Tak­ing on the SUV gi­ants

ROAD TEST/ Isuzu’s first SUV in 20 years is a solid-per­form­ing fam­ily adventure ve­hi­cle, but it’s up against for­mi­da­ble com­pe­ti­tion, writes De­nis Droppa

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

Kind of like try­ing to imag­ine a new search en­gine try­ing to take on Google, it isn’t easy for a new­comer want­ing to mus­cle into a turf ruled by the Toy­ota For­tuner, and to a lesser ex­tent the Ford Ever­est.

Both the Toy­ota and Ford have their diehard fans, and Isuzu’s new MU-X seven seater faces a tough ride to steal some mar­ket share in this league of “real” SUVs, ie those that place more em­pha­sis on rugged ad­ven­tur­ing abil­ity than soft­road­ers that are more about car­like driv­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics.

It’s not Isuzu’s first crack at this seg­ment, though it’s been two decades since the brand’s pre­vi­ous SUV con­tender, the Isuzu Fron­tier, was sold here. Still, Isuzu has a lot of brand eq­uity through the KB bakkie, on which the MU-X is based. In May the MU-X reached lo­cal show­rooms in two ver­sions, a 4x2 and a 4x4, as the first ve­hi­cle to be launched by Isuzu SA fol­low­ing the exit of for­mer par­ent firm Gen­eral Mo­tors in 2017.

Priced at R568,000 for the 4x2 and R629,100 for the 4x4, both ver­sions are well stocked with safety fea­tures that in­clude six airbags, ABS brakes, sta­bil­ity con­trol and trailer sway con­trol.

Like its Toy­ota and Ford ri­vals, the MU-X, which means multi-util­ity cross­over, rides on a rugged body-on-frame de­sign. It’s es­sen­tially an Isuzu KB bakkie un­der­neath, but in place of the KB’s work­ing-class rear leaf springs the MU-X gets coil springs and five-link rear sus­pen­sion to smooth out the ride.

And it works. To­gether with the high-pro­file tyres fit­ted, a comfy ride qual­ity is one of the stand­out char­ac­ter­is­tics of the MU-X.

The Isuzu gets around cor­ners with the typ­i­cal na­ture of a bakkie-based SUV. If you’re af­ter X5-style han­dling sharp­ness you know where to look, but while the MU-X has lots of body roll and the steering’s not ex­actly sharp, this Isuzu changes di­rec­tion neatly as long as you don’t try to hurry it too much.

Where the MU-X fal­ters some­what is in en­gine out­put. Paired with a six-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, both the 4x2 and 4x4 ver­sions are ush­ered along by the KB’s three-litre four-cylin­der tur­bod­iesel en­gine which, at 130kW and 380Nm, is out­gunned by the 130kW/420Nm For­tuner 2.8, the 147kW/470Nm Ranger 3.2 and the other con­tender in this seg­ment, the Mit­subishi Pa­jero Sport 2.4 (133kW/430Nm).

The Isuzu’s rel­a­tively medi­ocre torque re­sults in a some­what leisurely na­ture that re­quires a lit­tle el­bow grease to ex­tract some pace, par­tic­u­larly when long trucks need to be over­taken in a hurry. It may also not be the first choice of ve­hi­cle to strap a car­a­van or a boat to, though it does have a gen­er­ous three-tonne tow­ing ca­pac­ity.

But while “sporty” isn’t in its vo­cab­u­lary, the four-cylin­der does speak with a soft voice that, to­gether with de­cently-muted wind noise, makes the MU-X a re­fined pack­age over­all. It’s fairly eco­nom­i­cal, with a fac­to­ryquoted 7.9l per 100km.

It’s a for­mi­da­ble of­froader and the 4x4 ver­sion (on test here) ho-hummed its way through a rough and rocky trail with its 230mm ground clear­ance, low range trans­fer case and the abil­ity to switch from rear- to four-wheel drive at speeds of up to 100km/h with a twist of a knob.

For those seek­ing a fam­ily­sized SUV the MU-X makes the grade with its seven-seater cabin. The first two rows offer stretch-out space (and have back­rests ad­justable for an­gle) and the third two-seater row, while ide­ally for tweens, is large enough for a pair of adults.

The MU-X has had a fairly mod­est start to lo­cal sales, with 367 units mov­ing off show­room floors in the past three months com­pared with 3,084 for the Type: Four-cylin­der tur­bod­iesel Ca­pac­ity: 2,999 cc Power: 130kW at 3,600 r/min Torque: 380Nm at 1,800-2,800 r/min Type: Six-speed au­to­matic Type: Rear-wheel drive, se­lectable-four wheel drive with high and low range Top Speed: N/A Fuel Con­sump­tion: 7.9l/100km Emis­sion: 208g/km For­tuner and 1,221 for the Ever­est, but ahead of the Pa­jero Sport’s 136.

It prob­a­bly de­serves to do bet­ter, es­pe­cially with its com­pet­i­tive pric­ing, but it is up against two ri­vals with rock­solid rep­u­ta­tions, not to men­tion more en­gine grunt.

EN­GINE TRANS­MIS­SION DRIV­E­TRAIN PER­FOR­MANCE (claimed) STAN­DARD FEA­TURES

Elec­tronic sta­bil­ity pro­gramme, six airbags, ABS brakes, elec­tric win­dows, elec­tric mir­rors, air con­di­tion­ing, rear-view cam­era, leather seats, nav­i­ga­tion, cruise con­trol, key­less oper­a­tion, drink cool­ers, touch screen au­dio sys­tem with Blue­tooth and USB ports, leather steering wheel with mul­ti­func­tion con­trols, elec­tri­cally ad­justable driv­ers seat

COST OF OWN­ER­SHIP

War­ranty: Five years/120,000km Ser­vice Plan: Five years/90,000km Price: R629,100 Lease*: R13,461 per month

Styling isn’t par­tic­u­larly at­ten­tion grab­bing but it’s given a modern vibe with day­time run­ning lights, LED front and rear lights, and alu­minium side steps.

Left: The roomy cabin seats seven peo­ple, and the back row isn’t just for tod­dlers. Be­low: Hard­core of­froad trails? No sweat.

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