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If you love the Isuzu D-Max ute but need some extra boot space and seating for the family, then the MU-X is your ride. It's roughly the same price, so you don't feel like you're getting stung for needing those extra features, either.
It's got some competition with the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and new Ford Everest, as well as the Toyota Fortuner, but the four-wheel-drive capabilities and family friendly interior means the MU-X more than holds its own.
I'm beginning to understand why Isuzu doesn't bother having any more than two horses in its stable...
The Nissan Pathfinder has evolved through five generations since its launch in the mid-1980s. It commenced as a body-on-frame high-riding off-roader like the Navara ute from which it was derived, but today it’s a unitary-bodied, lower-riding crossover with seating for eight.
Even so, the fifth-gen Pathfinder is finding the path to sales leadership a challenging one. Latest VFACTS car industry figures for 2023 show that Nissan’s good-looking SUV currently represents only 1.3 per cent of its hotly contested 'Large SUV' segment, which has more than 20 models competing for buyers.
Interestingly, the top three in this market - Toyota Prado, Isuzu MU-X and Ford Everest - are all body-on-frame high-riding off-roaders, which begs the question if Nissan was correct in moving away from this traditional truck-style design?
Even so, we thought it timely to spend a week aboard the latest Pathfinder, to see if it’s worthy of a larger slice of the SUV pie.
Isuzu has proven that you don't need a lot of horses in the stable to get things right and the MU-X 4x4 LS-T is a horse I can back. It offers kid-friendly growing space, a roomy interior for parents and a powerful engine. It also has just enough creature comforts to make it competitive against its rivals but I would have liked to have seen a few more scattered throughout for the price tag, especially in that third row. While the driving is pretty solid, the ride isn't as refined as it could be, but my family really enjoyed the MU-X this week and it earns a solid 8.0/10 from us.
It looks good, offers benchmark safety and combines strong engine performance with sure-footed traction, particularly on low-grip surfaces. There’s also a spacious, comfortable and practical cabin that can seat up to eight and it can tow up to 2.7 tonnes. Apart from its V6 thirst, based on our at-pump figures, there’s little we can criticise about the latest Pathfinder in Ti 4WD specification, which is certainly worthy of consideration for large SUV buyers.
At 1825mm tall, the MU-X has clear SUV proportions, but urban drivers need not stress because, at 4850mm long and 1870mm wide, it's still accommodating in a tight car park.
The nose is nicely tapered and accentuated by a large chrome grille with black highlights and sharp LED lights. It's very similar to its stablemate, the D-Max, but the addition of the ‘boot' doesn't compromise it's kerb-side appeal. There are no sharp blocky-looking edges on this and while handsome, it doesn't prance to announce its presence. There's a subtlety to it's styling that should see it age well.
The interior has soft touch points throughout that are mixed with a nice combo of trims to make it feel refined but it is let down by flimsy/plasticky sun visors and door panelling.
The latest Pathfinder rides on a 2900mm wheelbase with an 11.8-metre turning circle. Although it's shorter in overall length with less frontal overhang than its predecessor, it has a wider stance (aka track width) for improved handling plus a height increase for more headroom. There’s also more leg and hip-room.
The sumptuous interior is a tasteful mix of leather accents, piano black and satin chrome with classy exposed stitching along numerous seams including the leather-wrapped steering wheel. It exudes a high-quality look and feel.
The 2/3/3 seating layout can theoretically cater for up to eight occupants, starting with seating for the driver and front passenger which is spacious and comfortable with ample adjustment.
For those in the grandstand-style second row, it also feels spacious thanks not only to the wide-opening doors and increased head and legroom, but also the flat floor with no transmission hump to restrict foot placement for those in the middle. The recline of the 60/40-split backrests can be adjusted for added comfort.
Second-row passengers also have access to their own control panel on the rear of the centre console that allows individual adjustment of seat-heating and temperature/fan speed for vents located under the front seats and in the roof.
The second row tilts and slides forward to provide access to the third row. This is designed to carry up to three occupants, but by our measure only small kids could manage that.
For adults, it’s really a two-seater and that’s only for short trips and only with the second row slid forward at least 100mm to provide adequate knee room.
Even so, the third row offers adequate headroom (even for tall people) and with large glass areas and overhead cooling vents does its best to minimise a claustrophobic feel.
So, we see it as either a seven- or eight-seater, depending on the kid-to-adult mix.
The interior is roomy with decent leg and headroom available to front and middle-row passengers. The side steps made it easy for my six-year old to get in and out without my help (always a plus) and the high ride ensured a good view for him this week.
Storage throughout is adequate for an SUV of this size but the middle console and drink bottle holders could be a little deeper and wider. The double glovebox and hidden retractable cupholders in the dashboard are a highlight, though.
I always like to have a powered tailgate and the level load space of the boot made it very easy to slide gear in and out this week. The boot is very practical with 311L of space available when all rows are in use but you can bump that up to a massive 1119L when the third row is flat. You can also knock it up again to a whopping 2138L with all back seats are folded down, if you need it.
Impressively, you also get a full-size spare tyre too.
The 9.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system is easy to use once you get used to it and the built-in satellite navigation was a plus. It has wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and it was simple to get the connection going but it did take a few minutes for the CarPlay to kick in once you started the car up. I prefer to see a 360-degree view camera on large SUVs like this but the reversing camera in the MU-X is adequate and clear.
The Ti 4WD’s 2044kg kerb weight (unladen and full of fuel) and 2750kg GVM (how much it can legally weigh when fully loaded) provides a load capacity of 706kg.
That limit could easily be reached or exceeded just by eight adults, before you could think about loading their luggage.
So, be mindful of combined passenger and luggage weight, particularly when planning a trip, to ensure you’re not over the GVM limit.
It’s also rated tow up to 2700kg of braked trailer, which is suitably large to cater for many recreational towing tasks.
However, as there’s no published GCM (or how much the Ti can legally carry and tow at the same time) we don’t know if it can haul its maximum payload while towing its maximum trailer weight.
Even so, it offers 205 litres of internal load volume with the second and third rows upright (ideal space for a supermarket shop), which expands to 554 litres with the third row folded flat and 782 litres with the second and third rows folded.
There are four cargo tie-down points and a surprisingly large bin hidden under the rear floor.
In terms of internal storage there’s a glove box, console box, overhead glasses holder and seat pockets plus a variety of bins, bottle holders and cupholders thoughtfully placed throughout the cabin catering for all three rows.
Nissan claims a total of 16 cupholders, but by our measure there are 18. Either way, there’s more than ample storage for drinks and personal items in this well-designed cabin.
I've been driving the top-spec MU-X LS-T grade and it's priced at $67,400 before on-road costs. Isuzu currently has a national drive-away offer of $65,990 on this grade. It sits right in the middle being almost $5K more expensive than the Pajero Sport but $10K cheaper than the Everest.
The price tag for the LS-T doesn't seem outrageous given the solid features list. A few highlights include the very comfortable leather seats, heated front seats and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There are some steel plate guards that provide extra underbody protection for those wanting to go off-road – I didn't go off the paved stuff but check out Crafty's comparison review that will be published on the Easter long weekend for the 4WD specs.
The vehicle I tested is also fitted with an optional tow bar kit and electronic brake controller, which adds $2079 to the price tag, but they're a handy addition for any true adventuring family.
Our test vehicle is the Ti 4WD, which sits one rung below the premium Ti-L 4WD on the local ladder.
Our example (like the Ti-L) is available only with a 3.5-litre petrol V6 and nine-speed automatic transmission for a list price of $71,490, plus on-road costs. Its 'Gun Metallic' premium paint costs extra.
There are also steering wheel paddle-shifters, a driver’s heads-up display, tri-zone air con, plus five USB ports and two 12-volt outlets to keep a full crew charged and connected.
All MU-X models share the same 3.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine but it perfectly complements the 4WD system. With a maximum output of 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque, most weekend adventures can be pursued. It also doesn't feel like you're digging deep for that power, which is great.
The six-speed auto transmission is surprisingly smooth but occasionally the pick-up isn't super quick when you're going from a standstill. It can feel heavy in that situation but I was still confident when I had to cut across city traffic, so it wasn't a major bother.
The Pathfinder is powered a lusty direct-injection 3.5-litre petrol V6. It produces 202kW at 6400rpm and 340Nm at 4800rpm.
It’s paired with a nine-speed torque converter automatic transmission which offers the choice of manual sequential-shifting using steering wheel-mounted paddles.
The full-time 4WD transmission offers seven different drive modes via a rotary-dial on the console, which optimises performance in each selected mode. These include 'Standard', 'Sport', 'Eco', 'Snow', 'Sand', 'Mud/Rut' and 'Tow'.
The official combined fuel cycle is 8.3L/100km. Real-world testing saw my figure at 7.7L. I've been doing a good mix of open-road and urban driving this week, so I think that's very respectable for the size of this car.
The MU-X has an 80L fuel tank with an approximate driving range of 900km.
Nissan claims combined cycle average consumption of 10.5L/100km and the Ti’s dash display was claiming 12.9 at the completion of our 213km test, which was mostly city and suburban driving with some limited highway running and from one to five occupants on board at different times.
Our own figure, calculated from actual fuel bowser and tripmeter readings, came in higher again at 14.5L/100km which exceeds the usual 2.0-3.0L/100km discrepancy between manufacturer figures and our own.
In other words, it drinks more than a diesel but is about average for a powerful six-cylinder petrol engine of this size under test conditions.
So, based on our ‘real world’ driving and at-pump consumption figure, you could expect a driving range of around 500km from its 71-litre tank. And it requires premium unleaded.
Overall, I've enjoyed driving this. The engine has enough grunt to make you feel you can handle most situations and despite being a turbo-diesel, it's not super loud in the cabin. You do notice a fair bit of wind noise, though.
The only real drawback to the driving experience has been the ride comfort. I'm a fan of the D-Max and feel it outruns its stablemate in this area. I'm not sure if it's the suspension or tyres but you feel a lot of the bumps in the road.
A good example of its comfort range is that I’m 186cm tall and my wife is only 165cm, yet we both managed to find comfortable seating positions. However, she said that ideally the range of seat-height adjustment could be a tad higher given her smaller stature.
Even so, she liked the Ti and found it easy to drive, particularly in negotiating busy shopping centre car parks with its various cameras, parking sensors etc.
We also liked the ride quality, steering feel and braking, along with the nine-speed automatic thanks to its near-seamless shifting and good all-round response. We did try manual-shifting using the paddle-shifters for a more ‘engaging’ driving experience at times.
It also makes a comfortable highway cruiser given its low engine, tyre and wind noise and suitably long gearing, that requires only 1500rpm from the V6 to maintain 110km/h and optimise fuel economy.
The safety list is extensive with standard features including LED daytime running lights, automatic emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection (operational from 8-160km/h), forward collision warning, lane departure alert, lane keeping aid, emergency lane keeping aid, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert (always good to have), reversing camera, and front and rear parking sensors.
I like that it has traffic sign recognition and adaptive cruise control, too. It just takes some of the mundane thinking out of a long trip.
The Pathfinder boasts a maximum five-star ANCAP rating (awarded 2022) and is loaded with passive and active safety features, starting with nine airbags including side-curtain airbags covering all three rows and a front-row centre airbag.
There’s also the full 'Nissan Intelligent Mobility' safety suite packed with active safety features including AEB, plus Nissan’s semi-autonomous 'ProPILOT' system for use with the adaptive cruise control.
In the second row there are ISOFIX anchorages on the two outer seating positions and top-tethers for all three positions, plus an additional set of ISOFIX and top-tether fixtures in the third row.
This comes with a six-year/150,000km warranty, but it is usual to see an unlimited kilometre term in this class.
The MU-X comes with a seven-year capped-priced servicing plan and services are competitively priced at an average of $527. Servicing intervals are reasonable at every 12 months or every 15,000km, whichever occurs first.