Isuzu operates its own business in South Africa; its products are no longer produced or retailed under the General Motors banner. The MU-X represents the Japanese company's first solo new vehicle launch in the local market. We drove it in the Eastern Free State.
Isuzu does exceptionally well in South Africa... in the bakkie segment, sales of the KB regularly total more than 1 000 units a month – in fact, the Japanese bakkie easily features as one of South Africa’s top 10-selling model ranges in the new vehicle market. Its buyers are particularly loyal; they appear to appreciate the durability and longevity that the KB provides. The introduction of the MU-X offers a family-style option for Isuzu lovers to step into. While many of the components are shared with the outgoing Chevrolet Trailblazer, Isuzu insists that its engineers have had a hand in differentiating the MU-X as an Isuzu – not a badge-engineered Chevrolet.
What is it?
The MU-X runs the 3-litre turbodiesel engine from the KB bakkie and multi-link rear suspension.
Bakkie-based SUVs are nothing new to us, the major players in the market are the Toyota Fortuner and Ford Everest. The Mitsubishi Pajero Sport also competes in the segment, but can’t match the sales numbers of the former. The MU-X, with its underlying KB chassis and engine fits perfectly in the segment. The overall design appears quite oval or dome-ish and it has an interesting face with a fair amount of chrome in the grille and surrounding bumper area.
The MU-X features an independent front- and multi-link rear suspension configuration that ostensibly tames some of that typical rear end shake and drift that tend to plague ladder-on-frame designs. Under the bonnet is the 3.0-litre turbodiesel engine, which is good for 130 kW and 380 Nm of torque. In terms of off-road equipment, the 4x4 model is equipped with low range and switchable 4wd/2wd modes. An electronic traction control system deals with sending drive to individual wheels as it is required to maintain traction. There’s no diff-lock, but Isuzu says they are testing a manual locking system that it may introduce later. Hill descent control is also standard.
What's it like to drive?
In true Isuzu style, The MU-X is an excellent off-roader, despite the lack of diff-lock.
The major highlight of the MU-X driving experience (we drove from Fourways in Johannesburg to Clarens in the Eastern Free State) is the cabin insulation. The NVH levels are impressively low; the Isuzu's cabin seems to suppress road noise and wind noise better than its rivals.
It’s also well damped (for a bakkie-based vehicle). It handles dirt roads and rutted surfaces well, remaining comfortable and controllable when things start to get bumpy. There are limits to the ride quality if you come across a succession of potholes or washboard gravel where the MU-X's suspension will jiggle about a bit before settling down. This is normal in bakkie-based SUVs and the MU-X actually deals with tricky conditions better than both the Ford and Toyota.
The steering is quite heavy for an off-road vehicle and when traversing the pre-prepared 4x4 course with the Isuzu I had to put a bit of muscle into turning the wheel over rocky terrain. The heavier steering doesn’t make it feel any more planted out on the road either, where it can be quite slow to react and vague around the centre.
The cabin is quiet and the ride is comfortable for a bakkie-based SUV.
The MU-X did, in typical Isuzu fashion, tame the 4x4 course. It’s an excellent 4x4 when it comes to navigating the tricky stuff and even without diff lock, it climbed up and over quite tricky inclines. The traction control system channels the torque well... it never spun a wheel in a rush to accelerate and maintained smooth forward progress.
The engine under the bonnet feels like a tried and trusted Isuzu unit – in other words, it's an old-school turbodiesel. It feels bulletproof, if a little underpowered and less refined compared with Ford’s 3.2- and Toyota’s 2.8-litre units.
It’s not horrendously slow, but the more modern units we’ve become accustomed to in its rivals provide better overtaking ability with fewer and faster kickdowns through the auto box. Fuel efficiency appears to be a strong point, with a claimed consumption of 7.3 L/100 km for the 4x2 and 7.9 L/100 km for the 4x4. On our mostly highway drive to Clarens, we managed 8.2 L/100 km confirming the reasonable consumption figure for a vehicle of this type.
We can’t yet attest to the long-term durability of the MU-X, but it does feel like a solid, well put together vehicle.
Up to date interior
It would be nice to have a reach adjustable steering wheel, but the build quality appears good as does the level of infotainment tech.
The seats in the MU-X are very comfortable for long trips and all 7 seats are trimmed in leather. The steering wheel is not reach-adjustable so the perfect driving position may not be attainable for drivers of all shapes and sizes. The instrument binnacle is pretty standard with a digital display between the dials for the trip computer. Cruise control is fitted, but apart from eyeballing the analogue speedo dial, there’s no notification for what speed you have set it to engage.
The infotainment system has modern software that includes Apple CarPlay and Android auto compatibility, as well as built-in navigation. I’m not convinced by effectivity of the user interface and some of the settings have no effect from what I could see. It feels like a generic system that’s not particularly useful until you plug in your phone and run Android or Apple apps through it. A pair of USB ports are placed up front, as well as one USB port in the rear.
In terms of accommodation, the MU-X feels somewhere between the Fortuner and the larger Everest in terms of passenger space. All the rear seats can be folded flat, but the loading level of the boot is quite high. The centre console is quite large and there’s a decent-sized slot in front of the gear lever to slide in your smartphone.
Isuzu lovers who didn't want to buy an old Chev Trailblazer may just have found the perfect partner for their KB bakkie.
Is the MU-X just a Trailblazer with an Isuzu badge on the front? There are a lot of similarities, yes. The cabin is very similar, for one, and the steering wheel is identical to the Chev's. There are good points to come from that connection, the ride quality is good, the quality appears solid and it's well-specced vehicle with no optional extras, apart from a tow bar.
The engine may feel somewhat older and agricultural, but it gets the job done and still retains a 3-tonne tow rating (braked trailer) and that’ admirable.
Off-road capability remains an Isuzu strong point and adventurers won’t be let down by the lack of diff lock, which is initially off-putting.
It is competitively priced with the equivalent Fortuner and Everest and that’s quite something, considering the MU-X is a full import where the other two are assembled locally. Don’t expect the newcomer to shoot the lights out in terms of sales, at least not initially, but for Isuzu loyalists that haven’t had a family vehicle/adventure SUV option at their disposal since the days of the Isuzu Frontier, the MU-X might just be the ticket. Isuzu is, after all, a much stronger brand than Chevrolet ever was.
Pricing and warranty
The 4x2 and 4x4 models are sold with a 5-year/120 000 km warranty and a 5-year/90 000 km service pan. Service intervals are every 15 000 km.
Isuzu MU-X 3.0 4X2 AT6 R568 000
Isuzu MU-X 3.0 4X4 AT6 R629 100