First drive: Isuzu MU-X SUV

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Isuzu MU-X SUV The Isuzu MU-X in the Havana Brown colour option Isuzu MU-X SUV
Isuzu MU-X dashboard The formerly quite commercial look of the MU-X cockpit has had a makeover. This is the LS-T dash Isuzu MU-X dashboard
Isuzu MU-X touchscreen control The LS-U and LS-T models get a satnav-equipped 8-inch touchscreen multimedia unit Isuzu MU-X touchscreen control
Isuzu MU-X wheels The LS-U and LS-T models also get 18-inch alloy wheels Isuzu MU-X wheels

Matt Wood checks out the latest SUV offering from Isuzu Ute Australia – the better-equipped and more refined MU-X.


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The Isuzu MU-X SUV chases refinement, gears and grunt in this latest Euro 5 update. Less noise, more torque, and an all-new 6-speed transmission bring the thinking person’s SUV in line with major competitors.

Isuzu Ute Australia’s lack of pretension with its ute and seven-seat SUV offering has served it well to date. It’s often seen as the robust, value-driven choice albeit with a somewhat mundane image.

Since the Isuzu Ute brand launched back in 2008 with just the D-MAX ute on offer, it has seen double-digit growth year on year. The Spirit of Truck tag line has also served it well, cashing in the on the solid reputation of the Isuzu truck business amongst Aussie punters.

According to VFACTS, Isuzu Ute hits above its weight in 4x2 work utes. But it was the 2013 launch of the seven-seat MU-X SUV that expanded the appeal of the brand outside of just the worksite.

Isuzu MU-X SUV

The Isuzu Ute brand itself is a separate business entity to the truck biz on Australian shores, being a part of the Mitsubishi Corporation.

As a lean business with a range comprising two models, Isuzu Ute has been something of a quiet achiever locally. In fact, Oz is the biggest export market for the Thai-built utes and SUVs. Local sales since 2008 have cracked the 100,000 mark.

According to deputy general manager of sales Ben Jaeger, Isuzu Ute has come in second for two years in a row for customer satisfaction in polls conducted by Roy Morgan research, with luxury brand Lexus in first place.

In the past, the spirit of truck that was formerly part of the brand’s marketing angle cut both ways with the MU-X. The 3-litre 4J engine was indeed a tough, reliable cookie with a loyal following. The downside was that, regardless of trim level, the Isuzu SUV sounded very much like a truck from behind the wheel.

This latest update has added more equipment and refinement across the MU-X range.

 

Walkaround

Outwardly, little has changed with the MU-X. A new face updates a familiar seven-seat off-road wagon shape. That updated nose now features Bi-LED projector headlights that also use an auto-level feature to keep the brighter headlight beam off the windscreens of oncoming traffic.

A Havana Brown colour has been added to the option list, as well as new 18-inch alloy wheels for LS-U and LS-T models. LS-M models also get new-look 16-inch alloys. I reckon it’s a prime candidate for a modern-day woody wagon – it just needs gold pinstripes!

The brand’s rather conservative approach to styling and equipment means that unless you actually order the new Havana Brown colour, you will most likely lose it in a car park.

Inside, the formerly quite commercial look of the MU-X cockpit has had a makeover with the addition of soft materials over much of the dash area. LS-U and LS-T models now get a satnav-equipped 8-inch touchscreen multimedia unit, while the LS-M gets a 7-inch screen. All models feature reversing camera, and parking sensors are standard across the MU-X range.

Unfortunately, the dated-looking rotary climate control on the centre stack is still very much present. 

The most significant changes to the MU-X have taken place out of sight. More insulation has been added in an effort to minimise driveline chatter. Isuzu Ute claims that the MU-X is 5 per cent quieter than before.

The now Euro 5 3-litre turbo-diesel engine still makes 130kW (174hp) of power but also delivers 430Nm of torque thanks in part to the addition of a variable nozzle turbo. Transmission choice is between a 6-speed auto or 6-speed manual. Emissions are taken care of by EGR and, like its D-MAX stablemate, an active regen DPF burns off the nasties.

The almost bulletproof 3-litre engine used in both the MU-X SUV and the D-MAX ute has plenty of runs on the board locally in terms of reliability. It’s also been successfully used in the Australian Isuzu truck lineup since 2011.

 

On the road

At the launch of the updated fourby, we managed to get in some heavy towing as well as some off-road and on-road driving to put the MU-X through its paces.

As an automatic proposition, the new 6-speed Aisin auto is a solid performer. This gearbox makes the most of the relatively large engine out front when towing in hilly country yet remains a smooth if unsophisticated performer around town.

Interestingly, you can still opt for a 6-speed manual if you’re keen to swap your own cogs.

With a fairly hefty 3-tonne off-road caravan on the back, the Isuzu did extremely well. The coil-sprung rear end proved very stable on the open road and the extra torque from the revamped 4J engine and its new variable nozzle turbo saw it haul very well.

More torque from lower revs makes the MU-X an easy, unstressed drive even with a heavy trailer on board.

Having three litres under the bonnet also helps in the engine braking department. On long downhill runs the 4J donk does a good job of holding the speed back with the auto in manual mode.

Some seven layers of insulation have been added to the interior yet it still sounds like a truck. Where other manufacturers in this segment offer smaller, mechanically sophisticated drivelines, the MU-X can sound and feel a bit old-school on the road.

A respectable list of standard equipment sees the MU-X equipped with hill-start assist, hill-descent control (even on 2WD models), reverse camera and parking sensors regardless of trim level.

Hill-descent control came in very handy off road, where the MU-X is no slouch either.

Over the years there have been constant comparisons between the MU-X and the Holden Colorado 7/Trailblazer. While the two share a basic platform, they are mechanically completely different.

The best way to look at it is that the MU-X is the kid that studied hard and got an engineering degree and a respectable job. The Trailblazer is the kid that joined a rock band, got a drug habit, went to rehab, and now sells soy candles at the local craft market. 

Isuzu Ute also offers 5+5+5 Service Plus, which consists of five-year/130,000km warranty, five-year capped price servicing (service intervals are 12 months/10,000km), and five years roadside assist.  

At $51,990 drive away for the top-of-the-range LS-T, the MU-X makes a pretty convincing value statement as a kiddy hauler, bush bashing weekender, and tow vehicle.

Just buy a brown one.

 

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