The Isuzu MU-X is a solid player among the real four-wheel drives out there. While sales figures – 8087 last year – may not yet frighten the likes of Toyota’s Prado – almost 16,000 in 2017 – the Thai-built Isuzu wagon has garnered a loyal following since arriving in showrooms five years back.
There remains respect for previous generations of Isuzu off-roaders, once known here as Holden Jackaroos and Fronteras, and there is respect too for Isuzu’s long-held reputation as a maker of tough trucks. Plus there are today’s attractive price points for a seven-seat wagon available with full chassis and two-speed transfer case that’s just about adventure-ready from the get-go.
The MU-X may not be the fanciest show in town but it’s a most handy wagon when the bitumen runs out.
The Isuzu MU-X runs with a neat and tidy style, functional looks that won’t scare – or necessarily wow – the neighbours. But this is a proper 4WD wagon and style doesn’t count for much in the bush (have a squiz at a Toyota Prado). This is more the polished pair of Blundstones rather than R.M. Williams boots.
The Isuzu does dress up well with aftermarket wheels and off-road gear from the likes of ARB with MU-X list prices leaving dollar room for extra fancy bits.
How practical is the space inside?
Again it’s function over form in here. The Isuzu’s cabin has seven seats and a load of cubbyholes – from a two-door glovebox to 12 cupholders.
It's seven seats and cupholders galore in the LS-T. (image credit: Nathan Duff)
One neat trick, not seen often enough, is pop-out cupholders in the dashboard, one on each side. For drivers in particular this saves glancing down to the centre console or fumbling about to find the morning’s flat white with the extra shot.
The second row of seats offers good room while the pair of back-row seats are best left to the kids; these do, however, fold down neatly for a flat, if reduced, cargo area. Some empty-nester MU-X owners are known to remove this back pair for extra space and way back here there’s another handy 12 volt power outlet for essentials such as a fridge.
You may even consider removing the back pair of seats for extra space. (image credit: Nathan Duff)
Hard plastic surfaces here and there may not be that tactile, but are practical in an adventure wagon.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
There is a fair depth to the Isuzu MU-X range, beginning with a two-wheel drive version at $42,800. Today we’re looking at a four-wheel drive LS-T with automatic transmission, top-of-the-tree at $56,100.
That may sound a bit rich for some, yet to score the same amount of bits and bobs in a Toyota Prado you’d be looking at more like $70,000.
The same amount of bits and bobs in a Prado will cost near $70k. (image credit: Nathan Duff)
This Isuzu may not match the Prado or a Ford Everest in some areas of chassis and engineering refinement but there is a deal of wriggle room here to add aftermarket suspension or engine mods without upsetting family budgets.
The LS-T arrives with lashings of leather (inside) and chrome touches (outside) plus roof-rails, tailgate spoiler and smart-looking 18-inch alloy wheels to distinguish it from cheaper versions. LS-T versions also sport a remote-controlled, roof-mounted DVD player for the rear seat, climate-controlled air-conditioning, keyless entry and an 8.0-inch touchscreen to control audio, phones and navigation so this MU-X misses out on little over more expensive rivals.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
Isuzu have long been known for durable and reliable diesel engines, perhaps without the punch of others but lower-stressed powerplants should mean longer life.
The 3.0-litre four-cylinder diesel puts out 130kW/430Nm. (image credit: Nathan Duff)
This particular four-cylinder, 3.0-litre diesel was given a work-over last year to comply with the latest European emission standards. And, credit to Isuzu, it’s an Australia-only engine to best satisfy local needs and tastes rather than dropping in a lower capacity motor to meet Euro5 standards.
The MU-X powerplant now pushes out 130kW and 430Nm of torque from a handy 1700rpm and runs with a six-speed manual in the base model or six-speed automatic in LS-U and LS-T versions.
The auto transmission – with a manual shift mode – does need a poke along now and then for it’s not always that enthusiastic about performance standards, appearing to be tweaked more for economy. At 100km/h it’s running around 1500rpm but the driveline sounds a tad weak-kneed; add a few revs, take it up to and indicated 110km/h and it’s happier.
It is a happy combination too when the going is slow and steady with good low-range crawling speeds and the option of locking the transmission in a preferred gear.
How much fuel does it consume?
Around the town as a day-to-day commuter, the MU-X was using 9.7L/100km. That’s not great, yet neither that bad considering we’re running a two-tonne wagon with auto transmission in stop-start traffic.
Isuzu claim the combined average should be 7.9L/100km and that’d be close with a fair slice of arterial road and highway running.
Heading out to the back tracks and some steady off-roading, the Isuzu returned 14.7L/100km.
What's it like as a daily driver?
Okay, so the MU-X is a 4WD with heavy-duty ladder chassis so it’s never going to feel as sophisticated as a round-town, pick-up-kids SUV. It’s also a heavy machine at 2.1 tonne kerb weight and, with a 130kW diesel engine up front, no hot rod.
Yet in today’s stop-start-slow-go traffic the Isuzu doesn’t need the pace of a startled wallaby and the wagon’s low-speed ride comfort is pretty good; add in all that convenience gear aboard – from Bluetooth connectivity to climate controlled air conditioning – and the daily drive is painless enough.
Around the town low-speed steering is a tad heavy, taller drivers may appreciate a lower seat base and sudden stops or tight turns can accentuate the MU-X’s high riding suspension with a touch of body roll and pitching.
What's it like for touring?
Down the highway the Isuzu wagon settles into a relaxed gait with a lazy 1500rpm allowing us 100km/h – best to use the manual shift mode if needing to overtake smartly – and the four coil springs maintain ride comfort levels over good and bad roads. There’s a touch of wind noise at highway speeds but it’s not intrusive.
Drivers sit high with a good view of the road ahead, visibility in all directions is fair enough while driver controls and instruments are intuitive, as is the touchscreen and its phone, audio and GPS systems.
It’s beyond the city limits where the MU-X’s practicality shines best. It will carry five folk plus a reasonable amount of getaway gear with ease – the payload’s 590kg – and tow three tonne (which makes it a favoured wagon among caravanners).
From there the Isuzu pushes off into the scrub with an assured strut.
There’s a simple Terrain Control dial on the centre console for Two Wheel Drive, Four High and Four Low. That switch between Two and Four High can be done at speeds up to 100km/h; handy for back-country roads that may alternate between patches of bitumen, stretches of greasy gravel and corrugated uphill runs.
The switch between Two and Four High can be done at speeds up to 100km/h. (image credit: Nathan Duff)
For while the MU-X comes with today’s usual array of driver aids, such as electronic stability control (this one does a subtle job of keeping the wagon on the straight and narrow), having all wheels looking for traction makes for easier progress when the surface turns ordinary.
Off the bitumen there’s the added assurance of reasonable underbody protection with four-wheel drive MU-Xs all kitted out with a two millimetre front skid-plate plus sump and transfer case guards with protection too for the front edge of the fuel tank.
With 230mm of ground clearance and a wading depth at 600mm on its 18-inch alloy wheels, the LS-T strides confidently over everyday rocks, ruts and lowish waterways. Helping out when there’s need to clamber over larger obstacles are 24-degree approach and 25-degree departure angles; the ramp-over angle (beyond which your vehicle will 'belly out') is 19.5 degrees, not that bad for a wagon.
Likewise, the 11.6m turning circle is reasonable for a vehicle with a 2.8m wheelbase when negotiating tracks between the trees.
Then there’s low range which – with the help of the manual mode shift for the auto gearbox – can be held to steady crawl speeds when needed.
In standard showroom trim the Isuzu MU-X is a pretty competent cross-country tourer and off-roader, even allowing for the road-biased all terrain tyres fitted to the LS-T model. And there is a full-sized spare – still most important for touring this wide, brown land despite what some manufacturers may suggest.
Out and about the biggest whinge is the lack of intermittent timing for the rear window wiper.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
The 4WD Isuzu MU-X wagon comes with a five-star ANCAP rating. There are six airbags, including full-length curtain bags for each side, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors. All seat belts have emergency locking retractors and there are three child seat tethers and ISOFIX compatible anchor points for the second-row seats.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
Isuzu offers a five year, 100,000 kilometre warranty, roadside assistance and capped price servicing at $1500 for the first five years.
The Isuzu MU-X is an honest four-wheel drive; not as fancy-dancy as some and a touch old-school in certain respects, yet a value package for those looking to go off-roading with the family and not just for parading up and down outside private school gates.
Would you go the MU-X for your off-roading needs? Tell us what you think in the comments below.