Since arriving in Australia less than a decade ago, Isuzu Ute has picked up a loyal following, growing the brand year-on-year with a reputation forged on long-running reliability born out of engine technology shared with the company’s truck division.
Although twinned beneath the skin (and in some surface areas) the updated D-Max ute and family-friendly MU-X SUV have been updated separately, and where the ute models introduced a fresh face in February, the MU-X has only recently had its cosmetic surgery.
Mechanically the MU-X recieved a new 3.0-litre Euro 5 emission-compliant engine at the same time as the D-Max, so this update is all about interior and exterior detail and equipment changes - with none of the MU-X’s off road ability diluted.
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $42,800 -$56,100 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 130kW/430Nm 3.0-litre 4cyl turbo diesel | 6sp manual, 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.9 l/100km
The MU-X range continues with three trim levels: base LS-M, intermediate LS-U and range-topping LS-T. All variants feature seven seats, and each comes in a choice of 4x2 or 4x4 drivetrains.
As part of the MU-X’s update, the interior gets a makeover to keep it looking contemporary, without going overboard. All in all, it’s functional and comfortable across the range and the top-spec LS-T throws in climate control and a powered driver’s seat for an upmarket spin.
At $42,800 (plus on road costs) for the 4x2 LS-M automatic pricing is very family friendly, and even the 4x4 LS-U tested here doesn’t exactly blow the bank at $56,100 (plus on road costs).
The range divides fairly simply with 4x2 or 4x4 available across the range, auto-only for 4x2 and LS-T 4x4, or a choice of manual or auto on the 4x4 LS-M and LS-U.
- Standard Equipment: Leather-accented seat trim, power adjustable drivers seat, climate control, keyless entry and start, bi-LED headlights, front fog lights, reversing camera, rear park sensors,privacy glass, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, Bluetooth, USB input, eight-speaker audio
The most noticeable change inside is the overhauled dual-tone dash. Soft touch surfaces replace many of the previous hard plastics across the dash, armrests, and console lid along with splashes of modern chrome-look and piano-black highlights.
Mid and high-grade LS-U and LS-T models feature a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen incorporating satellite navigation, reversing camera with guidelines, and lightning-quick phone pairing.
A smaller 7.0-inch screen occupies the same space in the entry-level LS-M loaded with the same infotainment features and reversing camera.
To make the interior as practical as possible all models are stocked with three USB ports, three 12V outlets, 12 cup-holders and 18 interior storage spaces.
Go all-out on the range-topping LS-T and the MU-X also adds a roof-mounted 10-inch DVD screen for second- and third-row seat occupants, a six-way powered driver's seat, and quilted leather seat trim.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 3.0 litre four-cylinder turbo diesel (130kW @3600rpm, 420Nm @2000 - 2200rpm)
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, dual range 4x4
- Suspension: Four-wheel coil springs, wishbone front, five-link live axle rear
- Brakes: Four-wheel disc brakes, vented front rotors
- Steering: Hydraulic power steering
- Towing Capacity: 3500kg braked, 750kg unbraked
Elsewhere in the world Isuzu offers the MU-X (and the D-Max) with a smaller 2.5-litre engine, but for Australia the brand knew that a drop in capacity just wouldn’t cut it with Aussie buyers.
Launched in March, the 3.0-litre turbo diesel, producing 130kW of power and 430Nm of torque, gives Isuzu owners the big-capacity performance they want at a time when rivals are tending to go to smaller displacement engines.
Along with the new engine is a choice of a new six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions, replacing previous five speeders. Auto models feature a lock-up converter with an adaptive learning function and a sequential shift which gives the driver the same control as a manual in demanding off-road situations.
All MU-Xs have front double wishbone suspension design with coil springs, and a rear five-link arrangement, also with coils. Ground clearance stands at between 220-230mm (depending on spec) with underbody protection for the sump, transfer cases and fuel tank.
From behind the wheel the punchy turbo diesel engine hits the spot with its excellent pulling power from way down in the revs. Add in the mass of full cabin or a trailer on the tow bar, and it barely notices.
The new Aisin six-speed auto, tipped to be the most popular choice with buyers, learns driving priorities and technique on the fly and the addition of a sixth gear allows a more even ratio spread for more fluent driving, plus a positive effect on fuel economy.
For off-road aficionados the MU-X’s part-time 4x4 system can be switched between rear-drive only and 4WD at speeds up to 100km/h. Sampling the MU-X over rough bush tracks, steep rutted inclines, and a couple of sloppy mud holes revealed the big SUV’s ample ability despite the absence of a rear diff lock.
Good suspension travel, auto-braking hill descent control, and the responsive engine at idle speeds all helped.
Away from the rough stuff and back on the highway, the upgraded engine impresses, with a feeling of more power across its rev range compared to the previous engine.
Ideal for off-road work, but less accurate on the highway, the MU-X ‘s steering forgoes the feedback and control a driver might expect on the blacktop - but traditionalists will appreciate the retention of a hydraulic power steering system.
Isuzu claims a variety of remedies have been applied to the subdue noise and vibration for a more refined driving experience, but despite the improvements the MU-X doesn’t completely escape some trademark diesel clatter and shake at idle.
ANCAP Rating: 5/5 Stars - The MU-X scored 33.58 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2014. Test data was obtained by ANCAP and Euro NCAP using data from the structurally similar Isuzu D-Max ute.
Safety Features: Safety equipment extends to six airbags, traction control and stability, hill start assist and hill decent control, but does not include the advanced active features available on some of today's SUVs such as forward collision warning or lane-departure warning.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Five years/130,000km
Servicing: Isuzu has introduced what it call Service Plus 555 with five years warranty, five years roadside assistance and five years capped price servicing. Service intervals are every 12 months or 10,000km (whichever occurs first) with oil changes every 20,000km. Pricing for the first five services is capped at $200, $400, $260, $590 and just $50 respectively.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
With an equal focus on ruggedness and ability over outright luxury features, the Toyota Fortuner has a huge dealer network to support it, and some impressive off-road credentials thanks to its HiLux-related chassis
Updated last year, with a huge effort put into improved refinement and dynamics, plus up-to-the-minute connectivity, the Holden Trailblazer straddles the city-country divide better than most without giving up adventure ability.
With five or seven seats, an eight-speed automatic, and impressive refinement, the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport presents a solid case. Polarising styling won’t suit all tastes, but a car-like interior and impressive comfort might be enough to get the Pajero Sport over the line.
Although it isn’t as affordable as its competitors, the Ford Everest provides big power and torque, a well designed interior, and a more modern face that mixes big truck brawn with family SUV cues. High levels of standard equipment, particularly on high-end models help justify the bigger purchase price.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The MU-X's true appeal is to those who want an affordable, rugged, dependable conveyance of up to seven people, comfortable towing hefty loads, with reasonable cost of ownership and covered by best-in-class warranty.
Although Isuzu has tweaked noise and refinement, the MU-X can’t quite outrun its commercial vehicle origins, but that isn’t to its detriment - buyers are unlikely to cross-shop it with premium SUVs owing to its very different capabilities.
For those that just need a tow-rig 4x2 models are more than up to the task, and for rural families, or those that want to discover new parts of Australia, there’s few places that the 4x4 MU-X fears to tread.