A rugged take on value

Isuzu makes a virtue of the truck DNA of its seven-seater — and the drive-away deals are per­ma­nent

The Weekend Post - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - IAIN CURRY

ISUZU likes to keep things sim­ple. Walk into a deal­er­ship and you’re met with just two models: the D-Max ute and MU-X seven-seat SUV.

No mi­cro-sized faux-wheel drive or Nur­bur­gring-honed bi-turbo V8 “SUV coupe” here. Isuzu proudly chest-thumps the truck DNA found in its two models, sticks to what it does best and is reap­ing the re­wards.

Sales fig­ures have surprised Isuzu — and the com­pe­ti­tion.

The mighty MU-X was Aus­tralia’s best-sell­ing ute­based SUV of 2016, ahead of the likes of Mit­subishi Pa­jero Sport, Toy­ota For­tuner, Ford Ever­est and Holden Colorado7/ Trail­blazer.

We bought more than 7000 ex­am­ples of th­ese Thai-built wag­ons last year.

With Aus­tralia now Isuzu’s big­gest ex­port mar­ket for D-Max and MU-X, the up­dates for the 2017 ver­sion of the seven-seater specif­i­cally ad­dress Aussie cus­tomer and car re­viewer feedback. Namely, fewer harsh plas­tics in the cabin and re­duced noise from its 3.0-litre turbo diesel.

Dual-tone dash­boards re­place the tough plas­tic trim, aided by new chrome and pi­ano-black high­lights and soft arm­rest and con­sole cov­er­ings.

The ex­te­rior de­sign has been tweaked as well, with brighter LED head­lights, fog lights and new grille and al­loy wheels.

Prices are up about $1000 for the three grades.

Rear-drive vari­ants go from $42,800 to $45,100 and $48,800 be­fore on-roads.

All-wheel-drive au­tos are from $50,100, $52,400 and $56,100 (un­pop­u­lar man­u­als are $2100 cheaper).

The good news is you’ll never pay th­ese prices.

Isuzu does per­ma­nent drive­away deals, and its ad­verts show the range-top­ping new LS-T 4WD is $52,990 drive-away.

A five-year/130,000km warranty and five-year capped price servicing plan also trumps most of the com­pe­ti­tion. Car­ried over is the 3.0-litre diesel en­gine in­tro­duced specif­i­cally for the Aus­tralian MU-X just a few months ago.

With 130kW/430Nm (up from 380Nm) it’s not the strong­est in the seg­ment but it is the most eco­nom­i­cal, re­turn­ing a claimed 7.9L/100km when mated to Isuzu’s new six-speed au­to­matic.

Stan­dard gear on all vari­ants in­clude seven seats, touch­screen au­dio, re­verse cam­era with rear park­ing sen­sors and LED day­time run­ning lights.

The MU-X lacks the ri­vals’ in­creas­ingly com­mon­place ac­tive safety and driver as­sis­tance sys­temss.

ON THE ROAD

The MU-X is spa­cious and those de­mand­ing a true sev­enseater won’t be dis­ap­pointed, as the third row can ac­com­mo­date six-foot adults in re­spectable com­fort, even if it’s still a clam­ber to get into them. Boot space is ex­cel­lent as a fiveseater but with seven seats up you’ll fit a cou­ple of sports bags.

The cabin is plusher but the Isuzu still doesn’t feel on a par with a lot of the com­pe­ti­tion, with slightly flimsy door trim, switches and knobs.

Leather ac­cents for the top­grade MU-X, com­bined with the rear DVD mon­i­tor, should make it the fam­ily favourite. Isuzu claims a re­duc­tion in noise, vi­bra­tion and harsh­ness over the 2016 model due to bet­ter in­su­la­tion.

The MU-X hums along with lit­tle cabin noise.

Stomp on the ac­cel­er­a­tor — there’s a bit of a delay — and the higher revs re­veal the truck lin­eage. When cruis­ing it’s quiet and un­stressed.

The ride is com­fort­able and less wal­lowy than some ute­based seven-seaters but the steer­ing is vague and the body leans in the turns.

Off-road there’s no lock­ing rear dif­fer­en­tial un­like in, say, a Toy­ota For­tuner or Mit­subishi Pa­jero Sport.

Our muddy, rocky off-road test with steep de­scents didn’t trou­ble the MU-X and few own­ers would push into harder ter­rain than this.

VER­DICT

Sales leader among its ute­based seven-seat ri­vals, Isuzu is al­ready do­ing plenty right with the MU-X. A bet­ter if not classlead­ing cabin and qui­eter ride im­proves the breed. Isuzu’s bul­let­proof 3.0-litre turbo diesel should en­sure it re­mains a rugged value propo­si­tion ... but in­sist on the drive-away price.

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