We take the Isuzu MU-X off-road for a spin and find out if an SUV built by a truck company makes any sort of sense whatsoever…
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The Isuzu MU-X is proving an increasingly popular choice with everyone from grey nomads to young families becoming surprisingly passionate about this often under-rated off-roader. Not only does it drive well on the open road and perform competently as a tow tug; it’s quite happy playing in the sand or tackling a rough track.
Plus the MU-X is a bit of a looker. It has a unique contemporary SUV style with sweeping lines from flared fenders to a rearward-tapered waistline and a concealed D-pillar hidden behind dark wrap-around glass. However, the broad C-pillar and shallow back corner window make for an awkward blind spot.
Inside, there’s no denying the MU-X has a utilitarian commercial heritage. Chunky switchgear with hard-finish surfaces and plastics provide wipe-clean simplicity but cheapen the versatile interior. Other competitors do it better, providing subtle but effective aesthetic variations throughout the interior to differentiate their SUV derivatives from their commercial counterparts.
But the MU-X’s interior is roomy, functional and practical even for a larger family; there are lots of storage compartments with genuine seating for seven. Wide opening doors and decent side steps make getting in and out easy. The stiff leather-covered seats are firm with minimal bolstering in the backrest and a relatively flat base; but they’re not uncomfortable. The surface creasing already evident on the driver’s seat was unexpected in a near-new vehicle, and the lack of steering wheel reach adjustment was disappointing.
Standard across the range is Bluetooth for phone and USB iPod connectivity. The range-topping LS-T features Bluetooth audio streaming, a multi-function touch-screen with easy to use sat-nav, plus Isuzu’s premium ‘Sky Sound’ with roof-mounted 10in DVD monitor and surround sound. A welcome addition for entertaining rear-seat travellers.
Purchasers will be happy to know the MU-X earned a five-star safety rating due to a high-tensile steel safety cell and side-intrusion bars, plus six airbags for occupant protection. There’s the now-common array of electronic control wizardry and rear parking sensors across the range. Our test vehicle featured a good reverse camera – sadly only standard on the top spec LS-T.
Whilst not the quietest or quickest of diesels, the intercooled turbo helps it achieve a respectable 380Nm between 1,800-2,800rpm and peak power at 3,600rpm with 130kW. Isuzu indicates it’s good for 3,000kg towing duties. What was impressive is just how well this vehicle performs in sand. Despite being down on the power figures it’s the way the torque rolls on from low rpm that provides an assertive push without needing to ring the diesel’s neck. And the auto does a good job of exploiting this characteristic, allowing the use of a higher ratio and leveraging the torque to push you through.
Using that rotund torque curve, the 5-speed auto is relaxed around town and on the open road. The suspension provides a soft ride, great for soaking up bumps or traversing car park speed humps; but the MU-X feels ungainly if hustled in city traffic.
Speed-sensitive variable assistance steering makes it light and easy in the car parks and heavier on the highways, but it doesn’t give a lot of driver feedback. The four-wheel discs work well to capture the mass of the MU-X, even under firm braking applications.
Get the Isuzu on some of those dubious back roads with stretches of gravel and corrugations, and you begin to discover the MU-X’s strengths extend beyond the blacktop.
Tip the nose onto the dirt, and our test LS-T was equipped with Isuzu’s super-easy-to-use ‘Terrain Command’. A rotary dial in the centre console selects 2-high, 4-high or 4-low. Autos also have hill ascent and descent control. Underneath, all crucial components are tucked up out of harm’s way with stone guards for protection. Decent 230mm ground clearance, with 30.1 degree approach and 25.1 degree departure angles, along with reasonable wheel articulation, will see the MU-X through most moderate challenges.
Negotiating washouts and drainage furrows, the MU-X remained stable without scrubbing its belly. Over high traction rocks and rubble with diagonally opposite front and rear wheels lifted, the lack of a limited slip or rear locking differential saw the standard factory traction control playing an uncomfortable game of grab and jerk with the lifted wheels in an attempt to maintain forward momentum.
This is less noticeable over low traction surfaces such as sand or gravel. The LS-T runs 17in 255/65 highway terrain tyres as opposed to the more practical option of 16in 245/70 all terrain tyres fitted to the base LS-M variant.
As a family-friendly, solid built-to-do-it-all kind of SUV on a 4WD platform, Isuzu has hit some home runs in its first foray into the passenger SUV segment. It’s roomy, practical, functional and easy to live with. It has a strong diesel engine and driveline, making it a competent tow vehicle for those looking at some long-distance touring. But you will need to do something about the minuscule 65L fuel tank or your MU-X won’t be venturing too far away from civilisation.
While some further improvements in ride and handling (and to interior surface treatments) would help further segregate passenger and commercial origins, with quality Isuzu DNA underpinning the MU-X, competitors have good reason to be nervous.
Engine: 3.0-litre DOHC four-cylinder Turbo Diesel 130kW/380Nm. Urban 10.7L/100km.
Drivetrain: 5-speed Rev-tronic automatic with sequential sport mode.
Suspension: Front: Independent high-ride coil springs, gas shocks, upper and lower wishbones with stabiliser bar.
Rear: Multi-link coil suspension, gas shocks and rear stabiliser bar.
Warranty: 5-year/130,000km with 5-year Platinum Roadside Assistance program.
Seating: 7 with a 60/40 split second row, 50/50 split third row.
Off-road: 30 degrees approach angle, 25 degrees departure angle, 230mm ground clearance.
Fuel: Diesel, 65L main tank.
Towing capacity: Up to 3,000kg braked.
Weights: 2,060kg kerb weight, 2,750kg GVM.
RRP: 2016 Isuzu MU-X LST Auto 4X4 MY15 $54,000.