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Isuzu MU-X


Mitsubishi Pajero

Summary

Isuzu MU-X

Plenty of fanfare accompanied the arrival of the new D-Max ute from Isuzu, with the new HiLux-botherer more powerful, safer and more technologically advanced than its predecessor.

And where a new D-Max goes, its ute-based SUV sibling, the MU-X, must follow. And sure enough, the new rugged but family friendly SUV has now arrived in Australia, too, presenting a serious off-road and towing option for our market, and one that promises to be more comfortable and more tech-savvy than the model it replaces. 

This new MU-X returns to the market with a sharper set of clothes, a prettier face, more grunt under the restyled snout and a whole swag of new features to tempt buyers out of an Everest, Fortuner or Pajero Sport.

Not that it’s had trouble doing that thus far, with Isuzu’s MU-X claiming the title of the number-one selling 'ute-based SUV' for the past seven years. This one, though, doesn’t have the same bargain-basement price tag that it had on debut just under a decade ago.

Putting seven bums on seats, towing toys and getting well off the beaten track is all within its scope, so the Japanese brand’s wagon is seen as a jack of all trades. But - like some tradies - was once a little rough around the edges in terms of refinement and road manners.

The new-look model goes a long way to answer some of those criticisms and looks to offer improved levels of comfort.

We’re getting to grips with the flagship LS-T, but first, let’s look at the new range in its entirety.

Safety rating
Engine Type3.0L turbo
Fuel TypeDiesel
Fuel Efficiency7.8L/100km
Seating7 seats

Mitsubishi Pajero

If you're in the market for a genuinely large, rugged-duty four-wheel drive diesel wagon, your choices are rapidly diminishing... and if you're looking for one that's relatively affordable, your choices are even fewer.

The Mitsubishi Pajero is one of the company's longest serving and most faithful performers, and when it comes to value for money in the large off-road diesel wagon segment, there are few better.

But has age wearied this old battle horse? We're testing the 2018 update to see if it's still relevant in today's market.

Safety rating
Engine Type3.2L turbo
Fuel TypeDiesel
Fuel Efficiency9L/100km
Seating7 seats

Verdict

Isuzu MU-X7.8/10

So many SUVs are bought by – if you’ll pardon the blunt term – breeders who want to look like explorers, with the closest they get to an off-road situation being the school oval when setting up for the fair.

The MU-X isn’t one of those SUVs … its swagger says beach boat launch not boutique car park, with genuine off-road ability and towing prowess. It just happens to cope with suburban duties without being grumpy about, look decent and be able to carry half your offspring’s soccer team when needed.

Isuzu have done plenty to keep the MU-X at the top of its segment. Pricing is no longer the advantage it once was but it’s still packing the attributes on several fronts for a fair fight.


Mitsubishi Pajero7.5/10

There's no doubt that the Pajero is getting on in age, and there's no sign of Mitsubishi replacing it any time soon.

Then again, it doesn’t really need to. It sells quite well, it's really affordable, all of the bugs have been ironed out of it, and it's as tough as old boot leather.

It's not the most handsome thing on the road, and its active safety spec is behind that of more modern vehicles, but it's easy to forgive these oversights (okay, not the safety aspect so much) when it's as practical and lovable as this.

Is simple - like the Mitsubishi Pajero - the best? Or is tech the way to go?

Design

Isuzu MU-X7/10

There’s plenty of family resemblance between the D-MAX utility and its wagon sibling – that’s a good thing as the new look has been well-received.

Sculpted flanks and more shoulders shape have replaced the somewhat slab-sided look of its predecessor, with the wheel arch flares now a little more integrated into the sides of the new MU-X.

The awkward window treatment on the rear corner of the outgoing MU-X has been replaced by a slimmer C-pillar and a more conventional window shape, which suggests a better view for those seated in the third row.

The strong shoulder line and a squarer stance gives the MU-X plenty of presence on the road, with eye-catching styling at the front and the rear, the latter probably more in need of attention than the snout in the case of the previous MU-X.


Mitsubishi Pajero7/10

Park your 2018 Pajero next to a model from the mid-naughties and from side on, you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Over the years, there have been superficial updates to elements like bumpers and tail-lights, but the Pajero's large boxy visage remains virtually untouched from its 2006 introduction.

It features a huge glasshouse, which makes for a very airy and bright cabin, while its box-like rear section endows the 4x4 wagon with a massive rear cargo space. It's certainly not going to win any beauty awards but that's really not the point of the Pajero.

On the inside, too, the only concession to up to date motoring is the touchscreen multimedia system. Again, there have been small cosmetic changes over the years to the Pajero's design language inside the car, but it really doesn't feel that much different to one of its 12-year-old siblings when you hop aboard.

Practicality

Isuzu MU-X7/10

Second only to the Ford Everest in overall length, the MU-X sits at 4850mm long - a 25mm increase - with 10mm of that added to the wheelbase that’s now 2855mm long, 5mm longer than the Ford.

The new MU-X is 1870mm wide and 1825mm tall (1815mm for the LS-M), up 10mm, although the wheel track remains unchanged at 1570mm.

The ground clearance has improved by 10mm to 235mm for all bar the 230mm listed for the LS-M base-model. 

What has reduced - by 35mm - is overall height to sit below the Everest, Pajero Sport and Fortuner rooflines, with a 10mm reduction in front overhang and a 25mm addition to the rear overhang.

Cargo and cabin space have benefitted from the dimensional improvements. The former in particular has risen – with all seats occupied the maker claims 311 litres of luggage space (up from 286 in the outgoing vehicle), rising to 1119 litres (measured to SAE standard) in five-seater mode, an improvement of 68 litres.

If there’s a sojourn to a Swedish furniture warehouse on the cards, with the second and third rows folded the new MU-X boasts 2138 litres, which is a slight reduction on the outgoing model’s 2162 litres.

The cargo space is, however, more user-friendly in the way the seating can folded to provide a flat loadspace.

The boot is accessed by a higher-opening tailgate and there’s underfloor storage as well, which can be utilised when all three rows are occupied.

Flexibility is king in these SUVs and the new MU-X can offer myriad interior seating and cargo options.

The width within feels sufficient in the front two seats, the occupants of which have access to plenty of storage in the console or dashboard, with two gloveboxes.

Neither are massive but there’s a decent amount of useful space, marred only by an odd boxed section in the upper glovebox that looks to have been made for something not offered in this market.

The centre console under the driver’s left elbow has a useful amount of space, but it’s more likely you’ll use the console storage ahead of the gear selector.

It’s ideal for phones and is just screaming out for a wireless charging pad in addition to the USB and 12-volt outlets already there.

That said, the latter was strangely devoid of current – we couldn’t get a number of different plugs to work in the front or rear 12-volt outlet.

The door pockets front and rear can carry a 1.5-litre bottle, part of a cohort of a dozen beverage holder options.

Front occupants get two cupholders in the centre console and one under each outboard vent, which function well great for keeping drinks warm or cool - there’s a similar set-up in the Toyota duo too.

The middle row has the only ISOFIX mounts - on the outboard seats - and tethers for all three positions, as well as cupholders in the armrest and two USB charge points; there are vents and fan controls in the roof (but no roof speakers any more).

The backrests of the front seats are equipped with map pockets, as well as a shopping bag hook on the passenger’s side. 

Sadly there’s no sign of a three-pin domestic power plug for 230-240 volt devices that pops up on its opposition.

The seat base doesn’t slide for the second row to tailor its legroom but the backrest does recline a little.

At 191cm I can sit behind my own driving position, with some margin for head and legroom; time in the third row would need to be limited to short trips unless you’re in the single-digit age bracket.

Two cupholders sit outboard of the third row, along with some oddment storage.

There’s no USB outlets but the 12-volt outlet in the cargo area would work in a pinch if it could be convinced to supply power.

The powered rear tailgate emitted a triple-beep and refused to open, a function we later found out was instigated by the presence of a trailer plug in the socket.

Just as the rear parking sensors now recognise the presence of a trailer when in reverse, the tailgate function was designed to prevent it hitting anything on the tow ball. Let’s hope the same level of attention to feedback is focussed on the active safety system functionality and switches.


Mitsubishi Pajero7/10

The Pajero is sold as a seven-seater and the rear two seats are tucked underneath the boot floor. There is also a 60/40-split fold second row, which can be tumbled forward to make a larger space as well as provide access to those two rear seats.

The third row really is the definition of a jump seat; it’s a narrow bench with short seat backs that are extended by comically oversized head rests, which need to be detached to stow the rear seat under the floor.

In fact, it is quite a complicated system to erect the seats in any sort of hurry and the parts are quite weighty, as well. People of a smaller stature will struggle a bit to configure those rear seats in any sort of hurry.

The same criticism can be levelled at the second-row seats, which basically need two separate movements to revert from tumbled to assembled. In their favour, they do offer a reclining back, which adds to rear seat comfort, and there is absolutely no shortage of headroom or kneeroom for even the tallest passengers.

There are ISOFIX mounts on the second-row outside seats, as well as a pull-down centre arm rest that hides two cupholders. Unusually in a relatively modern car, there are no door cards of any description in the rear doors, which means bottles can't be stowed there.

While the front doors have narrow short pockets, they are not equipped to hold any sort of bottles, either. The only way that you'll hold the drink is via the two cupholders that sit side by side in between the two front seats.

The big Paj is unashamedly aimed at people who like to treat their cars hard and put them away wet, and there is a lot of hard plastics here that will resist the rough and tumble of an outback life but may detract from the Paj’s ambience for suburb dwellers.

Overall, though, the Pajero is incredibly easy to operate and live with. There is an absolute lack of unnecessary bells and whistles and it features just what you need to drive up and over any obstacle in your path.

Visibility around the car is excellent in all directions, though the tall bonnet may make it awkward for some drivers to park the car. There are sensors and a reversing camera for parking, which does make life easy, although there are no line markings on the display to help you line up a trailer.

Our tester is carpeted, and one can easily see large rubber mats placed on the floor for a little bit more off-road resistance.

Internal cargo space rivals that of a panel van, with a low floor, high roof and large door aperture making the 1069 litres (VDA) of space with the second row in place (or 1798L with all rows folded) a doddle to access. The right side-hinged one-piece swinging door won’t suit everyone, though, and we weren’t able to access the rear of the Paj when our trailer was in place.

The spare wheel is mounted to the rear door, which isn't always the easiest thing to access, either, particularly for smaller adults. As well, you'll have to get under the floor to retrieve the jack and the wheel brace, as they are located in with the third-row seat.

There are luggage tie-downs in the cargo area while vents are situated in the roof throughout the car and the third-row passengers also get their own cupholders. Second-rowers miss out on any sort of power points but they do have access to ventilation controls.

And a big tick for the extendable sections within the Pajero sunvisors - such a rarity these days! It’s like no-one commutes north or south any more in car design land...

There's no digital speedo, sadly; in fact, there's not much digital stuff going on at all other than an ageing, but still useful, digital fuel and information gauge on top of the centre console.

The Bluetooth-ready head unit is similar to those found in other Mitsubishi products and features Apple Car Play and Android Auto. It's reasonably simple to use, though some of the submenus are quite hidden, making them hard to access. And the USB ports are mounted in the glovebox; not a drama, per se, but more inconvenient than most.

Price and features

Isuzu MU-X7/10

Entry to the new MU-X range, which is offered with rear and 4WD models on all three tiers, starts with the MU-X LS-M, priced from $47,900 for the 4X2 and $53,900 for the 4X4 – price increases of $4000 and $2700 respectively.

While it’s not a hose-out mud-plugger, the LS-M is still the rough’n’ready version of the range, with black sidesteps, cloth trim, manual front seat adjustment (including height for the driver), plastic steering wheel and carpet flooring, but it still gets the long-awaited rear diff lock and electric park brake.

A 7.0-inch multimedia screen offers access to digital radio, as well as wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, delivering the results through four speakers.

There’s manual air conditioning with roof-mounted rear vents and a separate fan control to keep the rear rows well-ventilated.

Unlike some entry-level models, the base model here isn’t deprived on the lighting front, with the automatic bi-LED headlights (auto-levelling and with automatic high-beam control), as well as LED daytime running and rear lights, rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.

The middle child of the MU-X family is the LS-U, and it offers a little more comfort to the occupants and some nicer exterior touches, too, helping justify the price jump to $53,900 ($7600 over the outgoing vehicle) for the 4x2, and $59,900 for the 4x4 model, rising $6300 over the superseded model.

Body-coloured exterior mirrors and door handles replace the black plastic trim of the base model, with roof rails, rear ‘privacy’ glass and LED foglight added to the list. The front grille also changes to silver and chrome, the alloy wheels grow to 18 inches and are now wrapped in highway-biased rubber.

Also growing - by two inches - is the centre infotainment display, which adds integrated satellite navigation and voice recognition to its repertoire, as well as doubling the number of speakers to eight.

Dual-zone climate-control, LED-lit front vanity mirrors for both front occupants, front parking sensors and a remote powered rear tailgate are among the other extras added, while the exterior sidesteps are now silver.

The interior is accessed by keyless ‘smart’ entry (with auto-locking once the driver wanders more than three metres away) and while the cloth trim is retained, it’s a higher grade and the cabin is littered with piano black, silver and chrome highlights.

For the driver there’s now a leather-wrapped wheel and gear-shifter, as well as a powered lumbar-support adjustment.

The flagship of the new MU-X range remains the LS-T. Chief among the changes that will betray its top-spec nature are the attractive two-toned machined alloy wheels and the leather-trimmed interior.

The top-spec model sneaks in at $59,900 for the 4x2 (up a substantial $9,800), and rises to $65,900 for the 4WD model, which is a $8500 jump over the old model.

That buys a two-inch jump in wheel size to 20 inches, and “quilted” leather trim for the seats, interior door trims and the centre console, as well as two-stage seat heating for the two front seats.

The LS-T’s driver’s seat boasts eight-way power-adjustment, with LED ambient interior lighting, embedded ambient lighting in the gear selector, tyre pressure monitoring and an auto-dimming centre mirror among the extras for the driver.

Buyers of the flagship will also benefit from the remote engine-start function, ideal for cooling a long-parked car on Australian summer days.

In terms of its competitive set, the MU-X increased price tag hasn’t pushed it beyond the parameters set by its competition, but it does erode the Isuzu’s value advantage.

Ford’s Ranger-based Everest starts at $50,090 for the RWD 3.2 Ambiente and tops out at $73,190 for the Titanium 2.0 4WD model.

Toyota’s Fortuner offers only a 4WD model for its Hilux-based wagon, which starts at $49,080 for the entry-level GX, rising to $54,340 for the GXL and finishing with the Crusade at $61,410.

Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport starts from $47,490 for the GLX five-seater, but for a seven-seater it’s the GLS - priced from $52,240 - that’s required; the Triton-based wagon range tops out at $57,690 for the Exceed seven-seater.


Mitsubishi Pajero8/10

In terms of its value, the $58,990 Pajero GLS presents very well against its most logical rival, the $59,990 Toyota Prado GXL. It's arguably got more capability than than the younger Prado, though size- and ability-wise, the Paj isn’t too far off the venerable LandCruiser GXL, which is almost $25,000 dearer.

It can also be cross-shopped with seven-seat 4x4s like Hyundai's Santa Fe and the ladder-framed Ford Everest.

Out of the box, the Pajero GLS comes with automatic lights and wipers, a leather-clad steering wheel and shifter, leather-bolstered seats with cloth inserts, heated front seats, a rear diff lock, front and rear fog lights, regular (non-adaptive) cruise control, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system with Apple Car Play, Android Auto and Bluetooth streaming. There is no navigation fitted to this particular version.

The Paj features a multi-stage 4x4 system that Mitsubishi calls Super Select II, as well as independent suspension front and rear, and the company's tried and trusted 3.2-litre DiD four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine mated to an old-school five-speed automatic gearbox. It rides on 18-inch alloys that are shod with a more street-orientated all-terrain tyre.

Engine & trans

Isuzu MU-X8/10

The 3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine is a staple of the Isuzu range, and this new powerplant is very much an exercise in evolution over revolution. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

So the new MU-X is powered by the 4JJ3-TCX – a 3.0-litre, common-rail, direct-injection four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that is a descendant of the outgoing MU-X powerplant, albeit with additional exhaust emissions gear to reduce output of nitrogen oxide and hydrogen sulphide.

But Isuzu claims the extra focus on emissions hasn’t harmed the outputs, which have grown by 10kW to 140kW at 3600rpm and there’s a 20Nm increase in torque to 450Nm between 1600rpm and 2600rpm.

The new engine has a variable geometry turbocharger (although now with electric control) force-feeding the engine to good effect, with new block, head, crankshaft and aluminium pistons and a higher-mounted intercooler.

As was the case with previous incarnations of the wagon and its utility sibling, the relaxed midrange torque of this under-stressed engine is what appeals to many drivers indulging in towing and off-roading.

Isuzu claims the midrange torque output has improved, with 400Nm on offer from 1400rpm through to 3250rpm and 300Nm is produced from just 1000rpm, assertions that have a ring of truth in them after some time behind the wheel.

Isuzu has avoided a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system that requires AdBlue, instead choosing a lean nitrogen oxide (NOx) trap (LNT) that minimises nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions to Euro 5b standards. 

There’s also a new high-pressure direct injection fuel system featuring a 20 per cent more efficient fuel pump, sending the diesel through new high-efficiency injectors into the newly-engineered combustion chamber.

A maintenance-free steel timing chain is claiming to be quieter and more durable by way of a double scissor idle gear set that Isuzu says improves durability and reduces engine rattle and vibration.

That does come through in the drive, with lower levels of engine noise in the cabin, but there’s no doubting the engine type under the bonnet.

A six-speed automatic and part-time 4WD system is also carried over from the workhorse sibling, a transmission that’s had work done to improve shift quality and speed, something that’s apparent from time behind the wheel.

The addition of a rear differential lock will also please off-roaders, but a rear-drive or full-time option for the 4WD system for sealed surfaces is still exclusive to the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport.

The auto has retained its smarts when it comes to down-changing for engine braking on long descents, something that can be done by manual change as well - it won’t over-rule and up-change against the driver’s wishes in manual mode either.


Mitsubishi Pajero8/10

The fourth-generation Pajero was updated in 2011 with the then-new 4M41 3.2-litre four-cylinder direct injection turbo diesel engine, and it instantly transformed the Pajero into a much nicer rig.

Even seven years on, the engine still feels refined and powerful, and it gives nothing away to its more modern, smaller capacity four-cylinder turbo diesel rivals. It musters up 141kW of power and 441Nm of torque – the latter number sounds a bit anaemic in this age of 500Nm utes, and the two-tonne-plus weight of the Paj plays against it too, but in use, even with a two-tonne race car/trailer combo on the back, it did the job perfectly well.

The engine connects to Mitsubishi’s Super Select II 4x4 system via an old but tough five-speed auto.

The Super Select II system allows the driver to pick rear-wheel drive, or three distinct 4x4 modes. High-range 4WD (centre diff unlocked) is suitable for everyday use, and should arguably be the default setting. High-range 4WD (centre diff locked) is better for dry and loose conditions, while low-range 4WD is your go-anywhere, do-anything mode, especially when combined with the lockable rear diff.

What does that do, you ask? It basically prevents the diff from sending all power to the wheel it thinks needs it the most, enabling both rear wheels to help when the going gets slippery. It's a definite no-no on the streets, though; you'll 'wind up' the diff by not allowing the other wheel to rotate freely when you're turning a corner, and it doesn't like that.

If you want to tow with the 2255kg Pajero, it can haul 3000kg of braked trailer, and has a generous gross vehicle mass figure (total legal weight of car, trailer, passengers and load) of 6030kg. If your trailer is over 2500kg, the downball weight maximum is 180kg, which increases to 250kg if the trailer is under that figure.

Sure, the Pajero not getting any younger, but it all works brilliantly well... and that's testament to its basic good character.

Fuel consumption

Isuzu MU-X8/10

Any fuel economy claim in single digits is going to be pleasing to the pump-watchers, and the MU-X is one for the fuel-misers, despite its thirst going up just under half-a-litre per 100km over its predecessor.

Combined cycle fuel economy claims range stand at 7.8 litres per 100km for the rear-wheel drive MU-X models, rising slightly to 8.3 litres per 100km for the 4x4 side of the range.

Mind you, this is over a 20-minute test cycle in an emissions laboratory in two uneven timeframes, weighted toward the urban cycle which has a 19km/h average speed and plenty of time at idle while the shorter highway cycle records a 63km/h average speed and a peak of 120km/h, which we would of course never do here.

After we had covered almost 300km the MU-X LS-T was - according to its trip computer - averaging 10.7 litres per 100km, at a 37km/h average speed, which betrays the largely metropolitan duties performed to that point, with no towing or off-roading.

That would, in theory, bring the touring range down to somewhere around 800km from the newly expanded 80-litre fuel tank, a 15-litre increase in tank capacity, although there’s no reason to doubt the long-legged touring number of 7.2 litres per 100km (the laboratory highway figure).

The fuel economy rose to 11.7 litres per 100km after a 200km round trip with horse float and four-legged occupant, having hovered in the region of 10 litres per 100km (at a 38km/h average speed) for the day-to-day duties prior.


Mitsubishi Pajero9/10

After 380km aboard the Paj, including 55km with a laden trailer behind it, we returned a dash-indicated fuel figure of 10.4 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined fuel economy cycle, and our 38 litres of fuel used equated to a real-world 10.0L/100km.

Against a combined fuel economy claim of 9.1 litres, this is a great result.

The Pajero’s tank holds 88 litres of fuel, giving it a theoretical range of 980km.

Driving

Isuzu MU-X8/10

What is immediately apparent - even when first started and driving in cold conditions - is the lower noise levels in the cabin.

Certainly occupants are still aware there’s a four-cylinder diesel toiling away under the snout, but it’s far more distant than in the previous car, something that can also be said for exterior noise in general.

The leather-trimmed seating is comfortable from all reports across three rows, although the third row space is snug for those heading into their teens, but the view is improved over the outgoing car.

Ride comfort from the new front and rear suspension set-ups has improved, without too much body roll or sagging under towing loads; the steering feels better-weighted and less remote than in the car it replaces, with an improved turning circle.

The front end has an all-new double wishbone design with stiffer spring rates and a redesigned anti-roll bar, while the rear has a five-link coil sprung set-up with a wider rear anti-roll bar to handle an increased payload when towing, whilst still remaining comfortable when unladen, says Isuzu.

A sojourn with horse float behind showed some dipping under load - as you’d expect - but ride wasn’t severely impacted and the engine’s meaty mid-range rose to the task.

A load-distribution hitch might well be worth selecting from the accessories catalogue if hefty towing loads are likely to be a regular chore.

The automatic transmission has kept its intuitive shifting smarts, down-changing on descents when the driver’s inputs suggest it’s required.

I also made use of the manual change mode, where the auto doesn’t overrule the driver, but it’s far from requisite behaviour when towing except perhaps to prevent over-eager up changes to 6th gear.

Dropping the nag and float from the tow bar and there was a brief flirtation with the 4WD selector and the rear diff lock, with low range demonstrating a quicker operation.

Useful wheel travel from the revamped rear end showed good traction going over the large suspension-test hump, where improved off-road angles meant no graunching and the road rubber had no dramas dealing with long wet grass as a result.

A short stint of beach driving - on road tyres in high range - demonstrated the prowess of the Isuzu seven-seater in soft sand but it needed the electronics switched off to prevent undue interference.

Low range not needed until the very soft sand was encountered and the new rear diff lock never looked like being required, so clearly we need to find more serious terrain. 

The area where the MU-X needs more development is in some of the functional operations for the driver - it seems odd, for example, that the radio stations list can’t be accessed when on the move but all the settings menu (at least on the centre display) can be modified.

The wheel controls are also in need of some work, with the “mute” and “mode” functions on the same button, yet there’s a blank to its left that could be used?

On the right-hand spoke the menu function for accessing the active safety functions - some of which are abrupt and require disabling prior to towing - is overly involved and can only be accessed when stationary.

It can take up to 60 seconds (when you know what you need to find) to snooze or disable these functions and it needs to be done every time you start the vehicle. Isuzu have received feedback on this issue and maintain they are looking into it.


Mitsubishi Pajero8/10

Around town and between cities, the Pajero is a big, soft, cuddly, easy-to-drive companion on both tar and gravel. It's not exactly precise through the helm, but it stays away from being overly agricultural, and compares well to younger rivals like the Everest.

In fact, it's surprisingly easy and comfortable to drive every day, with a responsive, well modulated power delivery through the five-speed auto, good brakes and good road manners at cruise. It's easy to manoeuvre in town, too, though there's no doubting that it's a big car from behind the wheel.

On paper, it seems like it’s a little less sophisticated than some of its more modern rivals when it comes to off-road ability, but with the rear diff lock and low-range capability, the Paj does perfectly well without modern niceties like hill descent and ascent control modes.

The gearbox can be overridden so a gear can be held when clambering up or ratcheting down a steep terrain, and while the more citified tyres are a little bit of a compromise when the going gets really rugged, dropping the pressures will help immensely to find additional grip when needed.

Safety

Isuzu MU-X9/10

A major step forward for Isuzu’s family wagon has been in the safety features list, which is now comprehensively packed with active and passive safety equipment.

While we had the LS-T on test the ANCAP crash-testing brigade completed their assessment of the new Isuzu wagon and delivered a five-star ANCAP result under the most recent testing regime, not entirely unexpected given the D-MAX on which it is based scored a similarly-high ranking.

The body is 10 per cent stiffer and stronger, thanks to the use of ultra-high strength steel in the bulkhead, sills and body pillars; compared with the previous MU-X, Isuzu claims the new body uses twice the amount of high- and ultra-high tensile steel in the construction. 

The brand says it has also engineered an extra 157 spot welds have been added across key areas of the body during the manufacturing process to improve strength and rigidity.

Inside the cabin there are eight airbags that cover all three rows, with the front occupants getting the most protection - the driver and front passenger get dual front, driver’s knee, dual side and curtain airbags, the latter stretching back to the third row.

There’s also a front-centre airbag - far from common in any vehicle segment - which protects front-seat occupants from head collisions in a crash.

But the features designed to prevent an impact in the first place is where the MU-X has made much ground, with its 3D-camera-based Intelligent Driver Assistance System (IDAS) to detect and measure obstacles - vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists - to reduce the severity or event prevent an incident. 

The MU-X range has automatic emergency braking with turn assist and forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control with stop-go function, 

There’s also ‘Misacceleration Mitigation’, a mouthful which equates to a system that prevents the driver from unintentionally driving into the obstacle in front during slow speed situations of up to 10km/h, as well as rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitoring and driver attention monitoring are all part of the safety arsenal.

The multi-faceted lane keeping assist system is operational above 60km/h and will either alert the driver when the vehicle is venturing out of the lane or actively steer the MU-X back towards the centre of the lane.

The only fly in the safety ointment is the driver needs 60 to 90 seconds before getting underway to snooze or turn off some of the active safety systems, which are in some instances far from subtle and an annoyance to the driver.

Most brands manage to have less involved processes - involving in most cases a single albeit long push of one button to distract, disable or decrease the lane departure and blindspot correction and warnings.

Perhaps all the blank buttons left over on either side of the gear selector could be utilised for these systems, rather than being buried in the centre display menu via the helm-mounted controls?

Isuzu have had some feedback on this and says other options are being considered.

The new MU-X has also been endowed with better braking performance with bigger front ventilated discs, which now measure 320mm in diameter and 30mm thick, up 20mm in diameter; the rear discs measure an unchanged 318x18mm.

Also new is the electronic park brake with automatic hold function, something that has not yet appeared in its utility sibling.

Key among the tasks likely to be completed by vehicles in this segment is towing - heavy cumbersome things like boats, caravans or horse floats.

It’s an area where the new MU-X is going to make ground, boasting a 500kg increase in braked towing capacity to 3500kg, within a gross combined mass of 5900kg.

Here’s where the shell-game of weights on trailers and in vehicles comes into play.

With a gross vehicle mass of 2800kg - a kerb weight of 2175kg and a 625kg payload - a full load on the tow ball of 3.5 tonnes would leave just 225kg of payload within the MU-X.

The Isuzu matches Ford’s Everest for GCM, of 5900kg, with the Pajero Sport listed at 5565kg and Toyota’s Fortuner GCM coming in at 5550kg; the Ford and Toyota both claim braked towing capacity of 3100kg and the Mitsubishi sits at an even 3000kg.

But the 2477kg Ford with its 3100kg maximum braked load on the tow bar has 323kg of payload remaining, whereas the lighter Toyota with the same braked towing claim has 295kg of payload to spare.

Mitsubishi’s three-tonne braked towing capacity and its 2110kg kerb weight leaves 455kg of payload within the 5565kg gross combined mass. 


Mitsubishi Pajero6/10

This is where the Pajero’s age plays against it. It’s equipped with six airbags (including full-length curtain bags) and brake assist, as well as a reversing camera, but its architecture prevents the addition of driver aids like lane departure warning and auto emergency braking (AEB).

It still holds a maximum five-star ANCAP safety ranking, which was achieved in 2011. If it were retested for 2018, it could potentially lose up to two stars for the missing driver aid equipment.

Ownership

Isuzu MU-X8/10

Isuzu has backed the new MU-X to a greater extent than most of its opposition, starting with a six-year/150,000km factory warranty.

The MU-X has “up to” seven years roadside assistance when serviced through Isuzu dealer network under the seven-years capped price servicing program, which the brand says is around 12 per cent cheaper than that of the superseded model. 

Maintenance is required every 15,000km or 12 months, which puts it at the top end of the spectrum for intervals (Toyota still sits at six months or 10,000km while Mitsubishi and Ford match the MU-X interval), with capped price servicing between $389 and $749 for a seven-year total of $3373.


Mitsubishi Pajero7/10

Mitsubishi offers a five-year/100,000km warranty on the Pajero.

It also offers a fixed-price service deal for the first three years of the Pajero’s life, with service intervals of 15,000km or 12 months (whichever comes first).

The first three services over 36 months total $1810 (which is $460 more than the Pajero Sport, by way of comparison).