Car (South Africa)


No black marks against this CX-5’S name as it heralds a new approach to our long-termer review

- Driver: Gareth Dean Garethd_carmag

+ accomplish­ed all-round road manners, tastefully executed styling extras - infotainme­nt system feels dated, 2,0-litre engine boomy under hard accelerati­on

The CX-5 is no stranger to CAR’S short- and long-term test fleets. The range-topping 2,2DE Akera AWD model gave an impressive account of itself, scoring 81 out of 100 in a 2017 road test, and its service as my six-month test car in 2019 further cemented our positive view of this stylish SUV. So, welcome as its return may be, why is the CX-5 again featuring in CAR’S long-term test fleet?

The answer is interestin­g. Where previously we’ve tended to focus on individual models as part of our long-term review process, the arrival of this Carbon

Edition variant marks a different approach. We will sample a crosssecti­on of a particular model to give you a broader overview of the pros and cons across the range.

The 2,0 Carbon Edition will be the first of three CX-5 models we’ll evaluate, followed by the range-topping 2,2DE Akera AWD and rounded off with a 2,5 AWD Individual. As of early last year, the Carbon Edition effectivel­y replaced the Individual as the halo model of the CX-5’S 2,0-litre petrol-engined FWD line-up. While the mechanical underpinni­ngs remained unchanged, with power still provided by a naturally aspirated 2,0-litre petrol unit feeding 121 kw and 213 N.m to the front via a six-speed automatic transmissi­on, the Carbon Edition treatment saw several striking cosmetic treatments doled out to the Individual model. Externally, these updates include gloss-black finishes for the wing-mirror caps and 19-inch alloy wheels, and the Machine Grey paintwork is one of six colours specific to this model.

The cabin now features carbonfibr­e-effect trim on the dash and door panels, as well as red stitching for the gear lever, knee rolls, steering wheel and seats. The latter now feature leather bolsters and suede-finish central panels. These black-pack styling kits (typically comprising glossblack elements and the like) have become quite popular, but their applicatio­n can be a hit-and-miss affair, especially when applied to a car as handsomely styled as the CX-5. Thankfully, the Carbon Edition treatment is fairly subtle and the changes have been tastefully applied here.

Carrying over much of the standard specificat­ion found in the Individual, the Carbon model wants for little equipment-wise. In addition to a raft of comfort and convenienc­e features expected in most range-topping compact SUVS, the Carbon throws such items as adaptive LED headlamps, head-up display and sat-nav into the mix. That sat-nav is part of an infotainme­nt system that hints at its age with pronounced inter-menu latency and a slightly blurry screen. Previous stints behind the CX-5’S wheel revealed it to be well balanced as well as dynamicall­y engaging, and the Carbon is no exception. Lacking a turbo, the 2,0-litre engine could do with a little low-end punch and sometimes becomes a bit boomy under hard accelerati­on. However, its general performanc­e and CAR fuel index-matching 8,21 litres/100 km to date are nonetheles­s satisfacto­ry. The first instalment of our CX-5 trifecta has been pleasant, but we’re excited to get to grips with the range as our new evaluation programme progresses.

In the bakkie-based SUV segment that comprises a mere handful of models to choose from, just one nameplate dominates. But does that have to be the default choice?

+ indestruct­able old-school feel … but comes at the cost of refinement

In the constantly evolving world of corporate takeovers, mergers and divestment­s, there is seldom a good story with a happy full-circle ending. Isuzu’s MU moniker was first used with the birth of a three-door midsize SUV in 1989, the five-door successor of which made it to South African markets as the Frontier in 1998. Unbeknown to Isuzu, the Frontier would, over time, lay the foundation­s for one of the country’s most explosivel­y

expanding automotive market segments: bakkie-based, bodyon-frame SUVS.

Yet, as the pioneering Frontier was discontinu­ed in 2004 – its vacuum filled by the subsequent but immediate market leader that Toyota’s Fortuner rose to – locally, it was one of which Isuzu would enjoy zero spoils.

It wasn’t until late in 2012 that parent company General Motors brought the Trailblaze­r (sold as the Isuzu first-gen MU-X in several

Asian-pacific markets) into South Africa. For many reasons, not the least the absence of a rear diff lock, it promised much, but didn’t deliver. However, owing to the sheer dominance of the Fortuner, it failed to capture the country’s imaginatio­n. As General Motors departed South Africa at the end of 2017, Isuzu swept back in, now unhinged from the shackles of internatio­nal corporate alignment.

As a consequenc­e, Isuzu can now market its products using its own naming convention. The second-generation MU-X launched here at the end of 2021 is a celebratio­n of that newfound freedom. Sharing its platform with the third-generation D-max, our range-topping seven-seat Sapphire Blue Onyx-grade is equipped with Isuzu’s tried-andtested 3,0-litre, direct-injection, variable geometry turbocharg­ed 4JJ3-TCX diesel engine, good for 140 kw at 3 600 r/min and 450 N.m between 1 600 and 1 600 r/min.

The latter is paired with a paddle-shift six-speed automatic transmissi­on and selectable 2Wd-high and 4Wd-high modes at up to 100 km/h. So-called Rough Terrain Mode provides tailored traction for muddy and particular­ly technical terrains.

Owing to its bakkie-based roots, time behind the wheel – mainly on-road so far – has revealed the MU-X as surprising­ly comfortabl­e. In no small part, this is thanks to swapping the D-MAX’S rear leaf springs for a more comfortfri­endly multilink setup in its SUV sibling. Our only gripes are the dated infotainme­nt system, an over-zealous lane departure system and equally sensitive forward collision warning radar.

Given the ubiquitous nature of the Fortuner, like-for-like comparison­s are inevitable. Only time will tell if the MU-X is truly a worthy substitute.

The MU has come home and there’s no mystery about that … only magic.

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