The MU-X is an under-rated member of the burgeoning group of ute-based four-wheel-drive wagons, a rival to the likes of the Ford Everest, Toyota Fortuner, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and the Holden Trailblazer with which it shares its fundamental underpinnings.
The MU-X looks like it means business, and that it can handle almost anything. That’s what the exterior is telling you.
There’s nothing refined or sophisticated about the MU-X, with a large, bullish front end and square-ish back end. Could they have done better? Most certainly, but it’s not a car you’re buying for looks. This car is about functionality and doing a job. Looks don’t come into the equation.
Like those, it’s a rugged four-wheel-drive that can handle the rough stuff and can pull heavy loads, yet it doubles nicely as a suburban seven-seat family wagon.
How many models can I choose from?
There are six variants in the MU-X range, split evenly across the four-wheel drive and two-wheel drive models with three trim levels – base-level LS-M, mid-spec LS-U and range-topping LS-T.
Apart from the drive layout, all share the same mechanical configuration with a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder that produces 130kW and 430Nm.
All two-wheel-drive models come standard with a six-speed automatic gearbox, while the four-wheel-drive LS-M and LS-U are fitted with a six-speed manual transmission and the four-wheel-drive LS-T has the automatic as standard.
The LS-M models ride on 16-inch alloy wheels, have manual air conditioning, cloth trim and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth audio. The LS-U picks up larger 18-inch alloys, front fog lights, chrome exterior highlights, climate control and an 8.0-inch touchscreen with sat-nav. And the LS-T adds more luxuries like leather trim, power-adjustable front seats, keyless entry with push-button start and a rood-mounted rear entertainment system.
What stands out?
The Isuzu MU-X is a robust wagon that can take you well off the beaten track with up to seven people on board. It is available in the high-clearance rear-wheel-drive form, and as a four-wheel-drive vehicle that is good off-road. The MU-X is based on the D-Max ute, sharing its strong diesel engine and excellent six-speed gearboxes – all freshly designed. It is smaller and easier to manoeuver than some 4WDs.
What might bug me?
Handling on bumpy, sealed roads – especially if you are expecting it to steer like less rugged SUVs designed mainly for tarmac use.
On the less costly versions, staying comfortable behind the wheel – especially if you’re tall. The manually adjustable seat has a shortish base, and the range of adjustment is small. However, there is height adjustment. The steering wheel also adjusts for height, but not for reach.
Keeping tabs on the scene behind you: a smallish rear window restricts rearward vision.
What body styles are there?
Five-door wagon only.
The MU-X is available with rear-wheel-drive only or as a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Four-wheel drive D-Maxes use a part-time 4WD system, which means you can operate them only in the rear-wheel-drive on sealed roads but may switch to 4WD on loose surfaces. In 4WD you can choose high-range or low-range gears – the latter allowing you to drive comfortably at very slow speeds, which helps in difficult conditions.
The MU-X is classed as a large SUV, lower priced.
What features does every Isuzu MU-X have?
Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls and audio streaming. An MP3 compatible sound system with an AM/FM radio, a CD and DVD player, AUX and Micro USB inputs, and eight speakers.
Cruise control. A reversing camera, and rear parking sensors (which tell you how close you are to obstacles).
A leather-wrapped steering wheel with buttons for operating the cruise control, the sound system and your phone. Air-conditioning.
Seven seats. Three USB ports for charging mobile devices – including one for rear passengers.
Wheels made from aluminium alloy.
Self-aiming headlights that use very bright and long-lived LEDs rather than conventional bulbs, and LED daytime running lamps.
Hill-start assist, which helps you take off on uphill slopes (by controlling the brakes automatically). Hill descent control, which looks after the braking as you negotiate steep and slippery downhills.
Electronic Traction Control, which helps 4WD models go further off-road. It also helps 2WD models on slippery surfaces.
Six airbags. Electronic Stability Control, which can help bring a skidding car back under control. (For the placement of airbags, and more on MU-X safety systems, please open the Safety section below.)
Every MU-X comes with a five-year, 130,000km warranty.
Which engine uses the least fuel, and why wouldn’t I choose it?
Expand SectionOnly one engine is available in an MU-X, a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel. (The same engine powers the D-Max ute.) Isuzu says this engine, introduced in February 2017, was developed explicitly for Australia.
The new engine is the same size and layout as the engine it replaced, which had powered the D-Max since its arrival in 2013. But under most driving conditions, you feel more thrust sooner. (Peak power is the same as before, but better fuel injection and a more efficient turbocharger have spread the power over a broader range of engine speeds.)
An MU-X consumes about 8.1 litres/100km (urban and country combined) in official tests, with little difference between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive versions, or manuals and autos.
In the real world, you can expect to average about 9.5 litres/100km – still thrifty for a relatively big and heavy vehicle. It will use less than that on the highway, but more around town.
The MU-X comes with manual or automatic gearboxes, both with six speeds. Both give you a taller top gear than the five-speed gearboxes of the previous MU-X, which means your wagon feels a bit more relaxed when cruising along.
In an LS-M 4WD or LS-U 4WD, you get a choice of gearbox; with any MU-X 2WD or the LS-T 4WD, it is auto only.
We have tested the MUX on a number of occasions previously and even towed a caravan around Tasmania with it. Still, this road test was to put the Isuzu MUX LS-U to the limits of its abilities. We had to move a dead 4WD from the farm back to Sydney as Harold (our mate who owns the farm) had no use for it anymore.
The Isuzu MU-X is well proportioned, follows the D Max styling and looks smaller than it is. Don’t let its good looks fool you, it’s a true 4WD: roof rails, side steps. Alloy wheels, shark fin GPS antenna, electronic fold in mirrors and fog lights all complement the stylish exterior.
Internally the immediate impression is value for money. This is the middle model in the range with quality cloth seats, door inserts manually adjustable seats etc.
In front of the driver is the smallish thick leather steering wheel that houses the usual controls. The dash has two lag dials with an MFD between them. The control for this is at the end of the indicator stalk and its spot on for ease of use. Like all these ute based vehicles the wheel is only height adjustable. As a taller driver, I would have appreciated a slightly longer seat travel, but at no time was I uncomfortable.
The centre stack houses as standard an audio system with CD/MP3/FM/AM audio unit with iPod® and Bluetooth® audio streaming – 6 speaker system
Internal storage is a feature. All car designers should sit in the MU-X and see just how simple it is to provide an abundance of storage areas. There are door pockets front and back (with bottle holders but small otherwise), two decent sized glove boxes, a storage bin on top of the dash, bottle holders in front of the air vents (great for keeping things cool in summer), a shelf below the steering wheel, a sunglass holder above your head, a door sill recess, cup holders in the centre console and a large centre storage bin. There are 14 cup holders in total. Seriously, all cars should be like this.
The middle row seats are comfortable more for two than three with a fold-down armrest with cup holders. They are a little flat but comfortable enough for long distances. For all but the tallest passenger, there is the adequate head, shoulder, knee and foot room in the middle row. The third row is easily accessed and with deep footwells is up there amongst the best of third-row seats, better than the Landcruiser.
With the rear seats in use, there isn’t a lot of space behind; however, like most of these type of vehicles, it is usually a short drive with all seats in use. Both rear rows of seats benefit from air-conditioning in the roof above them. Importantly all outer seats have grab handles for the rough drives ahead.
Driving the MU-X is the long-lasting Isuzu 3.0L diesel. This engine is one tough motor and is renowned for its build tolerances and longevity. The term indestructible comes to mind. The engine produces 130Kw of power @ 3,600rpm and a lazy 380Nm of torque at 1,800rpm. These figures don’t always tell the full story though The transmission is a five-speed sequential sport shift auto with an adaptive feature that styles itself on your diving. The engine is refined and quieter than you expect and is economical with a fuel usage rate of just 8.4L/100Km. On the freeway, we got that down to a little over 7.5L/100Km.
The MU-X is equipped with Isuzu’s super-easy to use “Terrain command” 4WD select dial and auto versions are fitted with hill-ascent and descent control. The Terrain Command system is a shift on the fly style and while simple works brilliantly.
Car-like ride and handling both on and off-road is provided by a new suspension geometry custom-designed for the MU-X. Front independent double-wishbone suspension with coil springs, gas shocks and stabiliser bar allows the driver positive feedback and steering control regardless of the terrain underfoot, and a rear five-link suspension configuration also with coil springs, stabiliser bar and gas shocks provide superior stability when traversing off-road or towing.
The Isuzu MU-X LST has a 5 Star ANCAP with a host of safety features including a high-tensile steel passenger safety cell with side-intrusion bars, comprehensive crash avoidance electronics including 4-channel 4-sensor ABS with EBD and EBA as well as ESC and TCS, six airbags (dual front, curtain and side), reverse camera and rear park assist sensors.
Off-road the MU-X auto performed effortlessly. The MU-X is fitted with rugged off-road protection in the form of a front steel plate skid/splash shield as well as steel plate guards to protect the sump and transfer case. Clever engineering ensures there are no low-slung components – the front lower control arms don’t hang too low, and the air intake is hidden within the front fender. In the engine bay, the ECU isn’t exposed, and the alternator sits up nice and high. There is substantial 230mm ground-clearance, 30.1° approach and 25.1° departure angles.
Isuzu has come up with some great styling packs to stand the vehicle out from the crowd with factory fitted accessories that compete with anything the aftermarket boys can come up with.
Which is the safest model?
All six versions of the MU-X have the same basic suite of safety systems which comprises six airbags, anti-skid brakes, electronic stability control and a reverse camera with rear parking sensors.
None are offered with modern driver aids such as autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping and collision warnings.
Which is the best model to drive?
Considering they all share the same mechanical package, with a grunty turbo diesel engine that can pull up to 3000kg, the four-wheel-drive versions have the capability to take you further for off-road adventures. That said, the 4×4 LS-U and LS-T have slightly more ground clearance and better entry and departure angles thanks to the larger 18-inch wheels.
Should I buy one now?
Isuzu is currently offering great deals across the MU-X range in the lead-up to the end of the year, with thousands of dollars in savings. At the lower end of the range, you can get into a base-spec 4×2 LS-M with automatic transmission for $38,990 driveaway. At the other end of the scale, the 4×4 LS-T can be had for $52,990 driveaway including free servicing for the first two years.
Overall the new Isuzu MU-X is a strong contender in the family 4WD market. It has almost car/wagon-like handling, enough power for almost everything you will ask of it, plenty of creature comforts, 5-star ANCAP safety, will seat 7 in relative comfort, is a robust and competent 4WD and all for less than $60,000. That’s pretty good.
What the Isuzu does though is make you question why you would pay upwards of $80,000 on some of the other ‘family 4WD wagons’ it’s that good. I think it is interesting that you can get an Isuzu MU-X LSU and a decent camper trailer for less than a new top-spec Prado and be out there enjoying the Australian bush and not missing a thing. As a tow vehicle that has true 4WD capability its right up there with the best.