Car reviews - Isuzu - MU-X - range
Excellent auto powertrain, worthwhile interior updates, vastly improved NVH levels
Room for improvement
Fuel economy figures are conservative, steering and suspension not tweaked, steering column lacks reach adjust
1 May 2017
By TIM ROBSON
CHASING the ever-changing landscape of emissions regulations is a frustrating business for any car company, and so it is with Isuzu Ute Australia.
Blessed with an ox-strong diesel powerplant that attracts a lot of followers for its honest performance, Isuzu needed to come up with a plan that would satisfy the rule-makers but not upset its loyal customer base.
A new, smaller, more efficient 1.9-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that made very similar numbers was considered, but quickly rejected as a backwards step, while the addition of an AdBlue emissions treatment system to the current 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel was also shelved, due to a lack of AdBlue additive availability in remote locations (AdBlue needs to be topped up every 10,000km or so).
So the company took the 4JJ1-TC engine and reworked it to make it meet the Euro 5 standards. A new turbocharger, injectors, glow plugs, piston profile and diesel particulate filter system were added, along with an Aisin six-speed automatic transmission to replace the old five-speed auto.
It not only cleaned up its act, but the new version of Isuzu’s most popular engine is now 50Nm more torquey, with a wider spread of twist over more of its rev range. Isuzu also claims a category-best fuel economy number of 7.9 litres per 100km, an improvement of 0.2L/100km over the old spec.
The 2017 update also scores a set of small but important updates to address some chinks in the MU-X’s armour namely cabin comfort and noise intrusion into the cabin.
There have been literally metres more sound deadening added to the MU-X inside and outside the cabin, while padded surfaces now adorn arm rests and centre console bin lids where once hard, scratchy plastic reigned.
There’s a new 8.0-inch multimedia unit that is easy to read and navigate through, as well.
A 200km stint through the mid-north coast of Queensland reveals a 4x4 that doesn’t stray far from its origins. It’s coil sprung all round in contrast to it load-oriented utility brethren’s rear leaf arrangement, which lends it a softness and suppleness a ute can’t hope to match.
Having said that, perhaps a retune of springs and dampers could have added some mid-stroke support to the MU-X, which can wander and wallow over flowing tarmac undulations.
On rough surfaces and gravel roads, though, the MU-X’s ride and handling balance is outstanding.
The improvements to noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) suppression, too, have paid big dividends. There’s still zero doubt about what kind of engine is up front, but at cruising pace, the MU-X has gone from agricultural to avante garde for the 4x4 wagon class.
Even over gravel roads, there is almost zero tyre noise penetration from the new 18-inch Dunlop GrandTrek all terrain tyres. The silence from under the MU-X is uncanny.
The tough but gruff diesel remains a strong mid-range performer, but we need a bit more time with the new auto. Isuzu says it ‘learns’ from a driver’s style, but our sample wasn’t all that interested in its lessons, refusing to kick down even at low speeds on a steep incline even after a few attempts.
The ratio gap between third and fourth gears, too, is wider than we expected, causing the engine to flare sharply. A manual override mode, too, is reluctant to help, barely changing engine revs on the same incline between fifth and fourth.
The same auto works well when the going gets slow and rough, with the MU-X’s switchable 4x4 system incorporating hill descent control that works hand in glove with the auto’s manual mode.
Even at on-road tyre pressures, the MU-X’s off-road ability is a standout, thanks in part to a new locking diff for the rear end and that compliant coil suspension.
Inside, the MU-X is eminently more liveable, thanks to the addition of more USB ports – including one in the rear – and the roof vents along the length of the roof in all but the base model.
A steering wheel that’s not adjustable for reach does let the side down a little, but the driving position is still good for both tall and short pilots.
The new interior treatment does lift the cabin’s ambience notably, too, with the soft-touch surfaces and toned-down plastics a welcome addition.
The third row of seats does seem to push the middle row a bit more forward in the cabin, which restricts kneeroom behind taller front seaters, but headroom for middle seaters is good.
The third row is easy to access, too, and can be quickly folded flat into the boot floor when not needed.
Downsides? Over 200km, our fuel economy score of 12.4 litres per 100km is a fair way above the ambit claim of 7.9L/100km – although some 15km of that distance was eaten up in high-rev, high-load off-road terrain. We also wonder how much better again the MU-X could be if the suspension is massaged just a little.
While the changes to the MU-X – outside of the powertrain update – are relatively minor, they do bring the large wagon more in line with the competitors in the space, and the 3.0-litre engine’s legendary longevity and its 3000kg towing ability already gives the car a genuine attraction.
If you’re in the market for something that’s comfortable, has genuine off-road chops and can tow a sizable load, the MU-X is definitely worth your consideration.
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