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New models - Isuzu - MU-X

Revealed: Isuzu MU-X seven-seater here in December

Game plan: Isuzu's MU-X has much in common with Holden's Colorado 7, but Isuzu reckons it can beat the Lion brand on the sales charts.

Isuzu Ute Australia has bold plans for its tough-as-nails MU-X family off-roader

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1 Nov 2013

By MIKE COSTELLO in THAILAND

COMMERCIAL vehicle maker Isuzu Ute will double its Australian model range by the end of 2013 with the launch of the Thai-built and “bulletproof” MU-X seven-seat large off-roader.

The company this week announced pricing for the five-variant range - a pair of two-wheel-drives and a trio of 4x4s - of between $40,500 and $53,500 plus on-road costs, though in an unusual move is promising to hit the ground running with significantly lower drive-away deals from the get-go.

Based on the D-Max ute, Isuzu’s foray into the booming SUV market in Australia will line-up against the co-developed and newly-updated Holden Colorado 7, as well as Toyota’s all-conquering Prado and the Mitsubishi Challenger at the hardcore, rough-and-ready end of the market.

Ford will join the race in 2015 with its Australian-designed and engineered (but Thai-made) Everest, based on the Ranger.

Isuzu SUVs have sold Down Under before, albeit wearing Holden Jackaroo and Frontera badges. The company also produced an SUV derivative of its old D-Max, called the MU-7, pitched more at developing markets than ones such as Australia.

Diesel-only, and sharing a truck-like ladder-frame chassis with the Colorado 7 (though not Holden’s torquier engine), Isuzu’s move into Australia’s passenger landscape has an equally clear differentiation from car-based family-haulers such as the Toyota Kluger, Ford Territory, Hyundai Santa Fe and just-launched new-generation Nissan Pathfinder.

All of these models have three rows of seats, but Isuzu says it’s contender will be just as capable serving as a weekend off-road explorer (thanks to low-range running gear), powerful tow-car or fleet workhorse as it will be lugging the family on the school run each morning.

In some ways, the MU-X fills a void at this end of the market vacated this week by the aforementioned Pathfinder, which now uses a more efficient and comfortable - but less off-road capable - monocoque setup in place of the old, Navara ute-based architecture.

Reflecting the importance of Australia in Isuzu Ute’s growth plans, the MU-X will be fast-tracked Down Under by mid-December, making ours one of the first markets in the world to get the car.

The brand’s local arm is also bullish about sales potential, and has been tasked by its parent company with achieving about 3000 sales in 2014 through its 89-site dealer network, before growing to a massive 8000 units by 2017. The split between retail and fleet will be close to 50:50, it says, pointing to a likely five-star ANCAP result.

The 2014 target is about double the volume achieved this year by Holden’s Colorado 7, a car based on the same architecture as the Isuzu and backed by the Lion brand’s bigger dealer network.

It’s worth noting that sales of hardcore, off-road-oriented people-haulers are almost uniformly down this year, including the Prado (down 14.2 per cent), Challenger (down 29.0 per cent) and Pathfinder (down 51.0 per cent). Isuzu has a challenge ahead, based on those figures.

Spec-for-spec, the Isuzu offering will roll into showrooms at a slight premium over its Holden cousin, with four-wheel-drive LS-M versions kicking off from $45,600 plus on-road costs in manual guise, or $47,800 with a six-speed auto ($46,990 for the Colorado 7 auto).

Interestingly, the equivalent LS-M D-Max retails for $44,000, and if fitted with a canopy, would likely cost more than its seven-seat wagon sibling seen here.

Better-equipped LS-U variants will sell for $47,100 ($49,300 as an auto), while the range-topping and auto-only LS-T will set a buyer back $53,500 - still shy of even the base Prado but $3000 more than a flagship Colorado 7.

But Isuzu will also offer a significant point-of-difference by making available unique two-wheel-drive, auto-only entry variants - Mitsubishi recently axed its rear-drive Challenger option - pitched more closely at fleets and priced from a sharper $40,500 in base LS-M guise, or $42k for the more upmarket LS-U.

However, to get the ball rolling, the company is promising to reveal sharpened drive-away pricing from the time of launch - with the range expected to kick off from $39,990 drive-away in 4x2 guise. All variants will be promoted with sharpened prices from the get-go.

Under the bonnet of all variants sits an Isuzu-developed, Euro 4 aluminium-alloy, common-rail 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine with 130kW between 1800 and 2800rpm and 380Nm of torque at 3600rpm matched to a five-speed manual gearbox or Aisin five-speed auto.

This compares to 147kW/500Nm for the Colorado 7, although models share the same 3000kg towing capacity. Isuzu counters this by saying it “doesn’t play numbers games”, and that its truck-based engine is less-stressed than more hi-po units, meaning greater reliability in the years to come. The expected life-cycle is at least 500,000km.

Likewise, Isuzu says that while its transmissions have fewer ratios than most rivals, it also sets them up to have wider ratios, and allows them to ride the diesel’s meaty torque curve. The proven Aisin unit is a mine favourite, and is similar to the one used in the old Toyota 100-Series LandCruiser.

Combined fuel consumption for the 4x2 is 8.2 litres per 100km on the combined cycle and 8.4L/100km for the 4x4 (a small-ish 65L fuel tank is standard, compared to 76L for the Holden version).

All 4x4 versions flex their rugged muscle with underbody steel skid-plating up front, plus sump and transfer case re-inforcement, 230mm of ground clearance and generous approach/departure angles of 30.1 degrees/25.1 degrees. The Terrain Command 4WD system has a full transfer case with high- and low-range, plus 2-high mode.

Up front sits independent suspension with coils and gas shocks, while at the rear is a multi-link coil arrangement. The steering is hydraulic-assisted.

Stylistically, the tall, flared and boxy MU-X resembles in Colorado 7 twin, albeit with a unique Isuzu nose design and colour palette, as well as a straighter profile line. Only the bonnet and front door are shared with the D-Max.

Dimensions are as follows: 4825mm long, 1860mm wide without mirrors and 1830mm high on a 2845mm wheelbase.

Inside the cabin are three rows of seats - the rear pair both split-folding - and what Isuzu calls an abundance of storage areas plus 12 (!) cup-holders, presumably for when all seven occupants can’t decide between two beverage options and just choose both.

The middle row of seats also tumbles forwards, and features a trio of top-tethers and Isofix anchors, giving buyers the option of both regulated child-seat fittings. All three rows get air-conditioning vents, and narrow seat anchors liberate more foot-room for rear occupants.

LS-M versions in both 4x2 and 4x4 guises get standard features including a six-speaker audio system with USB and Bluetooth connections, rear parking sensors, colour-coded mirrors and 16-inch alloy wheels.

The LS-U adds exterior accoutrements including 17-inch alloy wheels fog lights, chrome on the grille and mirrors and aluminium side steps, but buyers wanting features such as leather seats, climate control and touchscreen navigation with live traffic and 10,000 programmed off-road destinations, plsu a roof-mounted DVD player will need to fork out for the flagship LS-T.

It’s worth noting that the cheaper and newly-upgraded Colorado 7 comes standard with Holden’s MyLink infotainment system with an integrated nav app.

All versions stability control and brake assist, 300mm front and 318mm rear discs (ventilated up front) and six airbags (dual-front, curtain and side).

There is no ANCAP score yet, but Isuzu expects five-stars.

The four-star D-Max, likewise, will soon get a safety upgrade of its own.

A major plank in Isuzu’s pitch is the relatively generous five-year/130,000km fully-transferable warranty, plus five-years of roadside assist.

We drive the MU-X later this week in Thailand. Check in early next week for the review.

Isuzu MU-X pricing*
LS-M 4x2 (a)$40,500
LS-U 4x2 (a)$42,000
LS-M 4x4$45,600
LS-M 4x4 (a)$47,800
LS-U 4x4$47,100
LS-U 4x4 (a)$49,300
LS-T 4x4 (a)$53,500
*Excludes on-road costs.

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