ISUZU MU-X REVIEW
What’s hot: Robust build, proven drivetrain, spacious seven-seater.
What’s not: Perhaps a tad too-softly sprung, hollow plastics.
X-FACTOR: Gutsy 4X4 capability with a family-friendly, comfortable interior - Isuzu’s MU-X is an SUV for ‘the big trek’.
Price: from $40,500 (prices may yet change)
Engine/Trans: 3.0 DOHC diesel | 5spd auto (and 5spd manual)
Fuel Use listed l/100km: 2WD: 8.2, 4X4: 8.4 | tested: 8.7 l/100km
For style, the MU-X has the awkward-looking Colorado 7 shot to bits. You’d hardly know they shared a design genesis; front, side, rear, Isuzu’s MU-X is more cohesive, balanced and appealing.
The drivetrain too is better: less powerful and with one less ratio, but quieter, more refined and with a ‘fat’ useable torque band.
Suspension feel is also better; the MU-X is softer and with a ‘longer travel’ feel. Its articulation off-road is like an old Range Rover.
The isolation in the cabin, and the way it sits flat and still while the wheels do the work down below, is very impressive.
And the accommodation is better; it’s still a bit plasticky but is better finished and has some detail touches absent on the Colorado 7. It doesn’t feel as cheap inside, or as drab, as the Colorado.
Lastly, on the strength of our first foray at the wheel, it would seem to have the very capable Colorado 7 also covered in the rough stuff.
And for most of the above, ditto Mitsubishi’s ageing Challenger.
And Ford’s Territory? Though certainly superior to the MU-X on road - and you’d choose the 2WD Territory over the 2WD MU-X every time - the Territory AWD has none of the heavy-duty off-road capability of the MU-X 4X4.
We drove Isuzu’s new MU-X at its Thailand launch, both the 2WD and 4X4 models. We think Isuzu has hatched a good one here.
Open the door and you’re faced with a familiar interior. The styling and layout echoes the Colorado 7, and also - although the controls are different - the D-Max.
But while the Colorado is overwhelmingly grey throughout, the MU-X is a much darker charcoal and looks the better for it. The darker tone makes it look less like a commercial interior.
Like the Colorado 7 however, it’s not the last word in style, nor the last word in construction.
While the leather-wrapped steering wheel is pretty good - a soft rim and the right size, though not ‘reach’ adjustable - most of the other touch-points are hollow and hard.
Like the console lid, the flat rising armrests, and the dash and instrument binnacle: all have a Tupperware feel like they might have been lifted from a commercial vehicle, not a family SUV.
But there’s no doubting the snug fit and feel of durability. The MU-X feels as tight as drum; inside and out you get a sense it will outlast the pyramids.
There’s also no complaint with the accommodation. The leather seats in the top of the range MU-X LS-T we drove are comfortable, easily adjusted and with enough shape to hold the bum in place when at odd angles off-road.
There is also good kneeroom in the second row, and enough room in the third row for a couple of adults (although a long trip would be out of the question).
Unlike the Mitsubishi Challenger, for instance, the third row in the MU-X has a scalloped footwell so that taller passengers there won’t need to have their knees tucked under their chins.
Access too is good, and the second row can be tumbled forward to open up a really large accessible cargo area (with the third row folded flat).
And there’s no shortage of features. All in the range get air-con, pollen filter, power windows, keyless entry, cruise control, rear park assist, CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers, Bluetooth, iPod and USB connectivity, aux-in, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 60/40 split-fold second-row seats, 50/50 split-fold third-row seats and adjustable headrests for all seats, among a longer list of features.
The top-spec LS-T also gets sat-nav with live traffic updates, DVD player (roof-mounted screen), reversing camera and climate control air-con (also standard for LS-U models).
ON THE ROAD
Isuzu does things a bit differently in Thailand. The launch program was scripted like a school picnic.
For the ‘on-road’ part of the drive, we were bussed to Bridgestone’s tyre testing facility east of Bangkok. Our time at the wheel there was limited to a few repeated runs around a marked circuit.
And we drove only the five-speed auto, not the manual.
So take these impressions as just that, impressions. We’ll need a longer run to really assess the strengths and weaknesses of the MU-X on road.
That said, we were impressed. The 130kW and 380Nm 3.0 litre turbo diesel ‘four’ under the bonnet is a known quantity. Isuzu’s built-for-work diesels are renowned for their longevity and reliability.
With a stainless steel timing chain, roller rockers and under-stressed to buggery, this is one of the best diesels you will find in a family SUV. It’s the same proven unit you’ll find in the D-Max ute.
It’s not quiet - you’re aware it’s a diesel - but quiet enough. It seems well-matched to the five-speed auto (with direct drive on fourth gear) and responds eagerly to a prod on the accelerator... not greatly different to the D-Max ute.
This diesel might be built for work, and a lot of it (it’s rated to 500,000+km), and while it doesn’t spin as freely as a little Euro diesel, it pulls strongly from lazy lower-down revs.
We also drove the 2WD LS-U round the Bridgestone circuit. For on-road balance, it feels much the same as the 4WD LS-T, although slightly more nimble thanks to a little less weight over the front wheels.
Again, we’d need to put 2WD and 4WD models alongside each other to really be sure of the call.
Down below there is a ‘double wishbone’ independent front suspension and a five-link coil-sprung rear. It works really well off-road, supple and with extended articulation, but may be a tad ‘soft’ for the highway.
There’s a fair amount of lean on the outside front wheel going into corners and the weight transference at the back-end is quite apparent on exit, especially in left-right cornering.
That said, from the rear seats (I took a few quick runs with a colleague), it doesn’t feel at all fussed and is a comfortable, compliant ride.
It is off-road though where the MU-X really delivers and where the long wheel-travel really makes sense.
This is a very impressive performer off road.
The articulation down below, and the ‘lugging’ low-speed capability of the torquey unstressed diesel under the bonnet, allows the MU-X to creep over quite challenging terrain.
We put it through its paces on Isuzu’s off-road track south-east of Bangkok. It’s a ‘controlled’ environment: steep, deep washouts and some challenging angles, but in reality no substitute for the vagaries of a steep fire trail.
That said, the MU-X is near unstoppable. In the manual, we idled in first ‘low’ - the tacho showing under 800rpm and the right foot kept off the accelerator - up and over a near-40 degree incline.
That was impressive.
We stepped it through a bed of rocks: while a lot was going on down below, anyone in the passenger seat would barely have known.
The MU-X’s extended wheel travel allows the chassis to sit relatively flat and free of the rapid ‘left-right pitching’ that can occur in stiffer suspensions allowing less vertical movement.
The auto performed equally impressively. In many ways, an auto is better off-road as it can be more easily crept.
The auto in the MU-X 4X4 also comes with adaptive grade logic and hill-ascent and descent control. Over the steepest pinch on the Isuzu track, a 47 degree incline up and down, the MU-X auto was untroubled.
Its approach and departure angles - 30.1 and 25.1 degrees (LS-U and LS-T 4X4 models) - are very good, as is the ramp-over angle of 22.6 degrees.
Similarly, although appearing to sit high and a little tippy-toed, as our photos show, the MU-X can traverse safely at challenging lean-angles without roll-over.
I think the only thing we wondered about was whether the front suspension may allow a little too much ‘give’ when settling.
If you’re going to dent a sill, it’s when the suspension wallows as the weight comes down on it after stepping off something high that will do it.
All in all though, it’s hard not to be quietly impressed with the MU-X, both manual and auto.
And with that tough-as-nails Isuzu commercial drivetrain doing the work, you know it will take a lot of punishment without complaint.
We really look forward to trying it out over some of our long and challenging fire trails in Victoria’s high country.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
Yes, we think Isuzu has a good SUV in its MU-X. While certain to appeal to families for its price, seven-seat comfort, robustness and capability, you would have to think it’s going to really do well with fleet buyers.
It’s strong, it’s well-featured and it feels unbreakable.
More to the point, the Isuzu’s diesel engine and transmissions are built primarily for commercial applications. You won’t find this transmission overheating when dragging a heavy load - it’s built for it.
It’s also comfortable at the wheel, pretty quiet and looks reasonably smart - and comes with a five year/130,000km warranty (and roadside assist).
When it arrives in December, look out for Isuzu’s MU-X. You won’t have to spend $70k to get a good, strong, heavy-duty 4X4 for the big round-Australia trip with the caravan in tow. The MU-X will do it, no problem.
Prices (preliminary pricing only)
Isuzu confirms these prices are preliminary and may yet changed before the MU-X's December launch.
The Isuzu MU-X will come with a 5 year/130,000km New Vehicle Warranty.
- MU-X 4x2 LS-M auto - $40,500
- MU-X 4x2 LS-U auto - $42,000
- MU-X 4x4 LS-M man - $45,600
- MU-X 4x4 LS-M auto - $47,800
- MU-X 4x4 LS-U man - $47,100
- MU-X 4x4 LS-U auto - $49,300
- MU-X 4x4 LS-T auto - $53,500