Car reviews - Isuzu - D-Max - and MU-X range
Improved aftersales program, MU-X’s lighter steering, new tyres reduce road noise, reliable engine/transmission combination, relatively comfortable ride, MU-X’s usable third row
Room for improvement
Ugly centre stack, audible engine noise, not the best around corners, needs Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, autonomous emergency and lane-keep assist still missing
Isuzu wisely doesn’t fix what ain’t broken in ever-improving D-Max ute, MU-X SUV
1 May 2019
ISUZU Ute Australia has been quietly plugging away since its launch in 2008. Fast forward 11 years and it is clear that the Japanese ute specialist is off to a hot start, with it soon to reach 30,000 annual sales for the first time.
However, the company only has two models at its disposal, the D-Max mid-size ute and MU-X large SUV, and both them are approaching the end of their current life cycles, so how does it keep the momentum going?
Well, if extending their already award-winning aftersales program and lifting their standard equipment – plus introducing a limited-edition flagship – is your answer, then you’re right on the money.
So, how does the MY19 D-Max and MU-X range stack up? Read on to find out.
‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is an old adage that still stands for obvious reasons and Isuzu Ute Australia has been wise enough to follow it.
Over the past three years, in particular, it has continuously chipped away to make the current-generation D-Max and MU-X the best models they can possibly be.
So, here we are again; another model-year update. Compared to the previous two, this is the most minor of the three, which is understandable considering the next-generation models are likely to break out next year.
Nonetheless, while the upgrades are small, they are also meaningful and improve an already solid mid-size ute and large SUV.
We’ll get to those in a second because the headline act is the D-Max and MU-X’s aftersales program. You know, the one that won the Best of the Best award at the 2018 Annual Roy Morgan Customer Satisfaction Awards, pipping perennial leader Lexus.
You’d be forgiven for thinking IUA is already onto a good thing, but it’s gone ahead and bumped its warranty from five years/130,000km to six years/150,000km.
This is now the second longest peace-of-mind agreement on the market for a ute, behind SsangYong’s Musso, and the longest for a ute-based SUV.
While this is undoubtedly a massive win for buyers, it’s a shame that IUA didn’t move to an unlimited-kilometre term, although it says dealer feedback indicates the average owner drives less than 25,000km annually, so very few will be out of warranty before six years.
This new offer is matched with six years of roadside assistance (up one year), while capped-priced servicing is now available over a seven-year/105,000km period (up two years and 30,000km). In total, it costs $3600, which averages out to just over $500 per visit. Not bad.
Mechanical changes? There’s only one, but it’s pretty significant; the MU-X’s hydraulic power steering has been recalibrated to be lighter in hand at standstill and low speed.
As always, it’s always hard to pick the exact differences without going back to back, but it certainly feels easier to steer on first impressions. Previously, the steering required too much effort, with this particularly noticeable when navigating roundabouts and carparks.
The trade off, though, is feedback, with the MU-X leaving the driver a little unsure of the front wheels’ movements, and being such a utilitarian set-up, it’s still pretty slow, too.
These changes have not been applied to the D-Max, which carries on with its stereotypically hefty steering, although it’s not the worst on the market.
The only other significant change in this update is the D-Max LS-T and MU-X LS-U and LS-T’s move to Highway Terrain tyres. IUA says most of its owners rarely venture off-road, so the decision was made to prioritise comfort by reducing road noise.
Again, without going back to back, it’s hard to say, but road noise seemingly penetrates the cabin with little effect, even at highway speeds. However, there is plenty of tyre squeal when attacking tighter corners with intent.
Changes are otherwise limited to new trims inside and out, although the D-Max LS-U and LS-T now use Fibre-Reinforced Polymer (FRP) side steps with improved water routing that increases underfoot grip, so that’s something.
There’s also the returning X-Runner, which now sits atop the D-Max range, albeit as a special-edition variant that forgoes mechanical upgrades and is limited to 645 units.
The X-Runner certainly looks the part internally and externally with its grey-and-red colour scheme but is not quite the Ford Ranger Wildtrak rival we’ve been waiting for.
So, what hasn’t changed that should’ve? There’s still no autonomous emergency braking or lane-keep assist, with both advanced driver-assist systems unlikely to be seen until the next-generation D-Max and MU-X touch down.
Given the extensive re-engineering that these technologies would require, that’s understandable, but it’s still disappointing against the backdrop of key rivals moving to adopt them mid-life cycle.
That said, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are now available as dealer-fit accessories for $955, while front parking sensors have also entered the fold, at $545, so at least the momentum is positive.
Less understandable is the exclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support. It’s available in other markets, but not here. The current infotainment system is basic, so it’s badly needed. Maybe, just maybe, it will be added before the generational changeover.
Given how little has changed, it’s no surprise that the D-Max’s pricing has mostly held steady, with only the two LS-T variants going up by a mere $100 for the automatic and $600 for the manual.
Conversely, only the MU-X’s LS-M grade costs the same as before, but its LS-U and LS-T grades are only $100 and $200 dearer respectively, so it’s hardly a big deal. That said, it is sad that the manual LS-U has been axed, with IUA citing a lack of demand.
Otherwise, it’s business as usual for the D-Max and MU-X and that can only mean good things as they’ve got some pretty strong foundations to work with.
Their 3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine remains a real peach, with 130kW of power produced at 3600rpm and 430Nm of torque developed down low, from 2000 to 2200rpm … but it is one noisy unit, able to disrupt the cabin ambience with ease above 2000rpm.
This tried and true powertrain is made better when paired with the Aisin-sourced six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission that knows exactly what to do and when to do it, plus it changes gears smoothly.
Despite being ute-based, the MU-X continues to offer a relatively comfortable ride thanks to its coil springs, while the leaf-sprung D-Max is predictably jitterier over uneven roads when it doesn’t have a payload to settle its rear end down.
Either way, both models are not the first word in dynamism, exhibiting plenty of body roll when cornering at speed, while understeer is a constant threat, but what were you really expecting?
They more than make up for it, though, off-road, with both models exuding confidence when the going gets tough. Granted that on this occasion, the obstacles thrown in front of us weren’t all that challenging, but maybe that’s a testament to the pedigree involved.
Meanwhile, the D-Max and MU-X’s first rows are more or less carbon copies of one another, which is both a good and bad thing.
Ergonomics are great but the plasticky centre stack is not. In 2019, it just looks plain gross even if it is in keeping with the rough-and-ready nature of the cabin.
The front seats are very comfortable, but the touchscreen is illegible in direct sunlight and reach adjustment for the steering wheel and a digital speedo are still nowhere to be found.
Nonetheless, it’s worth pointing out that the MU-X has one of the most usable third rows in the business for a vehicle of its size. Yes, it’s designed for children, but adults up to six feet tall can easily sit in it on shorter journeys and ingress and egress are relatively pain-free.
Like we said, small but meaningful improvements, all of which make a good thing even better. And given how receptive IUA is to feedback, you can only imagine that the next-generation D-Max and MU-X will be a big step up, which should have rivals quaking.
Model release date: 1 May 2019
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