Tough Stuf

THE MU-XíS CLASS-LEADING SALES ARE BUILT ON ITS REPUTATION FOR RELIABILITY AND LOW RUNNING COSTS.

ISUZU MU-X

AS LUCK would have it, the MU-X you see here is the just-superseded 2018 MU-X, the new 2019 model being announced after we locked in this car for this comparison. Fortunately, thereís not much in it beyond a new grille, black-faced wheels and interior touches; although, Isuzu the steering is tweaked to make it lighter at parking speeds.

This latest makeover follows close behind a number of upgrades to the MU-X in recent times. Arriving in Australia in late 2013 and remaining largely unchanged for three years, the MU-X gained a significantly updated engine, new six-speed automatic and manual gearboxes, NVH enhancements and additional equipment in early 2017. A few months later there was a refreshed front-end styling, a new dash, more NVH control measures and additional equipment, while trailer-sway control was added for 2018.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

THE MU-Xís 3.0-litre four-cylinder diesel is the latest iteration of an engine that effectively dates back to 2005. The most recent upgrade to comply with Euro 5 emission standards in 2017 brought a variable-geometry turbocharger, higher pressure common rail injection, revised pistons and a diesel particulate filter. Fortunately the changes also bring more torque over a wider rpm range, even if maximum power remained at 130kW

Despite having the biggest capacity engine the MU-X canít match the Trailblazer for performance and is back with the Pajero Sport and Rexton performance-wise, both of which have notably smaller engines. However, in general driving, the MU-Xís engine needs less revs to do the same job as these two smaller engines. Its general, light-throttle running refinement is also very good, but when worked hard itís also the least refined engine here.

For its part the MU-Xís six-speed auto offers reasonably smooth and well-timed shifts but isnít as slick as the Rextonís seven-speed or the Pajero Sportís eight-speed, or as proactive in its shifting as the Trailblazer. The overall gearing is also the tallest here, thanks in part to the six-speed auto - an Aisin gearbox shared with Hilux and Prado - having two very tall overdrive gears, which can induce shuffling back and forth between fifth and sixth on undulating country roads.

THE MU-X OFFERS DECENT CLEARANCE AND GOOD VISION FOR THE DRIVER WHEN OFF-ROAD, AND ITíS WELL-PROTECTED UNDERNEATH

WHATíS IN A NAME?

YOU might think Isuzu is relatively new to Australia as the brand only appeared here in its own right in 2008, but Isuzu vehicles have been around in Australia since the mid 1970s wearing Holden badges such as Gemini, Rodeo, Jackaroo and the now long-forgotten Frontera, sold elsewhere in the world as the Isuzu MU and the forebear of todayís MU-X.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING

OUR test MU-X felt as if it had done a lot more than the 9500km on the odo in terms of suspension damping control. Perhaps this particular car had done something arduous in its short life? Still, the ride quality and compliance was good, as was general handling amongst this four. However, the MU-X isnít as nippy as the Pajero Sport nor as generally well sorted as the Trailblazer, especially with regards to steering feel. We know this from previous experience, so itís not just a reflection of this particular MU-X.

The MU-Xís 2019 upgrade promises lighter steering at parking speeds, and a little bit more feel at highway speeds wouldnít go astray either.

OFF ROAD

THE MU-X offers decent clearance and good vision for the driver when off-road, and itís well protected underneath. In this company - which doesnít set the bar too high as none have notably long-travel suspension - the MU-X does better than the Rexton and the Pajero Sport, even if the Trailblazer betters it thanks to its more effective traction control system which helps counter the modest amount of wheel travel of this shared platform.

While the MU-X is competent enough for most recreational off-road touring with nothing more than change of tyres, a rear locker would be a useful aftermarket upgrade, as would a rear recovery point. As is the case with Trailblazer, recovery points are only fitted at the front.

CABIN, ACCOMMODATION AND SAFETY

SMART-KEY entry (on this top-spec LS-T) and a conveniently placed grab handle make it easy to climb aboard to what is a generally comfortable and spacious driving position, electric-adjust leather seat and all. That said, our tallest test driver found it hard to get comfortable in both the MU-X and the Trailblazer, with which it shares cabin structure and lack of steering wheel reach adjustment.

The back seat is a bit of a squeeze for three adults (two adults and a child is more ideal) but is more spacious than the Pajero Sport and matches the Trailblazer. The third-row seats are easy to deploy and can seat adults, even if foot room could be better. As with the Trailblazer, the third-row seats come at the cost of reduced luggage space with the high floor they create. Like the Trailblazer, there arenít any tie-down points located on the cargo floor.

The MU-Xís fit and finish and general cabin presentation is much improved by pre-2017 standards, but it isnít up to the standard of the flashier Pajero Sport or even the Rexton.

Thanks in part to six airbags the MU-X offers five-star ANCAP safety, and as of 2019 comes with features such as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and front parking assistance as extra-cost factory accessories.

PRACTICALITIES

THE MU-X has the smallest fuel tank here, its 65 litres being 11 litres shy of the 76 litres of the Trailblazer. However, as always with the MU-X (and the D-Max), the 3.0-litre engine is thrifty, so the overall fuel range is still competitive.

As part of the 2019 update the warranty was bumped up to six years (or 150,000km) the roadside assistance was increased to six years, and the fixed-price servicing stretched to seven years (or 105,000km).

The MU-Xís tow rating of 3000kg is typical of this class and, while we havenít towed with the MU-X, the identical powertrain in the D-Max does a respectable job of heavy duty towing.

THE MU-XíS FIT AND FINISH AND GENERAL CABIN PRESENTATION IS MUCH IMPROVED BY PRE-2017 STANDARDS

WHAT YOU GET

ALL MU-X models from the LS-M up get six airbags, a seveninch touchscreen, Bluetooth, USB input, a reversing camera, LED DRLs and headlights, and trailer-sway control. The LS-U then adds an eight-inch touchscreen, sat-nav, climate control, air-con outlets for the rear-seat passengers, fog lights, sidesteps, rear privacy glass and 18s in place of the LS-Mís 16s. The LS-U is also the only model that comes with the option of a manual gearbox. The LS-T then adds Ďsmart-keyí entry and start, leather seats with electric-adjust for the driver, rear DVD entertainment, roof rails and tailgate spoiler. Isuzu also now offer blindspot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and front parking assistance as an extra-cost accessory on all MY17 and later MU-X models.