Isuzu has its legion of fans not because it produces the smoothest or most elegant cars money can buy. It specializes in workhorses built to haul the hopes and dreams of those who use them. That’s not to say that the company’s products don’t deserve a healthy dose of care and attention, but it can be concluded that Isuzu isn’t a fan of fancy motoring solutions.
To call the all-new Mu-X the last word in luxury isn’t really right. It’s a truck-based product made by a truck manufacturer, and it certainly drives like one. No matter how much marketing fluff the automaker makes about its latest SUV being its greatest creation, there is no denying that the vehicle is still a little rough around the edges.
The 4JJ3 engine that sits under the hood is of a high-tech design, sporting Isuzu’s Blue Power system. I have discussed this motor’s quirkiness in my D-Max review, but it seemed to behave a little differently in the Mu-X. The output of 187hp and 450Nm remains unchanged, so it’s not going to get left behind at the lights by its rivals. It also has the same six-speed automatic transmission that likes to exploit the wave of torque that comes in just above idle.
But this 3.0-liter turbodiesel takes its sweet time to rev. This isn’t like a comparable Toyota or Mitsubishi engine that is eager to respond to each blip of the accelerator. It’s not a very peppy unit, but I like it that way. It’s predictable and easy to use, and it wants to stay at low rpm just like a big American V8. It’s not slow by any means: you just have to get used to its lazy ways.
Going over to the styling, I am absolutely over the moon that there is no longer the weird split rear window of the old Mu-X. This new one is actually quite nice. It’s not rakish by any means, but its modern look will impress even the most finicky buyers. The light clusters are slim now, and the LED treatment is thankfully standard on all variants. I just wish the grille had less chrome and bigger “fangs,” and I’m not completely sold on the 20-inch wheels.
I have to give props to Isuzu for sprucing up the interior. Again, plastics aren’t the best and some of the levers feel like they are easily breakable (like the one for lumbar support), but there are more soft-touch materials in the Mu-X than in the D-Max. The center-console’s switchgear is much easier to understand because the toggle switches are actually below the settings they change.
I do have concerns over the electronic parking brake, and a part of me wishes that the car had the D-Max’s loud ratchet of an emergency-brake lever. But I guess SUV buyers these days want convenience, so I’ll let that detail pass. I don’t like the liberal use of piano-black plastics, though. They are fingerprint and scratch magnets, and would look nasty after a few months of use. Oh, and the font used on the gauge cluster could’ve been better.
I think Isuzu was able to carry over its suspension tuning from the D-Max to the Mu-X. It didn’t have the smoothest ride, but hitting big bumps on the road didn’t shake what was left of my lunch. It handled large potholes with a muffled thud rather than a loud crash, and passenger comfort was certainly helped by the thick leather upholstery. Slapping on 18-inch wheels with thicker rubber would iron out some of the harshness (that’s why I hate 20-inch rims on SUVs like this).
As for seating, the third row is surprisingly usable even for adults. Normally with pickup-based SUVs, the last row is a laughable affair that would throw even the calmest of toddlers into a tantrum because of the limited legroom. But the Mu-X’s middle-row bench doesn’t slide, and the space behind it is large enough that porky guys like me can stay there comfortably for a few hours.
The previous Mu-X’s ceiling-mounted screen wasn’t enough to give it street cred when it came to technology. So, the all-new one loses it and gets a large 10.1-inch touchscreen. Sound quality is so-so, but I’d forgive it for the Apple and Android connectivity. But if passengers prefer streaming movies, their devices can be charged with the 220V household-style outlet at the second row.
Also in the Mu-X’s bag of electronic tricks are the advanced driver aids exclusive to the top-tier LS-E. However, one feature that I annoyingly found myself using a lot is the front-collision warning. Just like the in D-Max, the sensor is far too sensitive and triggers the brakes sooner than I expected. It also emits this audible grinding noise that sounded like I was actually scraping the bumper of the car in front.
That brings me to how the Mu-X is like to drive. And, well, it drives like a proper truck. Aside from the slow-revving engine, the steering takes quite a bit of effort to rotate from lock to lock. I like the heavy tiller in the D-Max, but I suspect SUV owners would want a lighter feel. The Mu-X isn’t the easiest car to handle when you’re weaving in and out of traffic, but it is a calm highway cruiser.
The automatic gearbox’s ratios are quite tall, so the engine doesn’t sound strained even when you go beyond the speed limit. The turbodiesel’s relaxed nature netted 11.4km/L in mixed city and highway driving, and that included the car idling for more than an hour during the photo shoot. The stiff steering wheel allowed me to make small corrections with just one hand while driving on the expressway. Once I learned how to trust the adaptive cruise control, I found it to be one of the better systems I’ve used.
Finally, let’s talk about pricing. The two-wheel-drive LS-E you see here retails for P2,100,000. Four-wheel drive adds a P350,000 premium. The Mu-X went from one of the most affordable to one of the most expensive in its class. And take note that it doesn’t even come with a 360⁰ camera or a branded audio system like the refreshed Nissan Terra and Toyota Fortuner.
On economics alone, the all-new Mu-X seems like a hard pill to swallow. Even I think that the mid-range LS-A with the 4JJ3 engine is on the pricey side at P1,900,000. But Isuzu can charge buyers anything it wants, and I think that the Mu-X really does some things a lot better than the competition. It’s not the most elegant SUV money can buy. But its an honest car, which has definitely charmed me with its ways.
ISUZU MU-X 3.0L 4x2 LS-E
|3.0-liter four-cylinder turbo diesel
|187hp @ 3,600rpm
|450Nm @ 1,600-2,600rpm
|4,850mm x 1,870mm x 1,825mm
|Ride quality is excellent, and the exterior styling is tasteful.
|Piano-black plastics are a bitch to keep clean, and the price is a little high.