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Isuzu MU-X First Drive
Although Isuzu is the tenth largest auto manufacturer in the world, its passenger car footprint in Australia is very small, due in part to a single-model line-up, the D-Max ute. Its new wagon sibling, the MU-X, is hoping to grow that foot a little larger.
Why we're driving it:
It's not everyday that an Australian marque doubles the size of its model line-up in one fell swoop, but Isuzu Ute Australia has done just that with the introduction of the MU-X (pronounced "mue" by its Thai builders). On the back of the brand's largely successful D-Max ute (on track to sell nearly 10,000 units this year), the MU-X shares dimensions and style with Holden's so-far underachieving Colorado7, a result of shared development when Isuzu built the Colorado ute as a CKD (complete knock-down) product for GM. Will the Isuzu succeed where the Holden hasn't?
The D-Max and MU-X only share three identical body panels - the bonnet and front doors - and the wagon is 250mm shorter than the ute, wheel to wheel. Its development started in 2007 as a replacement of the MU-7, an SUV sold in other markets worldwide. Featuring Isuzu's 3.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel engine, it produces 130kW and 380Nm. This is mated to a five-speed manual or automatic transmission.
Interestingly, these are lower numbers that its most obvious rival, the Holden Colorado7, which makes 147kW and 500Nm of torque. The Holden is only offered with a six-speed automatic. Compared to the Colorado7, however, the Isuzu reaches its maximum torque figure earlier and holds onto it longer. According to Isuzu, this is an intentional difference that's designed to increase the reliability and engine life of the car. Isuzu believes the engine will be good for 500,000km if looked after correctly. Bucking the trend of its rivals, Isuzu will also offer two 4x2 versions for those who want the height and space, but don't need the off-road capability.
Isuzu is hoping to receive a five-star ANCAP safety rating for the new model, and has paid close attention to modern safety features as a result. There are six airbags, including curtain bags that protect all three rows of seats. There's a long list of the usual passive safety features, rear park assist is standard across the line and a there's a rear camera for the top-spec LS-T 4x4. The middle row of seats is fitted with both ISOFIX child seat anchors and top tethers.
For those with a four-wheel-drive bent, the MU-X is well equipped. Fitted with a low-range transfer case with a 2.482:1 ratio, and built on a ladder-frame chassis with a five-link coil sprung rigid rear axle, it's built with some of the toughness of older off-roaders. Although it's equipped with ESC and traction control, both can be disabled in low-range mode, while hill ascent and descent control is standard. All of the underside skid and bash plates are steel, and protect the sump and transfer case. What could be an issue for four-wheel drivers is the small 65-litre fuel tank and underdone roof load limit of 60kg. Its towing capacity is rated at three tonnes.
Inside, though, things are good. The quality of fit and finish is nice, and there's a modern suite of comforts, including climate-controlled air conditioning to all three rows of seats (except in the LS-M), electric windows and a stereo with full Bluetooth connectivity. Isuzu (and GM, mind you) persist with a micro-USB input for media devices, however, which means finding an adaptor for most.
Off-road (we tested the vehicle at Isuzu 4x4 Land in Thailand), the MU-X is settled and competent. Wheel travel in the rear end is quite good thanks to the five-link rear end and, if treated right, the traction control will help you out of minor difficulties. The short first gear in both manual and automatic guises combines well with the low-range gearing to provide good engine braking, while the hill descent control will further help the automatic. Driven on steep side angles (40 degrees), the car felt stable and well-mannered. Thankfully, the suspension also does a good job of softening the initial harshness of rough and rocky terrain.
On road (we tested the vehicle on-road at Bridgestone's tyre testing facility in Thailand), the car is unsurprisingly SUV-like. The softness of suspension we enjoyed off-road contributes to a manageable amount of body roll, although the steering is much more direct than some of the more established SUVs getting around (LandCruiser, Patrol and Pajero, for example).
Inside, cabin noise is low, although there's no escaping the growl of the engine. Like the Colorado7, this is still based on a commercial vehicle. It's comfortable, though, and the second row of seats has enough room for an adult. Isuzu even widened the seat rail gap on the front seats to provide more foot room. The third row is strictly a child-only proposition, and while the seats do stow down to provide luggage room, it could have been executed better. They look added-on, rather than integrated.
What do we think?
The MU-X is a solid four-wheel-drive. It's not overly powerful and it's not overly agile, but it is the most affordable seven-seat four-wheel drive on the market currently. Isuzu is marketing these cars as affordable, tough and reliable machines for adventure. On early impressions, that seems to be exactly what they are.
|Country of manufacture||Thailand|
|Priced from||$40,500 – $53,500 plus ORC|
|Number of cylinders||4|
|Engine size||3.0 L|
|Claimed fuel consumption||8.2 or 8.4 L/100km|
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