Isuzu mu-X 4x4 AT: Detailed Review
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Does the Isuzu mu-X make a better contender than the mu-7 in the premium full-size SUV segment?
Isuzu’s new mu-X replaces the mu-7, a rugged seven-seat SUV that was a credible rival to Toyota’s Fortuner and Ford’s Endeavour. The mu-7’s ability was often overshadowed by its dowdy and toothy exterior design. The Isuzu mu-X now looks to create a better and bigger impression than its predecessor. It has an imposing exterior stance, a generous cabin with three rows of seating and off-road capability. It undercuts its rivals on price, which further makes it look just right for the Indian setting. Can the mu-X’s formula prove itself on the road? We take it out for a spin to find out how the on-paper claims turn out.
The Isuzu mu-X has a more balanced design compared to the mu-7. In terms of length, it is 130mm smaller, but it is 60mm wider and 35mm taller, which gives it a more robust stance. Although a bit smaller than before, the mu-X slots in between the Ford Endeavour and Toyota Fortuner in terms of size, which means it towers over most vehicles on the road. The mu-X received a mid-life cosmetic update in Thailand earlier this year, and even though it isn’t a big leap forward from the current design, the facelift looks more aggressive in comparison. Sadly, in India, we get the pre-facelift design, and as a result, its exterior design can be summed up as an amalgamation of the Isuzu V-Cross (the front end) and the Chevrolet Trailblazer (the rear end).
The mu-X’s connection to the Chevrolet Trailblazer is no coincidence as these SUVs were co-developed, and are closely related under the skin. The rear design is straightforward and smart, but it doesn’t stand out from the crowd. A spare wheel mounted on the rear door would have added much-needed virility and uniqueness to the design given that no other popular SUV in its range gets it. But that would trade in the ease of opening a hatch for a door.
Overall, the mu-X is a smart looking machine that will command respect, but it misses out on the wow factor of its rivals. Had the facelifted version been launched in India, it would have distinguished the mu-X from its pickup sibling and would have justified the higher price tag as well.
The mu-X is a full-size three-row SUV that can seat seven people. The interior is a two-tone beige-black affair with all the plastics done in black and leatherwork in beige. The dashboard layout is simple and similar to the Trailblazer and V-Cross. There’s a 7-inch touchscreen in the middle placed above the air-con controls that surround a rotary knob that displays temperature setting and controls fan speed. The controls fall at hand easily, but leave a lot of empty space on the dashboard which makes it look uninspiring.
The interior design may not be attractive, but it is practical. So you have a plethora of cubbyholes surrounding the driver and the front passenger. There is a bottle holder in each of the front doors, a compartment to keep change on the driver’s right side on the dashboard, two pop-out cupholders for the driver and the front passenger, a closed compartment on top of the dashboard in the middle, two cupholders just in front of the armrest, which in itself is cavernous and can house smartphones, a small tablet and your wallet. The glovebox is also divided into two parts – upper and lower. In all, there is a lot of space to keep knick-knacks.
The driver’s perch is set high and offers a commanding front view. Visibility is good all around with large windows, and the big ORVMs give a good long distance view of the traffic behind. Large ORVMs are a boon for parking an SUV of the mu-X’ size in tight spots especially because there’s only a rear camera for help and no parking sensors. I, however, wish the ORVMs were more convex at the ends for a better all-around view when on the move.
Like most big SUVs, you sit in a dining-table-chair position in the mu-X. It’s easy to get into a good driving position despite the lack of telescopic steering adjustment. The only thing that could be bothersome on the move can be the orientation of the dead pedal, which is a bit too upright. Nonetheless, you sit comfortably in the driver’s seat which offers good back support despite the lack of lumbar adjustment.
Climbing into the middle row is a challenge in the mu-X not because of the high 220mm ground clearance but because the doors don’t open too wide. What makes the climb tougher is the absence of grab handles. The second row in the mu-X is spacious and there’s no dearth of headroom and knee room for all three passengers. The seat back angle of the middle row can be adjusted which makes it easy to get into a good seating position. However, the middle passenger in the second row may not be very comfortable on the move as the seat surface is flat underneath. Plus there’s the transmission hump as well that eats up leg room. The first thing you notice when in the middle row is the roof-mounted 10-inch DVD screen. It is available as a standard fitment on the mu-X with a Live Surround Sound system. We couldn’t use the DVD player, but the audio output quality of the system is certainly rich and enjoyable. The middle row doesn’t get a 12V socket or a USB charging port, a thing that’s there even for the third row.
The best thing about the third row is that there are two separate seats there with enough space to accommodate two average-sized Indian adults. However, things aren’t supremely comfortable in the last row because of limited space for your feet. A sliding middle row might prove to be the best solution to overcome this limitation. Overall, we believe that the third row is best for kids on a long drive and decent for adults on shorter journeys. Third-row passengers get separate roof-mounted air con vents, a 12V socket located conveniently in the boot and a cup holder on each side.
A 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine that makes 177PS of maximum power and 380Nm of peak torque is mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission in the mu-X. We drove the 4x4 variant that gets a low ratio option for off-road potency.
|177PS at 3600rpm
|380Nm at 1800-2800rpm
|Fuel efficiency as tested (highway)
|Fuel efficiency as tested (city)
|0-100kmph (as tested)
The mu-X’s engine is quite at ease tackling city traffic. A heavy dose of torque even under 1800rpm (where max torque kicks in) and a five-speed gearbox that shifts up at 2000rpm makes sure that this burly SUV cruises calmly even in the city. You will often find yourself in top gear at speeds as low as 60kmph! The transmission takes some time to drop gears when urgent acceleration is required. You can, however, downshift manually which quickens the process. But the mu-X isn’t too comfortable doing that, and the engine whines when you wake it up from a coasting slumber. Things start becoming really noisy post 3,000rpm, which is when the engine exits its peak torque range. Progress beyond that rpm isn’t rapid.
The mu-X remains in top gear more often on the highway. The burly SUV can do 100-120kmph speeds comfortably with the engine revs lingering a shade under 2,000rpm at 100kmph and just as much over 2,000rpm at 120kmph. However, it could have done better. The mu-X facelift introduced earlier this year in Thailand gets a 6-speed automatic transmission paired with the same 3.0-litre engine. A direct benefit of that would have been in the fuel efficiency department. In our highway fuel efficiency test runs, the mu-X returned a shade under 11kmpl, which is lower by about 3.5kmpl compared to the Endeavour and 4kmpl compared to the Fortuner (both 4x4). Both the Endeavour and Fortuner get a 6-speed automatic transmission and the extra ratio accounts for some of the added fuel efficiency.
Ride, Handling and Braking
The mu-X gets independent suspension all around to offer better manners on the road. But as we found out, the setup doesn’t compromise too much on off-road ability. Over loose sand at speeds of around 60kmph, the mu-X felt confident. Obvious credit goes to the 4x4 setup (4H), but it is the brakes, ABS and traction control that deserve an equal applause.
|Double wishbone with stabiliser bar
|Penta-link with stabiliser bar
Modern-day ladder frame SUVs tackle less than smooth tarmac pretty well. And the mu-X, with 17-inch wheels shod with 255/65 tyres, has enough rubber to iron out broken roads and troughs without taking much help from the suspension. However, the suspension setup of the mu-X doesn’t disappoint whenever the need arises. Most of the times, the mu-X would glide over an uneven surface with only the big and deep potholes affecting the cabin composure. Bumps can be felt inside the cabin more easily than potholes and the ride can get bouncy when going over a long rough patch. However, on most of the surfaces the ride is comfortable and the mu-X feels planted up to speeds of 120kmph.
The steering of the mu-X feels heavy, especially at parking and slow city speeds. It can, therefore, get a bit tiresome when you’re driving for long periods in the city. On the highway, it feels well weighted, and you feel connected to the surface. However, some vagueness sets in as you go above 120kmph. At speeds of over 80kmph, you experience body roll in the mu-X when changing lanes quickly. Below that, it’s never so much that it becomes uncomfortable.
Being a ladder frame construction, the mu-X is a bit top heavy and doesn’t have the sporty handling of monocoque chassis SUVs. Nonetheless, it is comfortable to ride in in the city and on the highways, as long as you don’t push it too hard.
With a 4x4 setup with low ratio option, the mu-X has proper hardware to go off road. Compare it with the mu-7, and the mu-X’s wheelbase is shorter by 205mm while the ground clearance is higher by 10mm. Both the changes make the mu-X a better vehicle off road than the SUV it replaces. On an off-road trail with steep inclines and sharp drops, the mu-X managed to clear the obstacles without scraping its underbelly. The Ford Endeavour had also cleared the same trail before with equal ease, and therefore, we feel that that the mu-X is as adept at handling off-road terrain as the Endeavour.
Variants, Features, Colour Options, Warranty & Price
The mu-X was launched in India at Rs 23.99 lakh for the 4x2 option and at Rs 25.99 lakh for the 4x4 option (detailed launch story here). Since there’s only one variant on offer, whatever equipment Isuzu have to offer in the mu-X is there in this variant.
*Prices have come down post-GST. So, the mu-X 4x2 now costs Rs 22.48 lakh in Delhi and 4x4 costs Rs 24.35 lakh (both prices ex-showroom).
The following are the significant features on offer:
|Electronic Stability Control
|Hill Start Assist
|Dual front airbags
|Rear parking camera
|Front skid plate and sump guards
|Powered door mirrors
|Leather seat upholstery
|Power adjustable driver seat
|60:40 split second row with tumble operation for third-row rear entry
|50:50 split third row
|Flat folding second and third row
|7-inch touchscreen with surround sound system
|Roof-mounted 10-inch DVD screen
|Tilt-adjustable steering with audio and cruise controls
|4x4 select dial (4L, 4H and 2H)
The mu-X is available in four exterior colour options – Silky White Pearl, Orchid Brown Mica, Cosmic Black Mica and Titanium Silver Metallic. It comes with standard three year/1 lakh km warranty.
The mu-X ticks most of the right boxes for a full-size SUV for India. It’s big and has plenty of road presence. A torquey 3.0-litre diesel engine paired with an automatic gearbox comes with a 4x4 setup as well. It is also priced competitively and undercuts its rivals. Despite doing most things right on paper, the mu-X may not be the SUV for everyone. Why?
The mu-X looks dated against the competition and the feature list isn’t too long either. The interior is practical but not as luxuriously appointed as its rivals So, those looking for a particularly premium SUV may not settle for the Isuzu. The way it rides and drives is more like the SUVs of the previous generation and those looking for an SUV with a car-like character may not find the mu-X engaging.
However, the mu-X is a bit raw in the way SUVs are meant to be. It can go off the road with the same vigour as its competitors. It’s a comfortable cruiser and daily rider too, but remains more in the mould of the traditional SUV while the competition imparts a better and more car-like experience. So, the mu-X is a lot like its predecessor -- a solid and capable seven-seat SUV that can tackle plenty of rugged terrain, and the added layer of feel-good factor and new design makes it a package that is more appealing now.
Image Credits: Eshan Shetty / Vikrant Date / Nikil Jonathan