Car reviews - Isuzu - MU-X - LS-T 4x4
Under-stressed engine, off-road and towing prowess, improved cabin
Room for improvement
Ride quality and noise, better seating system, value proposition
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4 Aug 2017
EVERYTHING old is new again, so wrote and sang Peter Allen, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the large-SUV segment, with the resurgence of ute-based wagons.
Mitsubishi had the market all to itself with the Triton-based Challenger, which in new-gen guise has been renamed the Pajero Sport and is based on the Triton.
The segment has since been resurrected by the Pajero Sport, as well as by the likes of Isuzu’s MU-X, Toyota’s HiLux-based Fortuner, the Holden Trailblazer and the Ranger-derived Ford Everest.
We sampled the flagship four-wheel-drive MU-X LS-T to see how it stacks up.
Price and equipment
The top-level Isuzu MU-X is the auto-only LS-T, priced from $56,100 plus on-road costs, which sits well below many of its opposition but is a big jump from its 4x2 sibling which is priced from $48,800.
Wearing chromed door handles, mirror caps and grille, and sporting alloy side steps, the LS-T sits on 18-inch alloys wheels.
It comes standard with a single-zone climate control system with ceiling cooling vents and a separate fan control, power windows and power-folding (but not heated) exterior mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with cruise and audio controls but only tilt adjustment, carpet flooring, attractive but not exactly plush “leather accented” seats and power adjustment for the driver's seat.
The absence of automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers and dual-zones for the climate control is disappointing given the pricetag and what is offered by its competition, particularly the cheaper Pajero Sport.
The highlight of the upgrade for the dash is an 8.0-inch touchscreen to control the integrated satellite navigation and the infotainment system (which sadly doesn’t have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto), although more cowling or slightly deeper mounting within the dash would help its visibility in direct sunlight.
It runs the rear 10-inch DVD player (but sadly without infrared headphones, so you’ll have to survive the soundtrack of the Scooby Doo or Lego Movie DVDs) as well as USB inputs (front and rear) and Bluetooth inputs through eight speakers – including the ‘Sky Sound’ roof-mounted speakers.
The middle row of passengers miss out on a 12-volt power outlet, but there is one in the front glovebox, as well as in the rear cargo area that third-row occupants could use.
Some new plastic trim materials and leather trim help offset the old-school feel of the cabin, which isn’t surprising given its utilitarian heritage.
The LS-T’s centre console and dashboard upgrades are the main improvement – integrated satellite navigation not reliant on phone coverage is worthwhile given the capable vehicle’s likely uses.
In-cabin storage is well catered for, with (admittedly-small) front gloveboxes, as well as a dashtop storage cubby which refused to lift its lid, but reasonable door pocket and cupholder storage is offered through the cabin.
There are three USB ports for charging and sound system input, including one for the second row, but gaining access to the front pair of USB slots is awkward.
Gaining access to the third row isn’t easy either, given the fixed nature of the second row’s base (it will fold and roll forward but doesn’t slide), but the children most likely to dwell in the rear will be agile enough to get in and out.
There’s no easy way of removing the third row when not in use, which compromises the ability to cart a large load with two occupants only on board, with the folded seats limiting the height of the load area.
When all seats are occupied the cargo area behind the last row is minimal – Isuzu claims 235 litres, rising to 878 litres with the third row folded and 1830 when both rear pews are stowed.
The cabin is a little quieter during daily use and doesn’t suffer from an excess of noise intrusion from the engine bay during cruising, although you are still aware of its four-cylinder diesel configuration whenever the powerplant is under load.
Engine and transmission
The capacity is familiar but the new MU-X has more torque and now complies with Euro 5 emissions regulations.
A new variable geometry turbo, new ceramic glow plugs, piston design, fuel injectors and a new fuel pump are included in the upgrade, as well as an exhaust system with a new exhaust gas recirculation cooler.
The turbo-diesel four-cylinder, which also has a new diesel particulate system, offers a peak torque figure that’s up 50Nm to 430Nm, available from 2000 to 2200rpm, although the 380Nm torque peak of its predecessor is present across a broader rev range – 1700rpm to 3500rpm.
Bolted to that is an Aisin six-speed automatic which boasts of adaptive learning for holding gears up and downhill, as well as an upgraded rear differential, but it’s sadly not equipped with a diff lock.
Claiming 7.9 litres per 100km on the combined fuel consumption cycle, the 2157kg MU-X was hovering at 11.2 litres per 100km (at an average of 29km/h) during our time in the vehicle, taking fluids from a too-small 65-litre fuel tank.
The six-speed auto lays claim to adaptive learning abilities to read the driving style, as well as an improved torque converter lock up for better fuel economy that claims to reduce the amount of output loss through the drivetrain.
It makes good decisions for the most part, holding gears when required to keep from overloading the brakes, but don’t expect it to be lightning between the gears.
Slipping the part-time 4WD system into four-high can be done on the run but a switch to low range can take a little longer.
The drivetrain gets solid underbody protection for the times when its 4WD ability is being utilised.
The broader spread of torque doesn't stretch far enough for the new auto’s ratio choice on the highway – engine revs sit just above 1500rpm when being obedient in a 100km/h zone but it sits just outside the boost range (to save fuel no doubt) but it is more comfortable cruising at 110-120km/h with some boost involved.
Ride and handling
Buyers in the market for a powderpuff people-mover with macho exterior need not consider the MU-X. Yes, it can carry seven but its 4WD workhorse origins remain clear in this wagon guise.
That’s not an issue if what you’re after is a vehicle that can tow and get off the beaten track, and the MU-X is equipped for both.
Around town and completing laborious chores to shopping centres and schools, the MU-X can be upset by poor road surfaces – choppy road surfaces will annoy the underpinnings and bigger bumps do have an impact.
The wagon’s rear end does a better job of taming the road than an unladen D-Max ute but larger bumps and changes in direction can toss the body around a little.
The front end is held up by double wishbones, coil springs, gas dampers and an anti-roll bar, while the rear has been upgraded from the D-Max’s leaf springs to a multi-link coil-sprung set-up with gas dampers and an anti-roll bar.
Steering is light enough for easy daily use but it’s going to need that assistance given there is likely to be a lot of wheel twirling with 3.84 turns lock-to-lock at least its 11.6m turning circle isn’t as bad as some in this class.
Getting muck and mud in the wheelarches is well within the skillset of Isuzu products and it’s done with some confidence.
A diff lock at the rear would provide a little more assurance but for the most part the electronic hill descent and traction aids, combined with a decent low range and good suspension articulation, mean there’s no shortage of ability to get well off-road.
Ground clearance is listed at 230mm, which is in the upper echelon of the segment, with 2mm-thick steel underbody protection for some of the vital bits a 24-degree approach, 25.1 degree departure (a tow-bar will erode that) and 19.5 degrees ramp-over all add up to crawling over obstacles with some degree of confidence.
Even power delivery and throttle calibration that leans toward off-road work – making it a bit sluggish in daily driving – all contribute to an off-road manner as relaxed as the under-stressed engine.
Safety and servicing
The MU-X ranks five ANCAP stars and it counts among its safety features six airbags (dual front, front-side and curtain) as well as high-tensile steel cabin construction, the electronic stability control system that incorporates hill start and descent control (but not trailer sway control), anti-lock brakes on four-wheel discs, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera, the latter standard across the range.
Absent sadly from the safety features list is an auto-dimming centre mirror, but the standard fare does have the effective bi-LED auto-levelling headlights, paired with LED daytime running lights and front foglights, front seatbelts with pre-tensioners with load limiters.
There are also two Isofix child anchor points and three tether anchor points are fitted to the middle row.
The Isuzu comes with a five year/130,000km warranty, with roadside assistance, as well as a five year/50,000km capped-price servicing program that covers the first five scheduled services – every 12 months or 10,000km.
Given the average distances covered by Australian drivers, the mileage will be reached well before the time limit is exceeded, but at the time of writing it ranged in price from an extraordinary $50 for the final five year/50,000km service to $590 for the four-year 40,000km.
By no means the most refined or comfortable large SUV on the market today, the MU-X does makes its bones with the ability to lug a load and get off the beaten track with little stress to the drivetrain or its occupants.
Reasonable cabin comfort and a decent equipment list are also along for the ride, but there are compromises in the cabin with the seating set-up and it doesn’t get as much gear as some of the others in this segment.
The price might put some off in value terms but the brand’s reputation for reliability and capability will win plenty of fans.
Toyota Fortuner GXL from $54,990 plus on-road costs
The HiLux based mid-spec Fortuner wagon sits near the LS-T on price and can be had in six-speed manual or with an automatic with the same number of ratios. It also pips the Isuzu with a fuel tank more appropriate for long-distance touring. It also gets reach and rake adjustment for the steering, something that eludes the MU-X and its GM sibling. Toyota’s braked towing and warranty timeframe are below the segment norms but it has plenty about which to like in terms of ability.
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Exceed from $53,000 plus on-road costs
Also an auto-only proposition, the Exceed undercuts the MU-X on price and then piles on the features to widen the value gap. A more versatile 4WD system (but lower ground clearance), an electric park brake and more active safety features (auto lights and wipers among them) all add up as well, but the driver won’t enjoy the tardy throttle (even for this segment) and the less connected road manners.
Holden Trailblazer Z71 from $53,490 plus on-road costs
The Colorado 7 with a new name has benefited from the revamped underpinnings with local tuning. Holden changed engines for better outright power and torque figures but fell behind in driveability (something now fixed by gearbox changes rather than engine tweaks). It makes do with halogen headlights but does get Apple Carplay/Android Auto and also ups the safety gear ante with blind spot and lane departure warnings, an airbag for the driver’s knee, rain-sensing wipers and a forward collision warning system.
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