Look out Fortuner and Everest. Isuzu has just updated its seven-seater MU-X for the second time this year, with an exterior facelift and a smarten-up of the interior atop the new built-for-Australia engine and new six-speed transmissions (manual and auto) that it scored in February.
As a sign of just how important the Aussie market is to Isuzu, Australia is the first country to get all of these updates. In a year of milestones for the company – the brand is celebrating 100 years in international business and 100,000 cumulative sales of D-Max and MU-X in Australia since 2008 (as of April 2017) – is Isuzu about to further improve its position in the full-to-bursting SUV market with an MU-X that will appeal to the masses?
The MU-X's exterior update is mostly spot-on. Though the softer front-end may irk some, the anime-eye-style Bi-LED projector headlights and LED daytime running lights give the new nose an edgier muzzle that slots in nicely with the backswept body, all the way through to the wraparound tinted glass at the rear end. Sure, that last bit sounded like flowery real estate speak, but that's what I reckon.
Build quality and fit and finish are on par with market leaders.
Any way, you get the idea; it's generally a good-looking, sleek and stylish unit.
The LS-T is most easily differentiated from the lower grade LS-U by its roof rails.
2017 Isuzu MU-X LS-U
2017 Isuzu MU-X LS-U
The MU-X interior is neat and tidy. There may now be a dual-tone dash with soft-touch finishes, new chrome and piano-black trimming, and also new soft-touch armrests and console coverings but the cabin has a real unfussy feel about it, which stands in its favour. There's hard plastic here and there, but inside the MU-X is a pleasant place to be.
Build quality and fit and finish are on par with market leaders.
All 17MY MU-X cabins have 12 cup holders, 18 "storage solutions" (read: door compartments with bottle bulge, coat hooks, rear cargo organiser box and more), three USB ports (two in the front, one in the rear) and three 12V power outlets (centre dash, glovebox and rear cargo area).
The layout of the cabin is practical and user-friendly; from the entertainment system controls through to seat adjustment, everything is a breeze to locate and operate.
There are hard-wearing surfaces in the MU-X, even in the top-shelf LS-T variant, but there are also plenty of tasteful touches.
The six-way adjustable electric driver's seat is easy to adjust; mirrors are power adjustable and the aircon's control dial is a big one, so there's no fumbling around to get the in-car temperature right.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen media system is simple to operate. The screen is big, clear and bright, making it easy to spot and punch in your options.
This 8 inch touchscreen can only be found on the LS-U and LS-T, while the screen on the LS-M is one inch smaller.
There are hard-wearing surfaces in the MU-X, even in the top-shelf LS-T variant, but there are also plenty of tasteful touches: the aforementioned chrome trimming and soft coverings as well as new quilted-design leather accented seats.
The front seats are supportive, but there could be more side bolstering for taller people.
There is plenty of space inside and it is used well. I sat behind my own driving position and had plenty of room at head, knee and shoulder height. The second row is a 60:40 split-fold with a fold-away centre armrest.
The third row is a tighter fit – but it's roomy, if not more so, than its rivals – and it's easy enough to access for most nimble grown-ups. Getting out is a bit tougher.
When the second and third row are folded down, you could hold a Beyonce concert in the 1830 litres of space.
When it comes to storage room, there is 235 litres of boot space when the third row is up; that expands to 878 litres when the 50:50 split-fold third row is folded down flat.
The LS-T has 878 litres of boot space when the third row is folded down flat.
The LS-T has 1830 litres of space when the second and third rows are folded down.
When the second and third row are folded down, you could hold a Beyonce concert in the 1830 litres of space. (Did I just write "Beyonce"?; I meant AC/DC, of course.)
The roof rails on the LS-T are rated to carry a maximum of 60kg.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
As before, there are three trim levels in the MU-X range – LS-M, LS-U and LS-T – in 4x2 and 4x4 variants. All models have seven seats.
Pricing for the 4x2 LS-M, with new six-speed auto, is $42,800; the 4x4 LS-M is $48,000 (new six-speed manual) and $50,100 (auto).
The LS-U costs $45,100 for a six-speed auto 4x2, $50,300 for a six-speed manual 4x4 and $52,400 for a six-speed auto 4x4.
The LS-T is the top-shelf MU-X variant and it is only available with an automatic transmission.
Pricing is $48,800 for the 4x2 version, and $56,100 for the 4x4.
Prices have risen by about $1000 (LS-M) and $1300 (LS-U and LS-T) from the previous Isuzu MU-X models in the range.
This engine has been built especially for Australia after Isuzu paid special attention to feedback from Aussie drivers.
The LS-M's standard features include the new 7.0-inch touchscreen (the upper grades get the 8.0-inch), cruise control, USB and Bluetooth audio streaming, gun-metal grey radiator grille (only on LS-M), rear parking sensors, auto-levelling Bi-LED projector headlights, keyless entry, front fog-lights, hill descent control, airconditioning, power windows, leather-wrapped steering wheel, carpet floor and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The LS-U has an eight-inch touchscreen entertainment system with USB and Bluetooth streaming, GPS/satnav and reversing camera.
The LS-U comes with cloth trim seats.
The LS-T has the same touchscreen features as the LS-U, and all variants have a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Only the LS-T features leather-accented seats.
On top of those features, the LS-U gets the new eight-inch touchscreen entertainment system with USB and Bluetooth streaming, GPS/satnav and reversing camera, chrome grille, aluminium sidesteps, tinted rear windows and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The LS-T adds to that, as standard, leather-accented seats, the fold-down, roof-mounted 10-inch DVD screen for the second-row passengers (third-row passengers can see it as well), passive entry and start system, six-way adjustable electric driver's seat, roof rails, tailgate spoiler, chrome muffler tip and more.
The new MU-X is available in six colours – Cosmic Black mica, Obsidian Grey mica, Havana Brown mica, Silky White pearl, Splash White and Titanium Silver – and in two trims: dark grey cloth (LS-M and LS-U) and black leather (LS-T).
We'll focus on the top-spec LS-T for this first drive.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
The new Euro5 emissions-compliant 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine produces 130kw@3600rpm (the same as before) but it now yields 430Nm@2000-2200rpm – that's 50Nm more than it previously punched out. This engine has been built especially for Australia after Isuzu paid special attention to feedback from Aussie drivers. It has newly designed pistons, fuel injectors, fuel pump and now has a larger EGR cooler.
The engine produces more power at lower engine rpm, and more torque, and is "more fuel efficient and produces less toxic exhaust emissions", according to Isuzu.
The new MU-X comes armed with a new six-speed Aisin automatic transmission.
The MU-X LS-T's fuel consumption is claimed to be 8.1L/100km (auto, 4x2, combined) or 7.9L/100km (auto, 4x4, combined). In all the excitement, I forgot to get even a dash readout (yes, I did give myself an uppercut for that) but I reckon over a more than 210km-long drive program in the LS-T, we would have recorded a little bit higher than those figures, simply because, among other things, we did a few low-range loops.
The MU-X LS-T is 4825mm long, 1860mm wide, 1860mm high and has a 2845mm wheelbase.
It's a big rig but it has well-balanced steering, only taking on a looser feel when pitched into corners. The turning circle is 11.6m.
Ride and handling seem much the same as in the previous model, albeit somewhat more settled.
Open-road driving is a treat in this thing because the new engine's ample torque is available across a wider rev range.
The suspension set-up is independent, with high-ride coil springs and gas shocks, at the front; and multi-link coils at the back end.
The new engine is an absolute goer; 380Nm of torque is now available from 1700rpm to 3500rpm.
For something with a ladder-frame chassis, the MU-X is never torture to drive or ride in.
Isuzu officials said, at the launch, that extensive work has been done to improve NVH levels in the MU-X; they said the same thing about the D-Max but that was still noisy when pushed hard. However, it seems that, in the MU-X, the extra sound and vibration insulation on the dash console, floor transmission tunnel, windscreen seal, firewall and floor have worked their magic – it is noticeably hushed compared to how it used to be.
The new engine is an absolute goer; 380Nm of torque is now available from 1700rpm to 3500rpm; 380Nm was the previous donk's maximum output. Open-road driving is a treat in this thing because the new engine's ample torque is available across a wider rev range, meaning the MU-X is ready to go when you need it to; towing or overtaking on a long hill, for instance.
That same torque on tap comes in very handy during sections of slow-slow 4WDing.
The new six-speed Aisin auto, with lock-up torque converter to improve fuel efficiency, is a nice unit. It has adaptive logic control, meaning it will adjust the auto's gear changes to match your driving style and the conditions. It's probably so clever it won't change gears like an idiot just because you do.
The MU-X goes well and it's also pretty handy at stopping, with 300mm discs at the front and 315mm drums at the rear bringing the seven-seater to a firm stop every time on different surfaces.
We took on a short off-road section during the launch, nothing too gnarly, and the MU-X handled it all easily.
The LS-T has 18-inch alloy wheels and our test vehicle was on Dunlop Grandtrek All Terrain (AT25) tyres.
We took on a short off-road section during the launch, nothing too gnarly, and the MU-X handled it all easily. Its 4X4 Terrain Command system, operated via a dial near the auto shifter, is able to be switched on the move from 2WD High to 4WD High at speeds of up to 100km/h. The vehicle needs to be stationary in order to select 4WD Low.
The LS-T has 230mm of ground clearance.
The LS-T has a 19.5 degree ramp-over angle.
Approach angle of 24 degrees and a departure angle of 25.1 degrees.
The wading depth on the LS-T is 600mm.
The LS-T has an approach angle of 24 degrees, a departure angle of 25.1 degrees, a 19.5 degree ramp-over angle and 230mm of ground clearance. Wading depth is 600mm.
Hill start assist (to prevent vehicle roll-back on steep climbs) and hill descent control (selecting the right gear to maintain speed with engine braking) boost the MU-X bush cred but a limited slip diff or rear diff lock option would be a handy addition. (Isuzu has a habit of actually listening to its customers so, call me Flaming Nostradamus, but I reckon an LSD or diff lock will be in upcoming MU-X and D-Max ranges in the not-too-distant future.)
For the off-roading most people will do in their MU-X, the current set-up is adequate. Case in point, at the top of a steepish hill, we hit the hill descent control button – it's positioned just to the right of the steering wheel and easy to not notice – and ambled down the slope, no worries.
We also rumbled through a series of decent ruts, patches of rock and gravel, as well as a brief muddy portion of track with no bother.
Thing is, the MU-X has the same dual-range 4WD system as the D-Max and only a week or so before the MU-X launch we'd put the D-Max through some very tough stuff, without any strife.
The MU-X's underbody protection includes under-front steel plate skid/splash shield and steel plate guards on the sump and transfer case. A few of us inadvertently tested out the strength of these bash plates on the off-road course; they passed the bump-and-scrape tests with flying colours.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
5 years / 130,000 km warranty
It has a five-year/130,000km warranty, with five years of roadside assist and five-year/50,000km capped price service costs. Servicing is recommended at 12-month/10,000km intervals. Prices are:$200 (first service), $400 (second), $260 (third) $590 (four) and $50 at 60,000km – for a total cost of $1500.
It's not exactly a game-changer and certainly not as sophisticated as its rivals like Fortuner and Everest in terms of driver assist technology and more but, with its great engine and six-speed auto, as well as a neat interior and stylish exterior, this MU-X is at least a big step in the right direction. From the updated line-up, my pick as the sweet spot would be the top-spec LS-T 4x4, particularly with the $52,990 drive-away deal being offered from launch until the end of June.
Would you prefer an MU-X to an Everest or Fortuner? Tell us what you think in the comments below.