The Isuzu 4×4 platform is well-proven these days. The 4J engine family is more or less cemented as one of the best 4 cylinder turbo-diesels ever built. The sheer practicality of these rigs is fast approaching legendary status in a country that’s very wary of throwing accolades at anything that doesn’t rhyme with Shmoyota or Shmissan.
They’re simple (by modern standards). Easily modded into something special. And are still built on the over-engineered truck-maker ethos of form following function. Which is a good thing.
Recently I had the opportunity to drive the latest model, top-spec D-MAX LS-U (which you can find here). I came away with the impression that it’s a solid, no-nonsense rig. Something I personally rate as increasingly important in 4X4s given the remote nature of the touring I like to do.
When I grabbed the keys to the lower-spec LS-M MU-X, I was expecting essentially the same thing. Same power and torque, similar handling, maybe slightly less comfy.
However, as I settled in for the two-hour drive home I began to notice a few things. Despite being the base model, this thing felt punchier, held a line through hard corners better, and dare I say, was much less tiring to pilot. Nearly $15K cheaper and nicer to drive? WTF?!
2024 Isuzu MU-X LS-M specs
Price: from $54,900 (msrp 4X4 model)
Warranty: 6 years, 150,000km
Engine: 3.0L 4-cyl CRD turbo-diesel
Fuel Consumption: 10.8L/100km as tested (inc. towing caravan and low-range wheeling)
Fuel Capacity: 80L
Driveline: IFS; Solid axle rear; 6-speed Aisin auto; part-time 4WD; dual-range transfer case
Suspension: Front coilover double A-arm; rear coils
Towing Capacity: 3500kg (braked)
Kerb Weight: 2135kg
What you don’t get with the 2024 Isuzu MU-X
Now, on lower-spec models with any badge on the grille, you’re going to sacrifice a few things at the altar of simplicity (hashtag worth it, but still…)
You’re going to have to forgo a few mod-cons. No plush leather heated power seats for you. Nor do you score the 20in alloys and will have to scrape by with lowly 17s. You’ll also miss out on roof rails and fog lights, not to mention ally side steps and (gasp) no privacy glass from the B-pillar back.
Some A-hole could argue that you could replace all of these things with aftermarket gear and still be dollars ahead (I am one such A-hole) but if these things are important to you from factory then it’s worth us telling you about it.
The infotainment unit is admittedly pretty woeful on the LS-M. With somewhat petite screen proportions. But again, if it’s important to you, there are a fair few aftermarket options that’ll fill the space and have more features for not a huge outlay. Personally, I was more than happy with plugging my phone in (Android and Carplay are standard), using my Hema App for directions and listening to the Twilight series (Team Jacob for life!) on Audible. But you do you.
Things don’t always run smoothly
There are few 4X4s on this planet that get pushed harder than press vehicles. Us journos like to explore the limits and it’s not uncommon for a bent side-step or a spider-webbed taillight to occur. Thankfully, no such damage happened to us on this trip, but the AC tensioner did chuck a wobbly and spat out the belt. We replaced the belt and kept on moving only for the same thing to happen less than ten minutes later.
Upon reflection this had minimal impact on our journey. Yeah, we had to have the windows down on hot days, but I own a 40 Series LandCruiser so that isn’t a worry. In fact, the more I thought about it, the luckier I felt. The majority of modern vehicles run off a single serpentine belt. If we’d been in one such rig it would have been game over and a sheepish call to the tow truck. On the Isuzu though, the only thing driven off that belt is the compressor so it wasn’t a drama at all. Yet another point for simple engineering that has operational redundancies built in.
Gah, it’s not often a mechanical failure actually makes me like a car even more.
How we’d build it with the savings from the LS-T model
Upon returning from the trip down South, I got into a chat with Editor Ev about the MU-X, and as always the convo turned to how we’d modify things for our use (we’re sick, send help). To make it interesting we set the budget to the money saved by buying the base model over the top shelf version. The price difference gives us around thirteen gorillas to play with.
1. Tune and front mount – $3000
We wouldn’t bother with an exhaust given the stock Isuzu pipe measures in at 2.75in. The tune and upgraded intercooler would net us around 180-200hp at the wheels – more than enough.
2. Bar, lights and winch – $3500
Not too long ago if you wanted a bar that’d stand up to a significant strike, it was steel or nothing. These days, alloy and poly bars have come a long way. We’d go for an alloy unit to keep weight down, a reputable aftermarket winch and a quality set of spotties or lightbar (although for inner-city driving the LED headlights are better than decent).
3. Sliders – $950
The plastic steps on the stock MU-X are great for using as a step into the vehicle but for off-road driving they’d be among the first candidates for serious rock damage. A set of quality steel sliders are a must for our usage.
4. Long range tank – $1200
The 80L stock tank is enough to get you around 800km off the beaten track (more with careful driving on-road) but extending that range out to 1000km between fills not only gives peace of mind but also puts even the furthest flung destinations on the possibilities table.
Suspension – $2500
5. As with any build, suspension comes last. Why? Because with everything else in place you can use the correctly rated springs and dial in the ride quality to handle the weights you’re carting. Do it once do it right and all that.
6. Tyres – $2500
Last but not least, we’d grab some off-road oriented rubber. Size isn’t so important as we’re not building this thing as a comp truck, but a set of aggressive ATs around the 32in mark (265/75/17 for example) would allow us to access 99% of the country without a hiccup.
Note that we didn’t go for lockers due to the excellent Rough Terrain Mode on the Isuzu, nor did we go for drawers because the second and third row seats fold flat, giving you a heap of storage area, but we didn’t want to sacrifice the ability to use the seats should the need arise. If we found ourselves with a lazy couple of grand in the skyrocket after tax time, a set of underbody plates and a flat rack would be high on the ‘next to buy’ list.
2024 Isuzu MU-X verdict
So, is the cheaper base model the MU-X to buy in 2024? I honestly think so, especially if like me, you’re used to simple old-school four-wheel drives. In saying that, this is a 2024 model. It would be wrong to call the base model LS-M a pov pack. For me, it fits the bill. I’d pocket the savings over the top spec Isuzu, and deck it out for off-road touring.
As always, if you’d prefer to watch a video rather than read this awesome review, we’ve got your back.