Isuzu MU-X VS LDV D90
- Reversing camera as standard
- Suspension upgrade
- Off-road capability
- No AEB
- No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
- Still noisy when driven hard
- Makes more sense as a diesel
- People-mover practicality
- Terrible software
- Cheap interior
- A bit unwieldy to drive
While MY17 MU-X signalled a massive change for the better in Isuzu Ute Australia’s (IUA) SUV line-up, this year is more of a subdued affair.
Last year heralded the arrival of a new 3.0-litre engine, new six-speed automatic transmission, and upgraded Aussie-specific suspension, as well as styling tweaks; MY18 MU-Xs get extended service intervals and a new exterior colour.
It’s a clear case of IUA applying a ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach to its popular ute-based SUV.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
It’s pretty hard to miss the LDV D90.
Mainly because it is gigantic; it's one of the biggest SUVs you can buy. In fact, I’d say what’s drawn you to this review is maybe you’ve seen one of these behemoths trucking past, and you’re wondering what the LDV badge is all about and how this relatively unknown SUV stands up against popular rivals and other notable newcomers.
To get one confusing thing out of the way, LDV once stood for Leyland DAF Vans, a now-defunct British company which has been brought back to life by none other than China’s SAIC Motor – yes, the same one which also resurrected MG.
So, is this MG big brother worth looking into? We took the recently released diesel version of the D90 on test for a week to seek some answers…
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
The MU-X is a solid SUV wagon and it only continues to gain more appeal and, with it, a growing legion of fans. You certainly see a lot of them around – in the bush, in the suburbs and on city streets.
It’s not flash or posh but it’s a very practical daily driver or weekend tourer and performs very well in the real world. The top choice for me remains the LS-T.
Is the MU-X your kind of SUV? Tell us in the comments below.
Looking for a cheap, powerful diesel SUV with huge cabin space and a humane third row for adults? The D90 is a really sound offering, especially considering the price of entry for this top-spec diesel which should resonate with Aussies a bit better than the petrol version.
It has plenty of issues that could be ironed out, but they’re all so small and not sale-breaking it’s almost annoying how much better the D90 could be with just a little work. Rivals should be looking over their shoulder for what comes next.
This launch marked no noteworthy styling changes in the MU-X, inside or out. It remains a blocky but good-looking unit, blending a bush-ready appearance with styling that doesn’t look out of place in an urban setting.
Build quality and fit and finish seem as sturdy as we’ve come to expect from IUA’s mainstream offerings.
Some colleagues I’ve spoken to like the way the D90 looks. To me, it looks like someone gene-spliced a Hyundai Tucson with a SsangYong Rexton in a lab, then grew it in a stew of peptides and this was the result.
What can’t really be communicated in images is how truly massive the D90 is. At over five metres long, two metres wide and almost two metres tall, the D90 is certifiably huge. Given that’s the case then, it’s admittedly almost admirable that only the side profile makes this thing look a little goofy.
I think LDV has done a pretty good job on the front, and the rear is simple but well resolved for a vehicle that rides on a ladder chassis (just take a look at the Pajero Sport for how ladder-chassis rear designs can get… controversial…).
The wheels, garnishes, and LED headlights are all tastefully applied. It’s not ugly… just confronting… size-wise.
Inside shares some familiar characteristics with sister-brand MG. Look from a distance and it’s all quite nice, get in too close and you’ll see where the corners have been cut.
The first thing I don’t like about the interior is the materials. Apart from the wheel they are all pretty cheap and nasty. It’s a sea of hollow plastics and mixed trims. The faux-wood pattern, which is clearly just a print on a plastic resin is particularly gnarly. Reminds me of some Japanese cars from 20 years ago. It might work for the Chinese audience, but that’s not where the market is in Australia.
On the other hand, you could say “well, what do you expect at this price?” and that is true. Everything is here and works, just don’t expect the D90 to be playing alongside the established players when it comes to fit, finish, or material quality.
The huge screen works to finish the dash, but that darned software is so ugly you’ll wish it didn’t. At least all the major touch-points are ergonomically accessible.
The MU-X’s cabin, unchanged, should remain an easy place in which to travel. It’s roomy enough for everyone.
The second row is a 60/40 split-fold with a fold-away centre armrest. The third row is a tight fit for adults but that’s nothing unusual in most seven-seaters.
There is 235 litres of boot space when the third row is up, expanding to 878 litres when the 50/50 split-fold third row is folded flat. When the second and third rows are down, there is 1830 litres of space.
The MU-X has 12 cupholders, 18 'storage solutions' (door compartments with bottle bulge, coat hooks, rear cargo organiser box, etc), USB ports (front and rear) and three 12V power outlets (centre dash, glove box and rear cargo area).
The MU-X has a braked towing capacity of 3000kg, 750kg unbraked.
The D90 is as massive on the inside as it is on the outside. I’m talking better space than a minivan, and nothing says that more than the humane third row. At 182cm tall, I not only fit in the rearmost two seats, but I can do so in as much comfort as any other row. It’s staggering. There’s actual airspace for my knees and head back there.
The second row is massive and on rails too, so you can extend the amount of room available to third-rowers – and there’s so much room in the second row, you’ll have space even with the seats moved forward.
My only criticism here is that the giant rear door is far enough forward to make clambering into the third row a little tricky. Once you’re there though there are really no complaints.
The boot is even usable with the third row deployed, with a claimed 343L of space. That should be hatchback-sized, but the measurement is a little deceptive as the space is tall but shallow, meaning it will only allow you to place smaller bags (a few, if you can stack them) with the remaining space.
The boot is otherwise cavernous with a wild 1350L available with the third row stowed flat, or 2382L with the second row stowed. In this configuration, with the front passenger seat slid forward to its furthest position, I was even able to get a 2.4-metre-long benchtop in the back. Truly impressive.
Second-row occupants get their own climate control module, USB ports and even a full-sized household power outlet, with more legroom than you could possibly need. My only complaint was that the seat trim seemed a little flat and cheap.
Front occupants get large cupholders in the centre console, a deep armrest box (with no connectivity in it, just a randomly placed DPF cycle switch), pockets in the doors, and an awkward binnacle under the climate controls that houses the single available USB port. My phone didn’t fit in there.
No complaints about leg and headroom in the front either, though, with plenty of adjustability to boot. The driver’s seat offers a commanding view of the road, although it can be a little unsettling to be so far off the ground in corners… more on that in the driving section.
Price and features
There are seven variants in the MY18 MU-X range: the 4x2 LS-M auto ($42,900), 4x2 LS-U auto ($45,200), 4x2 LS-T auto ($48,900), 4x4 LS-M auto ($50,200), 4x4 LS-U manual ($50,400), 4x4 LS-U auto ($52,500), and 4x4 LS-T auto ($56,200). All are seven-seater SUVs.
The base-spec LS-M’s standard features include 7.0-inch touchscreen with USB and Bluetooth streaming, reversing camera and rear park assist sensors, LED daytime running lights, gun metallic front grille, bi-LED projector headlights, colour-coded door handles and side mirrors, hill descent control, air-conditioning, power windows, and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The LS-U gets an 8.0-inch touchscreen, chrome front grille, door handles and side mirrors, as well as side steps, rear cabin cooling vents, and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The LS-T also gets leather-accented seats, passive entry and start system, six-way adjustable electric driver’s seat, roof rails, tailgate spoiler, chrome muffler tip and 10-inch DVD screen for rear passengers.
The MY18 MU-X is available in seven colours: 'Cosmic Black Mica', 'Obsidian Grey Mica', 'Havana Brown Mica', 'Silky White Pearl', 'Splash White', 'Titanium Silver' and the new 'Magnetic Red Mica' option.
On paper, the seven-seat D90 is immediately quite appealing. At $47,990, it is literally a lot of car for the money. This latest iteration, the bi-turbo diesel, is only available in Executive trim at this price, but you can pinch pennies further by choosing one of the lesser petrol turbo variants.
Regardless, and much like its MG sister brand, LDV is good at making sure that essential spec boxes are ticked.
This includes screens galore as is popular in the Chinese market, including a massive 12-inch multimedia screen and 8.0-inch digital dash.
A screen is only as good as the software that runs on it though, and let me tell you, the D90’s software is not good. A quick flick through the weirdly small menu reveals barebones functionality, terrible resolution and response time, as well as possibly the worst execution of Apple CarPlay I’ve ever seen.
I mean, it doesn’t even use all of that screen real estate! Not only that, but in a recent overhaul to CarPlay, Apple released software to utilise wider displays – so the car’s own software must simply be incapable of supporting it. Inputs also proved laggy, and I had to repeat myself on multiple occasions to get any use out of Siri. Unlike every other car I’ve used, the software in the D90 wouldn’t return to the radio after you hang up or stop talking to Siri. Frustrating.
I’d rather have a far smaller display that actually worked well. The semi-digital dash was functional, although barely did anything that a small dot-matrix display isn’t capable of and had one screen which for my entire week said ‘loading’. I’m still not sure what it was meant to do…
At least it supports Apple CarPlay at all, which is more than could have been said for segment hero, the Toyota LandCruiser.
The D90 does tick some necessary items that are quite good. LED headlights are standard, as are leather seats with eight-way power adjust for the driver, a heated multi-function steering wheel, 19-inch alloy wheels (which still somehow look small on this huge thing), three-zone climate control, eight-speaker audio system, electric tailgate, keyless entry with push-start ignition, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, tyre-pressure monitoring, as well as a fairly substantial safety suite which we’ll explore later in this review.
Great on paper then, the bi-turbo diesel engine is a boon, as is the fact that the D90 rides on a ladder chassis with an electronically-controlled low-range terrain mode for the transmission, too.
You’d expect to pay more – even from Korean and Japanese rivals for this much specification. No matter which way you cut it, the D90 is good value.
Engine & trans
The diesel also gets its own transmission, an eight-speed torque converter automatic with computer-controlled ‘Terrain Selection 4WD’.
This gives the D90 diesel a max towing capacity of 3100kg braked (or 750kg unbraked) with a max payload of 730kg.
We spent very little time in any new models and we’d have to drive a MY18 MU-X for a week or more to get a good handle on real-world fuel consumption but Isuzu claims the MU-X gets through 7.9L/100km (combined) in 4x4 LS-U and LS-T guises, 8.0L/100km (combined) in 4x2 LS-M, and 8.1L/100km (combined) in 4x2 LS-U and LS-T and 4x4 LS-M.
Every MY18 MU-X has a 65-litre fuel tank.
The D90 diesel is said to consume 9.1L/100km of diesel on the combined cycle, but ours didn’t score near that with a figure of 12.9L/100km after a week of what I’d consider “combined” testing.
The D90 a big unit, so that number doesn’t seem outrageous, it’s just nowhere near the claim… All D90s have 75-litre fuel tanks.
Running 20 psi (pounds per square inch) in our Bridgestone Dueler or Toyo Open Country tyres, the Isuzus handled everything on the 4WD loop with ease, including runs up and down steep greasy-muddy hills peppered with rocks and tree-root hazards, tight turns in between trees, plowing through mud puddles and more.
No surprise at its efficacy on rough terrain because the D-Max and MU-X work off the proven '4X4 Terrain Command' system, operated via a dial near the auto shifter, and which can be switched on the move from 2High to 4High at speeds of up to 100km/h.
To engage 4L you need to be stationary.
The MU-X is 4825mm long, 1860mm wide (excluding wing mirrors), 1860mm high (the 4x2 LS-M is 1825mm high) and has a 3095mm wheelbase and 1570mm track. It has a 11.6m turning circle. Kerb weight is listed as from 1992kg (4x2 LS-M) to 2157kg (4x4 LS-T).
All MU-Xs except 4x2 and 4x4 LS-M models (220mm), have 230mm ground clearance. All MU-Xs except 4x2 and 4x4 LS-M models have 24 degrees approach angle (LS-M: 23.3), 25.1 degrees departure angle (LS-M: 24.6), and 19.5 degrees ramp-over angle (LS-M: 18.7).
The MU-X retains the benefits of the previous generation’s hill start assist (designed to hold gear during climbs) and hill descent control (which maintains engine-braking speed on downhills and is able to be regulated with acceleration or braking).
Underbody protection includes under-front steel plate skid/splash shield on every MU-X; and steel plate guards on the sump, transfer case and fuel tank leading edge on all 4x4 models.
The D90 is easier to drive than it looks… to a degree…
It lacks some polish of its more established rivals, which results in a drive experience that isn’t bad, but occasionally frustrating.
The ride somehow manages to be soft and harsh at the same time. It undulates over larger bumps, while transmitting the worst parts of smaller, sharper ones to the cabin. It speaks to a lack of calibration between the suspension and dampers.
That having been said, the D90 masks its ladder chassis underpinnings well, with little of that typical body-on-frame jiggle that some rivals still struggle with.
The drivetrain is good, but a little unruly. As you’d imagine from the figures, there’s more than enough power on tap, but the transmission tends to have a mind of its own.
It will occasionally lurch between gears, pick the wrong gear, and off-the-line will sometimes be delayed before shunting the D90’s bulk forward with a sudden mountain of torque. It doesn’t sound particularly good either, with the diesel surging through the rev range with industrial crudeness.
By the time the D90 has reached cruising speed though, there’s really not much to complain about, with the D90 milling along with plenty of power in reserve for overtaking. The view of the road is commanding, but you really feel the D90’s high centre of gravity in the corners and under heavy braking. The physics of such a large object are undeniable.
I have to say, LDV has done a fantastic job of the D90’s steering, with a quick, light feel that betrays the SUV’s size. It manages to stray on the right side of lightness though, not being so disconnected that you lose a feeling of where the wheels are pointing. No mean feat in something this shape.
Overall then, the D90 isn’t bad to drive and has some genuinely great characteristics, it just also has a litany of small issues that get in the way of it being truly competitive with segment leaders.
The MU-X has a maximum five-star ANCAP rating from April 2017.
Standard safety gear includes six airbags (dual front, side and full-length curtain), ABS with electronic brake-force distribution, ESC, traction control and EBA (emergency brake assist), 'Hill Start Assist' and 'Hill Descent Control', plus three top-tether ISOFIX child-seat points in the rear seat.
The LDV D90 carries a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating as of 2017, and has a fairly comprehensive active safety suite.
Included on the diesel is auto emergency braking (AEB) with front collision warning, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, driver-attention alert, traffic-sign recognition, and adaptive cruise control.
Not bad for the price, and nice that there’s nothing optional. Expected items include electronic traction, stability, and brake controls, as well as six airbags.
The curtain airbags do extend to the third row, and there’s the bonus of a reversing camera and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system.
Servicing is recommended at 12-month/15,000km intervals. Prices are: $350 (at 12 months/15,000km), $450 (at 24 months/30,000km), $500 (at 36 months/45,000km) $450 (at 48 months/60,000km) and $340 at 60 months/75,000km – for a total cost of $2090.
LDV covers the D90 with a five-year/130,000km warranty, which is not bad… but falls behind sister brand MG, which offers seven years/unlimited kilometres. At the very least it would be nice to have the unlimited kilometre promise.
Roadside assist is included for the duration of that warranty, but there’s no capped price servicing offered through LDV. The brand gave us indicative pricing of $513.74, $667.15, and $652.64 for the first three annual services. An initial six-monthly 5000km checkup is free.
All D90s need to be serviced once every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first.