of real-world consumers.


The theme amongst the eight owners was that they are proud of their Isuzus and most were getting their first taste of the off-road bug – an affinity that is easy to catch, but hard to shake.


Smiles for miles, across the three long days of driving, could be seen in the rear-view mirror of our press car as the owners giddily dodged wombat holes, crossed rivers and scrambled up slippery climbs – of which there were plenty.


Hit the road


The 14-car convoy rolled into picturesque Bright, located in the foothills of Mount Buffalo, on the first day – the 16 punters driving from as far as Brisbane. Naturally, there were quite a few cars and varying degrees of off-road competence, which was sure to make things interesting.


After David Wilson offered up a short-and-sweet driver briefing over breakfast on a sunny day one, the convoy departed Bright along the Great Alpine Way. The multi-coloured foliage quickly turned arid and beige as we climbed, equally stunning but a reminder of recent bushfires.


Arriving at the base of the famed Blue Rag Trail drivers were instructed to flick over to low range, also engaging the rear diff lock that is standard on all 4x4 D-Max and MU-X models. A locking rear differential is probably not essential, but there are sections of the climb rated as ‘difficult’ that can get dicey.


Blue Rag is a 15km fire access trail which snakes along breathtaking hilltops onto the Trig Point summit, 1750m above sea level. As expected, the 360-degree views are about as good as it gets, and the weather gods could not have been more accommodating.


At the summit, elation was the general vibe among owners and media alike. For most of them, it was the first real taste of the trip and what their vehicles could do. Selfie cameras were out in force, and rightly so with some of the best alpine views Australia has to offer.


We descended with equal quantities of caution and awe, mainly due to the stock ride height of our media vehicles, before again traversing the Great Alpine Way via King Spur Track, ending back in Bright.


Tales of triumphs, mishaps and loads of laughs were shared over a few frothy ales that night, which became a real staple of this trip. Coming together at the end of the day to recount the trials and tribulations is a special part of these multi-day trips and any off-road adventure for that matter.


Day two started with equally stunning weather although clouds in the distance did emerge across the morning, hinting at the possibility of gloomier weather. We set off towards the Buckland Valley, known for its historic goldfields, following the 4x4 track along the powerlines to Mount Buffalo.


Dusty dirt roads led us towards Dandongadale, before we tackled the first water crossing of the trip at King River. After a quick bite at Lake Hovell, we encountered arguably the most challenging terrain of the trip along the tail-end of McDonald’s Spur Track.


All drivers were given pin-point instructions over the radio as we descended a particularly gnarly section of the track, with rock ledges and ruts threatening to tear rear bumpers off and boof sills.


“I’m going to guide you down millimetre by millimetre,” David Wilson said over the radio as we setup to tackle the tricky descent.


All drivers made it down, although tow-bar receivers were bashed, side steps scraped and under body protection was put to the test. The comradery was evident and cheers from outside could be heard as we took our careful line down the rocky track.


After that, we cut through to Mansfield where we stayed for the night, again sharing tales over dinner. By this point, the weather had turned, and it was apparent day three would be a slippery affair.


The third and final day was ‘hut day’, setting off to visit the many High Country huts nestled throughout the Alpine National Park, many of which date back to the 1800s.


We drove towards Mount Buller, following the Circuit Road to the first stop of the day, Bindaree Falls. By this point, fog was thick and the cold, damp air tested the resolve of the many Queenslanders on the trip.


After visiting a few huts, we made it to the Monument Trail, a steep and sloppy climb ahead of us with the promise of Craig’s Hut at the summit. Technically a retired (and rebuilt) movie set, Craig’s Hut was originally constructed in 1982 for the filming of The Man from Snowy River.


The climb itself was all done in low-range and the fog became so thick we could barely see the taillights of the vehicle in front. This made for an eerie climb into the clouds that could not have been more different to the panoramic views we witnessed on day one.


Once we reached Craig’s Hut, we couldn’t see five metres in front of us, so the view was nonexistent. It did not matter, though, because the thick fog felt fitting in this part of the world.


Various water crossings and more hut visits later, we made our way back to Mansfield where we christened the end of the trip over one too many beers at the local Anvil Brewery. Tongue-in-cheek awards were handed out over dinner, along with our certificates of completion.


Talking to owners that night, it was apparent their off-road confidence, and competence too, was sky high. Future adventures were discussed, vehicle upgrades planned, and not an ounce of buyer’s remorse could be found.


Isuzu has done a stellar job of inspiring off-road confidence in their buyers with the i-Venture program, and it goes without saying attendees are likely all customers for life.

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