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Review: Isuzu MU-X

Driven May 2017

Review: Isuzu MU-X

Hey, what happened to the Trailblazer?

Look again, this isn’t the Trailblazer. It is the all new MU-X, Isuzu’s latest family SUV that replaces the ageing MU-7, if you remember what that is. But we won’t blame you for thinking it’s an updated Chevy as both SUVs share the same platform and hence the similarities. What you see here is the pre-facelift model that Isuzu has just launched in India.

Of course I remember the MU-7. The one with the Cadillac-like face, right?

Yes, that. But with the MU-X, Isuzu has played it safe. This one’s a more conventional-looking SUV with overall design and dimensions that are more pleasing to the eye. And surprisingly, despite being the same size, the Isuzu doesn’t look as humongous as the Trailblazer. However, with an imposing chrome-laced face filling your rear view mirrors, it can easily scare the daylights out of you. And isn’t that one of the key motives behind driving an SUV in India? Overall, with simple lines and clean styling, Isuzu’s new family SUV won’t have a hard time finding wider acceptance this time around.

It seems you like what you see. What’s the inside story like?

If you’ve been in a D-Max V-Cross before, the MU-X’s interior will be somewhat familiar territory. Just like the exterior, simplicity is the theme Isuzu has opted for inside, too. Uncluttered, devoid of needless switches and a simple dashboard welcome you inside the MU-X. Some may feel it’s too plain-Jane, but we would rather have this than a mishmash of layers, vertical and horizontal streaks and a sea of switches that sometimes makes it difficult to find the one you’re looking for.

Even though we can’t fault the quality of materials used, Isuzu has brought into play different shades of grey along with varied textures to put together the MU-X’s dashboard. And that, in our opinion, is something the designers could have done away with. Maybe a mix of black and beige would’ve worked better. However, fit and finish is as per segment standards and we welcome the use of soft-touch materials and plenty of beige elsewhere in the cabin – makes the XL-size cabin feel even more airy.

You said it’s a full-size SUV. So can it seat seven adults or five humans and two pets?

It’s a family SUV and by that it means you can actually seat seven adults. Yes, we tried and succeeded. The first two rows are spacious with adequate leg- and shoulder-room on offer, and things don’t get extremely tricky when you hop into the third row either. While it may not be an ideal place to be in on a long journey, the good part is that the bench placement is such that you aren’t sat with your knees in your mouth. Plus, with the pull of a single knob, the second row can fold and tumble in a jiffy, which means you don’t have to pull off a complex and sometimes embarrassing acrobatic move to get in and out of the last row.

In addition, it’s quite a practical cabin to be in. You get flexible seating options – 2nd and 3rd rows folded will open up 1830 litres of cargo space for times when you move house – tons of cubbyholes for your knick knacks, bottle holders even in the third row, individual AC vents for each row and a 10 inch screen in the second row for your family to enjoy a Bollywood flick.

Sweet. While my family enjoys the movie, would I enjoy being at its wheel?

Well, this is a tricky one. But before we tell you that, let us introduce you to the engine first. There’s only one option here; the same 3.0-litre turbo diesel that powered the MU-7, but engineers have managed to extract more power than before. So 175bhp and 380Nm of spin is what you get, and all that power is teamed with a 5-speed auto. No manual ’box on offer and Isuzu believes there’s no demand for one. You can try and convince Isuzu if you need one – we tried, but they shut us down, politely.

Back to the motor, then. We’ve known this engine since the MU-7 days and we liked it for its refinement and driveability when teamed with the manual. But in here, as you pick momentum, the motor sounds stressed in the first two gears, letting you know there’s a big diesel motor lurking under the hood. And it’s the auto ’box that is to be blamed. However, once you’ve gathered some pace, which isn’t hard to do, the ’box settles down, the revs hover around 1800rpm and everything is nice and calm. Don’t worry, the MU-X offers a dignified driving experience when driven sanely, something that you’ll appreciate on your weekend trips.

Something else that you’ll appreciate is the way the motor builds up speed – it’s quite linear – and thanks to a flat torque curve, there’s always power available at the bottom-end, making it easier in stop-start conditions. Even when you prod the right pedal, it doesn’t feel hurried in particular, but has enough punch to take care of your urban and highway needs. Downshifts are fairly quick and it also gives you an option to change cogs at will.

So, considering its overall size, it must be a boat on wheels?

Um, yes, actually. It’s a huge SUV that wasn’t built to conquer mountains, but to ferry its occupants in utmost comfort and that’s where the MU-X gets a little bothersome. In urban traffic, the Isuzu won’t give you cause for complaint, filtering out every little road abnormality. But as you build up speed, its shortcomings in the handling department come to the fore. There’s considerable body roll at speeds beyond 70kph and due to its softer setup, the ride gets a bit bouncy. The steering too gets a bit nervous and jittery closer to the ton, not giving you enough confidence to push this mammoth of an SUV any further.

So to answer you question, you would enjoy being at the wheel if you’re taking things easy, but the moment you push it, your passengers won’t be able to enjoy the movie any more.

Okay. But, it’s an SUV, can it go off-roading?

Well, we forgot to mention earlier, while there’s just one engine and gearbox to choose from, Isuzu will let you decide if you need 4x2 or a 4x4. If you choose the latter, your SUV will come equipped with a transfer case that will let you choose between high and low ratios, on-the-fly, up to 100kph. And boy did we have fun taking the MU-X off the beaten path. In fact, it did manage to surprise on many counts, clearing hurdles we didn’t think the MU-X was built for. And we’re glad it proved us wrong. But then, it’s important to understand, with the MU-X, you don’t get too excited and venture deep into the wild – this is a family SUV and it has its limitations of how crazy you can go with it.

Do keep in mind these important numbers: the MU-X has 220mm of ground clearance, a frontal approach angle of 30 degrees max, it can scale gradients of up to 30 degrees without any hiccups and can bank up to 47 degree on its sides. If you try anything beyond this, let us know how it went... if you can.

Noted. Finally, how much do I need to shell out for the 4x4?

The MU-X is a direct rival to the Toyota Fortuner and the Ford Endeavour. Both cost upwards of Rs 31 lakh for the top-end 4x4 AT. Can Isuzu afford to be that ambitious with the MU-X? Definitely not, and it’s fully aware of it. So, Isuzu has kept it simple; two variants, one trim level with the entry-point being Rs 23.99 lakh for the 4x2 AT, while the 4x4 AT featured here is priced at Rs 25.99 lakh (all prices, ex-showroom, Delhi). For that money, the MU-X comes as a good practical choice that offers you size, space, comfort and while it may not have any fancy party tricks, it comes decently specced for a family SUV. So if you’re in the market for a full-size SUV on a budget, do give the MU-X a good, hard look.

The numbers
2999cc, turbo-diesel, 175bhp, 380Nm, 5A, 4x4, ground clearance: 220mm, fuel tank: 65 litres, 255/65 R17

The verdict
A practical family SUV that does everything its fancier rivals can do, but without emptying your bank account. If simplicity is your thing, this might interest you.

Devesh Shobha

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