Isuzu MU-X: Comfortable SUV with good mileage

By Lee Pang Seng
THE Isuzu MU-X is not a completely new SUV (sport utility vehicle) being the second-generation model, following the MU-7, which was not sold here. The MU-7 was introduced in Thailand in 2005 to replace the Trooper, the production of which had stopped for some years at that time.

By setting up a production base in 2002 to build part-time 4x4 and 4x2 rear-wheel drive pick-ups for global distribution, Isuzu felt that its Thailand manufacturing base would be fuller utilised with SUVs being produced as well. Of course, it would make more sense to develop the SUV on the pick-up platform for greater synergy at the Rayong factory and the MU-7 was the first model designed along that premise.

It was given a separate name to promote its different role in motoring design, serving as a comfortable vehicle for that occasional off-road binge or as a lifestyle SUV that has caught the fancy of many. MU stands for Multi-Utility and ‘7’ denotes its seven-seater status. For the MU-X, the new letter ‘X’ refers to the ‘extreme’ (or the highest possible) nature of its chosen character.

General perception to the name is also taken into consideration. Apparently, Isuzu found the Thai vehicle buyers agreeable to the SUV being called ‘Moo-7’ and now ‘Moo-X’. For the Malaysian market, Isuzu has chosen to promote it with the acronym name MU-X as it is seen as the correct one and which is readily acceptable here.

Following the original design premise, the MU-X is developed on the D-Max ladder frame platform but with a different rear suspension to achieve the ride comfort demanded of SUVs. The front is retained with the double wishbone MacPherson strut set-up of the D-Max while the rear is served by a five-link design, again with coil springs to replace the single leafspring of the pick-up.

Isuzu Malaysia arranged a media pre-launch drive from KL to Cameron Highlands via Raub and the return route took us via Simpang Pulai and the highway. The winding Raub route offered some reasonably fast and flowing stretches, while the Simpang Pulai route was a little tighter.

With the MU-X body sitting on a ladder frame chassis, there was an expected degree of body lean through the curves and at the quick pace that we were pushing it through the Raub section, we could feel the active electronic aids coming into play. This is the ESC (Electronic Stability Control) and TCS (Traction Control System) that control power delivery to the driving wheels, similar to that in the D-Max.

Isuzu says the MU-X was developed on the I-Grip concept or what it calls the Isuzu Gravity Response Intelligent Platform. This is driven by the need to place the centre of gravity lower in the vehicle and widen its stance, so that this SUV could handle swift directional changes without upsetting its stability. The rack-and-pinion steering stays old school with hydraulic assistance.

At exuberant speeds, we found the front wheels scrubbing hard against the road for the respective corner but the understeer was reduced some as the electronic systems did their job of maintaining stability. When taken at moderate speeds, the MU-X rolled less and that added appreciably to the overall ride comfort. The part-time 4x4 model that we were driving came fitted with 17-inch alloys and Bridgestone Dueler 255/65 R17 tyres.

Another factor that made all this possible was the strong turbodiesel engine that has served the D-Max well. This is the same 4JK1-TCX engine with 16-valves, double overhead camshafts, common-rail direct injection and variable geometry turbo system (VGS). It delivers 100kW (136PS) at 3400rpm and 320Nm of torque that develops early from 1800rpm and holds till 2800rpm.

By using the manual shift function and selecting gears in a sequential manner – pushing the gear stick to upshift and pulling to downshift, mostly between third and four gears – and keeping engine speed at 2500-3000rpm, we could use the peak torque to maintain good traction through the various degrees and camber of the corners.

The ride was generally up to expectation, running over all the road irregularities and absorbing most of the impacts well to provide a comfortable ride. During the unexpected moments of hitting exceptionally bad road dips and potholes along the Raub stretch, the MU-X took them with great strides, regaining its poise quickly to enable us to proceed without due alarm and further discomfort from the momentary jolt. It was a noticeable difference over the D-Max’s leafspring rear in that respect.

For normal driving, the low build-up of maximum torque made moving the two-tonne plus (2080kg kerb weight) quite effortless. With a bigger body and interior fittings sitting on the same 3095mm wheelbase as the D-Max, the MU-X is about 300kg heavier over the D-Max, but this additional weight was barely felt during the drive. It might have been a little slow in picking up speed to pass, but quick enough to do the job.

We liked the good body insulation measures taken to keep out wind noise generated by the turbulent rush of air around the body at highway speeds. The engine ran lazily in the lower 2000rpm segment to mosey along at legal highway speeds and when we were barrelling along at 3000-3200rpm, the noise intrusion was higher but still low enough for us to carry a conversation without raising our voice.

The MU-X is a seven-seater SUV and though the third row for two people is presumably suitable for children or young teenagers, a member of our press team (165cm in height) sat in that row from the Simpang Pulai rest-stop till our eventual destination in Bangsar, KL. He was comfortably accommodated with the standard provision of legroom and headroom, and he had his own air-conditioning control to select the air speed to his liking. The round swivel vents on the roof underlining are practical items in directing cool air effectively.

Getting in to the third row was a relatively easy process. Just use the lever on the shoulder of the second row seat and it would fold away neatly to provide hassle-free entry and exit. Using the same lever, we could adjust the second row seatrest to preset angles and catch 40 winks along the highway drive.

The third row seatrest is split 50:50 while the second row unit is split 60:40. This folding seatrest arrangement opens up space considerably as expected to carry quite a bit of items with fewer people on board of course. If you need to carry additional items with a full passenger load, you can add a roof rack as the integrated rails can hold up to 60kg in weight and should meet that requirement nicely.

The MUX 4x4 comes quite well equipped with Bluetooth connectivity, smart phone mirror link, WiFi internet browsing, GPS navigation, reverse camera and a fold-down second row DVD monitor. The driver enjoys electronic seat adjustment assistance and selecting the drive options is via a rotary knob on the centre console. We could select 2H and 4H on the move at speeds of up to 100km/h. To select 4L for demanding off-road terrain, it has to done with the vehicle stationary and by pressing the knob down.

We were told during the media drive that the MU-X was to be made available at introductory prices – RM160,210.40 on the road with GST but without insurance for the 4x4 and RM147,543.40 for the 4x2 model – and that means prices would go up in due course. Perhaps these competitive introductory prices were good enough to generate the strong market response following its launch. Isuzu expects its MU-X sales to comprise 80 per cent of the 4x4 model based on market preferences.

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