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Isuzu must be one of the most unexpected car companies in the market today. Famous in Australia for, well, mostly being camouflaged as rebadged Holdens or selling plenty of trucks, the MU-X was the brand's big thrust into the large SUV market.
The thing is, we've bought more Isuzu SUVs than we realise - most Holden SUVs (before they were even called that) came from Isuzu. The Frontera and the Jackaroo are both from across the seas, the former even reaching our shores from as far flung a locale as the United Kingdom.
So, silly name aside, the MU-X is a serious-looking proposition for families who want to get away from it all, as the incessant advertising suggests.
|Isuzu MU-X 2020: LS-T (4x4)|
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
One of the reasons the MU-X sells like it's going out of fashion is because it's aggressively priced, especially if you go for a two-wheel drive version.
The $52,600 LS-T I had for the week is just over $10,000 more than the entry-level LS-M 4x2 version. Isuzu is very fond of sharp drive-away deals, too, so keep an eye out for those if you're in the market - at the time of writing you could get a base model 4x2 for under $40,000. That's a quite a lot of metal.
The LS-T scores you 18-inch alloys, an eight speaker stereo, 8.0-inch media screen, climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry, rear parking sensors, rear entertainment screen with DVD player, sat nav, a leather steering wheel, sort-of-leather trim and a full-size spare.
The LS-U and LS-T both get the bigger 8.0-inch screen with sat nav, but I don't quite understand the point of that - the media software is as basic as it gets and uses on-screen buttons Andre the Giant would say were a bit much.
It does make it very easy to access the functionality that isn't very easy to use once you're there. I guess you can't have everything, although the navigation is surprisingly well detailed.
I don't think the MU-X is at all easy on the eye. The front end is busy, busy, busy with lots of angles that bring to mind an angry bird. Some owners like to make it even worse with the endless accessories list, but one thing is for certain, it's all about function over form.
It's a bit of a mess, really, and even the side profile is out of whack, owing to the odd proportions and shapes of the windows. Still, it's not offensive, just not especially accomplished.
The cabin is really looking its age but I was quite taken with the giant dial for the climate control. While the rest of the switchgear is cheap and snappy, the feel and action of the big rotary dial made tweaking the temperature a tactile pleasure.
The fake leather of the LS-T is fine but it felt thin, so I wonder if the cloth mightn't be a better bet for more rough-and-tumble families.
You can fit seven people in the MU-X, but they can't be too tall. Amazingly, you can put a six-footer in the rear, as m'colleague Matt Campbell discovered.
It's not luxurious but it will do the job and that third row is easy to access. That's because the middle row tumbles forward right out of the way. The downside is, it doesn't slide when in place.
The middle row is also good for six-footers but the relationship between the B-pillar and the seats is as awkward as a scene in one those stupid Bachelor shows where the chiselled automaton is caught lying about snogging the girl with the diamante stuck to her forehead.
You do get your own fan control once you've posted yourself through the slot, however.
The storage box at the loading lip seems a bit awkward - you can pop the lid to access accoutrement storage (the tow ball fitting was sliding about in this one) but it suddenly makes sense when you fold the seats down - you get a lovely big flat floor. Nifty.
The MU-X has crammed beneath its bonnet a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel. With a modest 130kW but a generous 430Nm, power heads to all four wheels (or the just the rears in a 4x2) via a six-speed automatic.
The all-wheel drive system is selectable, the car featuring 2H, 4H and 4L modes. While there is a transfer case there are no locking or limited slip diffs. I tootled around in rear-wheel drive until it got a bit damp and the rear got a bit loose.
You can tow up to 3000kg, too, which isn't mucking about, but other vehicles in the class can drag more.
Isuzu claims the AWD MU-X will drain the tank at a rate of 8.1L/100km. The car I had for the week spoke in km/L for reasons I was unable to fathom and even then it was giving me a wild number of 5.0km/L, which translates to 20L/100km.
I don't believe that, you don't believe that. Previous CarsGuide testing revealed a reasonable rate of 9.5L/100km, which looked about right when I compared distance and fuel-tank levels. A car this big scoring under 10L/100km is a win in my book.
The MU-X arrives on your drive with six airbags, ABS, stability and traction control and the usual brake-assist technologies. And that's about it.
While it does have a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, that was awarded in 2013 and there's no way it would score it again in its current spec. It doesn't have AEB for a start. Commendably, the curtain airbags reach all the way to the people you've imprisoned in the third row.
6 years / 150,000 km warranty
ANCAP Safety Rating
This is where the MU-X shines - with a six year/150,000km warranty, roadside assist for the same period and seven years of capped-price servicing. You only have to front up to the dealer every 12 months or 15,000km.
Total cost over the first seven services is $3600 or just over $500 on average. Thing is, you do get a bit of a shock at service number six where you get clobbered for $1110, which is verging on BMW or Audi territory. At least you have all that time to save up...
You'll never pay that much for a service on the equivalent Holden.
The big question is no longer "can a ute-based SUV work for a family" - we're already well aware that it can, and does. The question is, can Isuzu make it work?
While the MU-X has been around for the thick end of a decade (okay, not quite), this is the first time I have driven it and, to be honest, it had never really crossed my mind that these things sell like crazy. A week in one certainly made me realise how many of them there are - turns out Fleetwood Mac songs sell SUVs. Who knew?
I'm not going to lie, the MU-X feels super-basic. Most buyers won't know or care that it's a D-Max underneath but the ute origins are pretty obvious inside. You sit so high you need to check with air-traffic control before waving at someone out the window.
The blocky steering wheel is connected to a steering rack with a fairly relaxed attitude towards actually turning the wheels, an obvious nod to some serious off-road ability. Annoyingly it doesn't adjust for reach, so I was never completely comfortable.
On the road, it's big and ponderous, though. The 3.0-litre four might sound like the specs of a 1990s Porsche engine (doesn't get much more niche that), but it's decidedly agricultural. The racket of this engine when you've got any throttle on is underscored by the fact it's very quiet once you're cruising.
That is certainly the MU-X's element - point it down a long, straight bit of road and it will be comfortable and quiet for everyone and everything on board.
I didn't take it off-road, but it feels like it will cope beautifully with the rough stuff, yet it doesn't have a centre diff. It spent most of the week in two-wheel drive but a damp morning reminded me of that and I had a moment of wheelspin coming out of a roundabout.
Once the road was dry again, the all-wheel drive gave me chattering tyres, so I swapped back to two wheels only.
I don't want to be too hard on the MU-X, but I'd take a Holden Trailblazer over it in a hearbeat, which might be a few hundred bucks more, but has a lot more stuff inside, cheaper servicing, is slightly quieter and looks a bit better (not much, granted).
But that is just me - the MU-X is a popular car because it clearly smashes a few KPIs that I'm not familiar with and, while I don't think it's a bad car, it's certainly not the best in the class, because it's missing the safety features and refinement of its rivals.
|LS-M (4x2)||3.0L, Diesel, 6 SP SEQ AUTO||$42,900||2020 Isuzu MU-X 2020 LS-M (4x2) Pricing and Specs|
|LS-M (4x4)||3.0L, Diesel, 6 SP SEQ AUTO||$50,200||2020 Isuzu MU-X 2020 LS-M (4x4) Pricing and Specs|
|LS-T (4x2)||3.0L, Diesel, 6 SP SEQ AUTO||$49,100||2020 Isuzu MU-X 2020 LS-T (4x2) Pricing and Specs|
|LS-T (4x4)||3.0L, Diesel, 6 SP SEQ AUTO||$56,400||2020 Isuzu MU-X 2020 LS-T (4x4) Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||7|
|Engine & trans||7|