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Isuzu MU-X LS-T 4WD 2018 off-road review

There are very few car companies out there today with a smaller line-up than Isuzu Ute. With just two models in the stable, even niche sports car brands like Lamborghini offer more variety.

The D-Max ute is the company’s best seller, with a solid and growing support base locally, but the brand's second model is causing plenty of interest, too. 

The MU-X can be considered the first of the reborn 4x4 wagon generation, hitting showrooms in late 2013 ahead of rivals like the Ford Everest, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Holden Trailblazer (nee Colorado 7) and the Toyota Fortuner

And with its five-door body and coil-sprung rear end, the MU-X is the pick of Isuzu’s pair for the adventurous family.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

If your home is filled with timeless pieces of elegant furniture, and you prefer your shirts tailored rather than mail-ordered, the MU-X’s external design will probably miss the mark for you.

Unfussy, underplayed but not underwhelming, the MU-X eschews deep creases and complex metal folds in favour of a simple, practical wagon silhouette that also offers short overhangs front and rear; a crucial element for a working 4x4.

The MU-X has the looks of a simple, practical 4x4 wagon. The MU-X has the looks of a simple, practical 4x4 wagon.

It’s visually connected to the D-Max, but there’s sufficient difference between the two to mark the MU-X as the more mature of the pair. The absence of a spare wheel hanging on the rear door – it’s stashed under the bumper – also cleans up the externals.

Inside, the MU-X follows the path of its rivals by adding a bit more comfort and style to its donor ute cabin. There’s more brightwork, more curved surfaces and more bling aboard the MU-X, with the centre console dominated by a circular climate-control system and an 8.0-inch colour multimedia touchscreen.

The MU-X adds a bit more comfort and style to the donor ute's cabin. The MU-X adds a bit more comfort and style to the donor ute's cabin.

Seats are covered in a robust-feeling leather, there are padded surfaces on the centre bin lid and door linings, and the light-coloured roof lining brightens the cabin beautifully.

How practical is the space inside?

An update in 2016 brought the MU-X up to date; not only mechanically, but also in terms of liveability.

Extra metres of sound deadening have been applied under the bonnet and around the firewall, while additional USB ports grace both front- and middle-row seating positions. 

A note on those USB ports up front, though; what’s with the infuriatingly fiddly cover, Isuzu? Seriously, you need the ambidexterity and visual acumen of a rhesus monkey with bifocals to prise it open.

A steering wheel that’s not adjustable for reach also lets the side down a little, but the driving position is still good for both tall and short drivers. The interior treatment lifts the cabin’s ambience notably, too, with the soft-touch surfaces and toned-down plastics a welcome addition.

The cabin ambience has been lifted with soft-touch surfaces and toned-down plastics. The cabin ambience has been lifted with soft-touch surfaces and toned-down plastics.

There is a pair of cupholders in the centre console, with the rearward one disappearing under the centre bin lid. You can also stash bottles in the doors, as well as in a pair of retro-yet-cool retractable bottle holders on either side of the dash.

The third row of seats can push the middle row a bit further forward in the cabin, which restricts knee room behind taller front seaters, but head room for middle seaters is good, and ISOFIX points for two seats are present and correct, along with two cupholders and two bottle holders.

The third row is relatively easy to access, too, and can be quickly folded flat into the boot floor when they’re not needed (and we didn’t for this trip). It’s more suited to smaller humans, of course, and it’s good to know the curtain airbags covers all three rows.

The luggage area is served by a top-hinged door that opens very wide and high – perhaps too high for some to easily reach it to close it again. The presence of the third row of seats adds height to the load lip, but the large aperture makes it a doddle to stash large, unwieldy items like camping fridges. 

The 878 litres of capacity with the third row stowed is plenty of room to stash large unwieldy items. The 878 litres of capacity with the third row stowed is plenty of room to stash large unwieldy items.

There’s 878 litres of space with the third row stowed, which shrinks to 235 litres when they’re locked away. With everything folded away, there are 1830 litres of cargo space available.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

At $56,100 before on-roads, the large MU-X LS-T is Isuzu’s most expensive vehicle. It goes up against other 4x4 wagons like Toyota’s Fortuner, the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Holden’s Trailblazer and the Ford Everest.

It ships with an 8.0-inch multimedia system, reversing camera and sensors, bi-LED headlights, 18-inch alloy rims, satellite navigation, rear roof vents, a full-sized spare, leather accented trim, keyless entry with push-button start, electric driver’s seat, roof rails and a rear spoiler, as well as rear privacy glass and side steps.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

Chasing the ever-evolving landscape of emissions regulations is a frustrating business for any car company. Already blessed with an ox-strong diesel powerplant that attracts a lot of followers for its honest if gruff performance, Isuzu needed to come up with a plan that would satisfy the rule-makers but not upset its loyal customer base.

It revised the MU-X’s 3.0-litre four-cylinder (4JJ1-TC) turbo-diesel engine in 2017 to make it comply with Euro5 standards. A new turbocharger, injectors, glow plugs, a new piston profile and a diesel particulate filter system were added, along with an Aisin-sourced six-speed automatic transmission to replace the old five-speed auto.

It not only cleaned up its act, but the new version of Isuzu’s most popular engine also gained 50Nm more torque, with a wider spread of twist over more of its rev range. It produces 130kW and 430Nm in total.

How much fuel does it consume?

Isuzu claims a category-best fuel economy number of 7.9 litres per 100km for the 2157kg MU-X, an improvement of 0.2L/100km over the previous spec. 

Our on-road testing component returned a dash-indicated figure of 9.1L/100km over approximately 200km, while that figure rose during the 65km of dirt trail work to 10.9L/100km.

Its 65-litre tank does limit its theoretical range to around 820km, which may put a crimp in its touring potential.

What's it like as a daily driver?

The improvements to quieten things down inside the cabin have paid big dividends in the MU-X There’s still zero doubt about what kind of engine is up front, but the MU-X has gone from agriculturally average to avante garde for the 4x4 wagon class. 

And while we’ve previously criticised its suspension tune for being underdone, our MU-X felt right at home on the sinuous connecting roads around the Victorian high country. Sure, it’s never going to feel like a smaller, lighter car; physics is funny like that. 

Its well weighted hydraulic steering, functional six-speed auto and good body control means it’s easy and comfortable to drive in both urban and outback settings.

Visibility is great all round, although the bluff nose marks it down in the eyes of shorter drivers. It can survive the cut and thrust of the Woolies car park, though, without feeling overly unwieldy and out of place. Its 11.6m turning circle can, however, become tiresome in tighter terrain.

What's it like for touring?

On rough surfaces and gravel roads, the MU-X’s ride and handling balance is outstanding. There’s a suppleness that gives it real confidence on higher speed gravel roads, while it’s got sufficient clearance front, rear and centre to tackle more tricky terrain.

The six-speed auto works well when the going gets slow and rough, with the MU-X’s switchable 4x4 system incorporating a hill-descent control that works hand in glove with the auto’s manual override mode.

The MU-X's switchable 4x4 system incorporates hill-descent control. The MU-X's switchable 4x4 system incorporates hill-descent control.

In fact, the MU-X’s off-road ability is very impressive, thanks in part to a new locking diff for the rear end and that compliant coil suspension.

And even over gravel roads, there is almost zero noise penetration from the new 18-inch Dunlop GrandTrek all terrain tyres. The silence from under the MU-X is almost uncanny.

As mentioned, the spare wheel resides under the rear end of the MU-X, and is slanted upwards for relatively easy access and better ground clearance.

Speaking of which, the MU-X offers 230mm of clearance – the large running boards either reduce that clearance or offer underbody protection, depending on your viewpoint – with a departure angle of 25.1 degrees and an approach of 24 degrees.

The MU-X offers 230mm of clearance and the spare wheel is stashed underneath. The MU-X offers 230mm of clearance and the spare wheel is stashed underneath.

It’ll tow 3000kg of braked trailer and cop a hefty 300kg on the towball, while it offers 650kg of payload on top of that maximum tow weight – don’t forget, though, that figure needs to include people, too.

If you want to get a bit damp, it’ll ford a river up to 600mm, as long as you're at walking pace.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Isuzu offers a five-year/130,000km warranty on the MU-X, with service intervals of 12 months or 15,000km suggested. 

If you spend more of your time on the gravel and dirt, you might want to shorten those intervals – or at least clean the easy-to-access air filter from time to time.

Fixed-price servicing is offered for five years, as well, and costs $2090 over five years or 75,000km.

Isuzu has a small but loyal following in Australia, and its 3.0-litre engine’s legendary longevity and 3000kg towing ability gives the brand a genuine attraction with caravanners and tradies alike.

If you’re in the market for something that’s comfortable, has genuine off-road chops, can tow a sizeable load and carry five in complete comfort, but eschews the compromises of an open-backed utility, the MU-X is definitely worth your consideration.

4x4 ute or wagon? Does the Isuzu MU-X make more sense than a dual-cab ute on paper? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

$44,500 - $54,490

Based on 14 car listings in the last 6 months

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

4/5

Adventure score

4/5

adventureguide rank

  • Light

    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.

  • Medium

    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.

  • Heavy

    Larger obstacles, steeper climbs and deeper water crossings; plus tracks marked as '4WD only'