An engine torque increase, new six-speed transmission and a more refined interior are the leading points to the updated Isuzu MU-X.
WHAT IS IT
The MU-X is a body-on-chassis, five-door, seven-seat 4-wheel drive wagon and one of only two products in the Isuzu Ute Australia model range, the other being the D-Max ute on which the MU-X’s ladder chassis is based. The MU-X is available in three 4x2 variants and five 4x4 variants over three specification levels priced from $42,800 for the LS-M 4x2 auto, to $56,800 for the LS-T 4x4 automatic.
WHY ARE WE TESTING IT
The MU-X has just received the second of two updates for 2017. The first came back in February and centered on the powertrain with updates to the 3.0-liter turbo diesel four to make it Euro5 compliant and increase torque, while also bringing new six-speed auto and manual transmissions.
This 2017 update brings new front and rear end styling, softer interior touch points, and reduced engine noise transmission to the cabin.
Competitors are lining up in the seven-seat SUV segment but not all of them offer the true off road performance and towing capacity that the MU-X has. Those that do include ute-based wagons such as the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Holden Trailblazer, Toyota Fortuna, and Ford Everest.
The soft road options generally offer better on-road dynamics and refinement in lieu of off-road ability and include the Mazda CX9, Toyota Kluger, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, and Nissan Pathfinder.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The MU-X has always been popular with buyers looking for a no frills, value for money 4x4 wagon with a healthy towing ability, strong drive train and genuine off-road ability. Sales have grown steadily since its late 2013 launch in Australia, an accomplishment for Isuzu given hefty competition from bigger brands with sizable marketing budgets and extensive dealer networks.
That growth is set to continue with the improvements in torque, interior finish and styling tweaks, while retaining all the values that have already made the MU-X a popular choice.
PROS – Strong 3.0L engine, value for money, interior space, genuine seven-seater, improved audio and navigation integration, 3-tonne towing ability.
CONS – Engine still a bit noisy, lack of a rear differential lock
THE WHEELS REVIEW
Isuzu is probably better known in Australia as a truck company and it’s that rugged dependability that comes from building trucks that has made it popular in the 4x4 ute and wagon markets.
In fact, Isuzu vehicles formed the basis of Holden Rodeo and Colorado utes and Jackaroo and Frontera wagons long before General Motors decided to part ways, leading to the Isuzu Ute Australia brand launching here in 2008.
The two models in the IUA range have hung on to the simplicity and dependability that the brand is famous for, but with an evolving 1-tonne ute market and competitive SUV segment the company has evolved its products by adding features and refinements to both the D-Max and MU-X vehicles.
The 3.0-liter diesel engine is the only choice in both models and in these days of shrinking capacities, is on the larger side of engines in this class. And that’s not a bad thing.
It’s this capacity that has won over many Isuzu owners for the unfussed and lazy way it gets the job done. Don’t think that lazy is a negative either as the smaller engines in most competitors vehicles get busy at highway speed and don’t conquer long distances in the relaxed manner the Isuzu mill does.
Durability and economy are also its strong-points with owners who are proud of years of faultless service and moderate fuel use, even when towing large trailers. The official combined fuel consumption figure drops as low as 7.9L/100km depending on the variant chosen and remains one of the best in the 4x4 wagon segment.
Part of the good fuel number can be attributed to the new 6-speed auto transmission from Aisin. Not only does it allow the engine to do its best regardless of the terrain, but also makes touring more relaxed and comfortable. On our highway drive it was never found hunting between the top ratios, even with a 3-tonne trailer hooked up behind it.
With that load on the tow bar the engine is still quite vocal in the cabin despite the efforts to quieten it down. These extend to updated injectors and additional sound deadening in the firewall, floors, engine bay and at the base of the windscreen. The sound isn’t intrusive but if you were new to a diesel engine then you might find it so.
Thankfully the new audio and navigation system is a big step up from the fiddly aftermarket system that was in IUA vehicles in the past. This one is integrated in to the centre stack and much more user friendly so blocking out any external noise is only a volume adjustment away. Unfortunately this is done by buttons as there is no volume dial fitted.
Otherwise, the interior of the updated MU-X is a nice place to ride. There’s a lot less of the hard plastics that the model was criticised for in the past. It has been replaced with soft-touch leather–like trims with new piano black and silver adornments. The MU-X, even in the lower spec levels now has an almost upmarket feel to its cabin.
The leather seats in the top of the range LS-T have a quilted design that adds to the quality feel along with a drop-down DVD player/screen for rear seat passengers. If you are one to need the third row seat, then rest assured the MU-X’s is one of the better ones available. Able to seat adults for short trips and children for longer rides, it is a usable seat that folds flat in to the floor when not in use.
The MU-X’s 4-wheel drive system is also the real deal featuring 2-wheel drive for regular on road use as well as 4-wheel drive with low range. The system is supplemented by electronic traction control but is lacking a rear differential lock that many of its competitors come with. Past tests of the MU-X have shown that it could do with a diff locker, however this launch drive didn’t give us the challenging off road terrain necessary to test it again.
The 2017 updates to the MU-X have raised prices by around $1000 depending on variant specification but with the top-spec LS-T coming in at less than $60K it still offers a lot of bus for your bucks. The improved interior and additional engine torque are the big ticket items that should entice new buyers as well as encourage current owners to update to the latest offering.
Add in a five-year/130,000km warranty, five year roadside assistance and five-year/50,000km capped price servicing and the package looks even better, although we would like to see IUA back its proven reliability with unlimited kilometres on its warranty.
Capped price servicing for the first five years means that the cost for the regular servicing shouldn’t cost any more than $1500 in total. This all adds to the strong value-for-money argument that makes the LU-X the most appealing choice.
Model: Isuzu MU-X
Engine: 2999cc inline 4-cyl, dohc, 16v diesel
Max power: 130kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 430Nm @2000-2200rpm
Transmission: 6-speed auto or manual
Weight: 1992 – 2095kg
Price: from $42,000
On sale: Now
Isuzu MU-X Price List Trans RRP inc. GST
4 x 2 LS-M auto $42,800
4 x 2 LS-U auto $45,100
4 x 2 LS-T auto $48,800
4 x 4 LS-M man $48,000
4 x 4 LS-M auto $50,100
4 x 4 LS-U man $50,300
4 x 4 LS-U auto $52,400
4 x 4 LS-T auto $56,100