If you’re after an SUV in today’s market, you’d better sit down, because you’re going to be blown away by all the options. From Compact, Crossovers, Mid Size, Large and Luxury SUV’s, there is something for everyone. But some of these things are not like the others, and many are doomed to do the day-to-day school run, and only ever dip their toes into off-roading when parked on the front lawn.
Isuzu is as serious off-road brand as you can get. And by serious I mean they have two models, and both are aimed at the tough rugged outdoors of New Zealand. They have the D-Max ute, which comes in 6 model variants, and the MU-X, their 7 seater SUV. Isuzu are well known and loved to those who live outside the big smoke. Howe, er most of us who live in the cities are surprised to hear that this brand called Isuzu are as popular as Ford and Toyota in New Zealand’s ute and outdoor market. And Isuzu are pushing hard to make big waves in the SUV market with their MU-X.
Unlike the shared platform D-Max that has 6 model variants, the MU-X only has the one. There are also no options, it comes fully loaded. It’s powered by the Isuzu 4JJ1 3.0L Engine, which produces 130kw and 430 Nm @ 2000 > 2200 rpm. The transmission is an Aisin 6-speed with sequential shift and brake shift lock electronically controlled, with Adaptive Grade Logic Control and fuel-saving lock-up torque converter. This is paired with a “Terrain Command’ control with ‘shift on the fly’ 4H-2WD selection at up to 100km/h. For off roading, the MU-X is fitted with the rugged off-road protection, which includes front steel plate skid/splash shield and steel plate guards.
Safety features include Traction Control System (TCS) and Electronic Stability Control (ESC), and a reversing camera. Six airbags come as standard; dual front, front side and full-length curtain – to keep passengers on both sides of the car safe. Front seatbelt pre-tensioners pull back when the airbags are activated, for extra safety.
On the outside, it includes 18-inch alloy wheels, side steps, roof rails, and Bi-LED projector headlamps with Daytime Running Lights (DRL).
The interior comes with 7 leather seats, which can fold flat for additional cargo space. Also included is a Multi-Information Display for the driver, Touch screen Sat Nav GPS, Premium Audio sound system includes USB and Bluetooth connectivity plus audio streaming. Eight speakers and Live Surround Sound combined with a 10.2” roof mounted rear monitor.
And if you want to customise the MU-X, Isuzu has a couple of accessories available. Not as many as the D-Max but the MU-X has not been around as long as its older brother.
I have always liked the D-Max, and I was happy to find that the MU-X did not look like some distant relation far removed. It has a great stance – strong and tough, with obvious high ground clearance for serious off road adventures. If you have read many of our reviews, you may have come across Fred, who has what we like to call, a slight disdain for grey or silver (he says that’s just metallic grey) cars. But I would argue that the MU-X actually looks really good in silver. With my only complaint being the chrome that covers the front grill, fog lights and wing mirrors. I think the overall tough look might have been improved if they were black, matching the contrast of the tinted windows and trim. This is a big, tough looking truck, with no pomp or circumstance, and I like it.
Inside the MU-X, you can’t miss the leather seats, which are standard. Some might think they are a bit over the top, if it’s going to be going offroad. But you must remember this is aimed at the family, more than the working lifestyle the D-Max would be. The rest of the cabin is simple, yet tasteful. A mixture of tough hard plastics and subtle piano black trim inlays across the dash and in the doors around the electric window buttons. It does not feel like it’s a luxury vehicle, but it also does not feel like they have built to an accountant’s budget.
The centre console has a touch-screen media and SAT NAV GPS System. Nothing fancy here, just straightforward menu options to access the Sat Nav, Phone, Media via USB or phone, radio and the efficiency of the vehicle. I found the system pretty easy to use and found it very good in general. However I do have some issues with it, the biggest one being the large button in the middle of the row of buttons below the screen. Or what you think is a button, as it looks like every other button, with the word Map on it. I thought pressing this would bring up the nav or map. But it does not because it’s not actually a button at all. It’s, in fact, the cover plate for where the microSD card with the region’s sat nav data is inserted. A bit of poor design work there Isuzu, as it could have been hidden away, and this could have been a useful button of some sort.
The second issue that I came across was the brightness of the screen when driving, even in night mode is was very bright and glary. During the first night drive, I was unable to figure out how to adjust the brightness of this and had assumed something must not be working right. But after some digging around, I found what is sort of a hidden menu, for brightness and contrast, when you hold your finger on the touch screen. Not sure it needed to be hidden away like this when it could have been in an obvious option menu like everyone else.
There are 7 seats, and getting into the third row Isuzu offers a fold down, tilt up a second-row seat. This was hit and miss for me, sometimes the seat would do what I expected and sometimes it would only fold down, but not tilt up. Once retired, it would follow through the actions, so I partly put this down to user error. I did not have much use for the third row during my test, maybe with some more testing, this would become a more fluid operation.
The space in the back is impressive, and even when the third row is up, you still get 235-litres of useable space. Once the third row is down, you have a very generous 878-litre boot space, which expands to 2277-litre cave. I used this a lot during my time with the MU-X. It has a very versatile space, which is 2 metres long and flat. Great for any DIY or large cargo requirements.
When you start driving the MU-X, you realise you are sitting on what seems like the second story of this vehicle. It’s very high off the ground, and you from time to time think that this vehicle is just massive. But the visibility all around is brilliant; big side mirrors, and a great vantage point from the high driver’s seat. You soon forget about its size and quickly become very secure and confident behind the wheel.
One thing that did surprise me, and it got me a few times, was the feeling in the brakes; they were a bit soft and lacked a lot of feeling. On several occasions after picking up the test vehicle I found myself having to jump on the brake a bit more, as it did not react as expected to the initially applied pressure. I did get used to this but would have liked to have had more feeling in the brakes themselves.
Much like the D-Max the MU-X is a very easy vehicle to drive. Out of all the serious off road vehicles, Isuzu seems to be one of the few that have managed to give you all you need to go off the beaten track, while still leaving you with a great driving vehicle on the roads. You notice this when you are up around 100 km/h, the MU-X is flat and stable, and even in some long corners, you do not get the body roll some other trucks have, which instinctively makes you slow down.
Offroad, the MU-X is hard to beat, I did not take this model offroad, but I have taken other MU-X and D-Max models deep in the rugged terrain of New Zealand in the past. And straight from the dealership, these vehicles are very impressive, even for someone who might be nervous about off roading. The 4WD system is second to none, and you really have to push this vehicle a long way before you start to reach its limits.
Over the two weeks, I spent behind the wheel of the MU-X I had the opportunity to test its towing ability over a long distance. I had a trailered vehicle to pick up from Tauranga, and with a three-ton towing capacity, the MU-X seemed to be up for it. Once we hooked up the 1-ton vehicle on the single axle trailer we set off, with a long drive ahead for me back to Wellington. Instantly you knew the trailer was there, the added weight making itself noticeable. But never did the engine strain or struggle with this extra weight. I was a bit more cautious with braking, which strangely felt better with more weight added to the vehicle. That was good, as we didn’t want any issues while towing.
What it’s up against
This is where it gets interesting, as we can’t really put this up against everything in the market place. Due to what is called “body on frame” construction, or the use of a ladder frame chassis, we will only compare it with a similar construction and target market vehicle considering its off road capability. Something to note: the options for a body on frame vehicles has been decreasing, with the massive surge of car frame construction SUV’s.
|Brand / Model||Engine||Power Kw/Nm||Fuel L/100km Combined||Boot Capacity Litres||Price Highest to Lowest|
|Mercedes-Benz G 350 BlueTEC||3.0L V6||155kw / 540Nm||11.2||680||$185,000|
|Lexus LX 450d||4.5L Turbo Diesel V||200kw / 650Nm||9.5||519||$159,900|
|Land Rover Discovery TDV6 SE||3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel||190kw / 600Nm||7.5||981||$90,000|
|Toyota Land Cruiser Prado||2.8L DOHC petrol inline 4||130kw / 450Nm||8.0||540||$78,490|
|Ford Everest Trend||3.2L Turbo Diesel V6||143kw . 470Nm||8.5||1050||$75,990|
|Isuzu MU-X||3.0 litre turbo diesel||130kw / 430 Nm||7.9||878||$65,990|
|Jeep Wrangler Unlimited||3.6L V6 engine||209kW / 347Nm||11.8||498||$62,990|
What do we think?
I have a great appreciation for products that are finely crafted to the task at hand, following the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) design philosophy. Some might say this vehicle is low tech, but it’s not; it’s the right amount of tech for the job at hand. The people who buy the MU-X, are not looking for colour changing interior led lights, or hand gestures media systems. They are the kind of customer who is happy to jump in and get their hands dirty. They have many requirements, and they need something that’s going to be able to fulfil all of them.
I really like this truck, and I call it a truck because the word SUV just seems a bit too soft to describe it. It’s a great looking, 7 seater, 3-ton towing, go-anywhere, tough truck. When you drive the MU-X you can’t help but feel like you can point it in any direction and pull the horizon towards you.
Over the course of two weeks, I spent 1600 km behind the wheel of the MU-X, with 600km of that towing, and I really enjoyed driving it. Toyota and Ford, you’d better watch out for Isuzu, because they are not playing around.
Rating – Chevron rating 4.5 out of 5
2017 Isuzu MU-X
|Vehicle Type||4WD Large 7 Seat SUV|
|Engine||3.0 litre turbo-diesel, in-line 4-cylinder, DOHC, 16-valve|
|Transmission||6-speed automatic with sequential shift and brake shift lock|
|Kerb Weight||2075 kg|
|Length x Width x Height||4825 x 1860 x 1860 mm|
|Cargo Capacity||235 Litres / 878 Litres / 2277 Litres|
|Fuel Tank||65 litres|
|Fuel Efficiency||Advertised Spec – Combined – 7.9 L / 100km|
Real World Test – Combined – 10.0 L / 100km
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||5 Stars|