Isuzu MU-X 7-seater workhorse
  |  First Published: March 2016

The Isuzu MU-X is a robust 7-seater whose forte is serious off-roading. Bush tracks, travelling up beaches – perhaps with a camper or boat in tow – these are the sorts of things that can prove very difficult for many soft-roading SUVs, as many of their owners have found to their dismay. Not so with the MU-X!

While it’s not as super refined as some of the 4WDs spearheading today’s sales, the MU-X is a great choice for family motorists seeking a strongly built unit to take them to places that only a serious off-road vehicle could handle.

An interesting mix of technology

In some aspects the top specced LS-T (as reviewed) is a curious mix of old and new technology. Interior trim level is a bit Spartan, with a fair bit of hard plastic, yet these 5-speed, auto-only units feature keyless entry, electric seats, electric windows, sat nav, a DVD player for rear seat passengers, climate control air for those in the rear as well, cruise control, reversing camera and rear park assist, touch screen nav and audio system, iPod, Bluetooth, Aux and USB connectivity plus folding electric side mirrors.

The proven 3.0L Isuzu diesel engine is a somewhat gruff unit that kicks into life with a flourish, rattles mightily at idle yet pulls like a train when necessary thanks to its 380Nm of torque and 130kw of power.

Based on the acclaimed D-Max ute, but with significantly modified suspension to please the youngsters when packed and heading for that special place, the MU-X wagon comes with accomplished off-roading ability thanks to its 4WD on demand capability linked to a lockable high/low range gearbox and power to spare from that very strong 3.0L 4-cylinder intercooled turbo diesel engine. It seems almost lazy in the way it easily pulls the wagon up hills, charges through soft sand or mixes it with the best of them with a bit of a sprint at the local traffic lights.

Admittedly the 3.0L diesel is somewhat industrial with its small vibrations and chatter (which thankfully diminishes with speed), but the gearbox is refined and makes the most of the great power from the engine. Able to sense downhill travel and drop back cogs accordingly without engaging the descent control system, the gear box features an ultra-low first gear which, with low range selected, makes the MU-X near unstoppable. The option for driver input via the shifter’s manual sequential mode is also useful when linked to the torque of the diesel engine.

Off-road cred comes via the steel bash plates underneath vital components, very useful degrees of wheel articulation linked to ample ground clearance (230mm under the differential) plus side steps to protect the side panels.

One thing I particularly liked about the MU-X was the ease in which the console-mounted selector dial flicked the gear box in or out of the chosen ratio system – engaging 4WD from 2WD on the fly is particularly quick – and I feel this will inspire a lot of confidence in the MU-X’s ability. These dial-operated selectors in other vehicles don’t always work so efficiently! Some have a disturbing amount of hang time, enough to see the car well and truly bogged when push has turned to shove.

Family owners will also be happy to understand the MU-X has a 5-star ANCAP safety rating thanks to an extensive list of safety features.

The Drive

Despite the mix of old and new technology, I believe the ‘new’ tricks win the day. The MU-X is a very easy car to drive, reverse, and to park. It has a solid, no-nonsense, feel about it at all times, whether moving in traffic or picking through timber, yet the ride remains very comfortable, not easily put off by bad surfaces. The driving position is high, the steering wheel lower, but these are small considerations when taking in the all-round panoramic view from the leather-backed seats. Hard turns and winding roads need a bit of driver input to keep things going smoothly, but when the bitumen stops and the gravel starts the wagon’s true purpose shines. This is one tough nut to crack!

Fuel consumption is another strong point. On a mix of highway and city driving I achieved fuel figures of 8.8L per 100km, which is very respectable for a 7-seater unit that’s no lightweight.

Tow testing

With a 3-tonne braked trailer tow rating I expected no issues with the MU-X towing my 5.5m Galeforce with its 90 E-Tec on the transom, and I was right. That diesel engine greatly impressed me with its almost too easy attitude, and a couple of hills encountered en-route to and from home were just non-events for the intercooled turbo diesel.

In conclusion, I feel that with its off-road cred, powerful and very flexible engine, adaptable seating set-up which sees the last row of seats easily flattened to the floor, the second row with their 60/40 split being almost as adaptable as well, the LS-T MU-X is the ideal unit for someone wanting a safe family transporter as well as a robust tow unit. This vehicle would be a great asset for weekend adventure or long range holiday travel.

At the time of publication the pricing for the auto models starts at $46,490 for the LS-U, and $50,990 for the LS-T.

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