Pushing a new Frontier
Isuzu’s rivals have gone from strength to strength, but the South African market still plays favourites every so often. The new mu-X has just rolled up its sleeves and joined the fight. Kyle Kock goes ringside.
You probably remember the old Isuzu Frontier. You know, that little SUV from the 90s that was considered large by yesteryear’s standards. What ever happened to that pioneer? Because at the time it was amongst the first of the bakkie-based SUVs in our market. Well, that one and the Nissan Sani. Both heralded a new era of sleek looks but trusted capability.
That was essentially at least a decade before manufacturers really stepped up their SUV game in this country and these models became wildly popular. Unfortunately for Isuzu, the Frontier was relegated to the backseat as Chevrolet’s Trailblazer ran point for General Motors South Africa – Isuzu’s local parent company for a couple of years before the firm pulled out of our market.
A good starting point
Isuzu Japan stepped in to save the day by investing in the Struandale plant in the Eastern Cape and taking over local operations. Adding to the “passenger” vehicle line-up, which primarily consisted of just the luxury double cab KB, the mu-X is essentially a fresh take on the Trailblazer.
The similarities are mostly apparent when you view the mu-X side-on, but it gets unique alloy wheels to distinguish it further. Then there’s a whole new nose, with large headlamps and integrated daytime running lights that form a unique pattern – sort of like an angry bull. The front grille features the heavy use of chrome, which forms a stark contrast to the black paintwork of the test vehicle. The optional polished stainless steel nudge bar is perhaps then a bit overkill. The rear end has been similarly smartened up with more detail to the tail lights and fog lamps integrated a bit higher onto the rear bumper.
Isuzu wiped the slate clean when it came to the interior. The fascia is very much exactly what you’ve come across in the KB, but Isuzu definitely went the extra mile to make its passengers more comfortable. There’s soft-touch surfaces and stitched leather upholstery all over the interior. The seats are soft yet supple, and the switchgear has a solid, reassuring feel.
The most noticeable new inclusion is that of a touch-screen infotainment system that dominates the centre console. From here
you can control functions like which media to play from a variety of inputs like disc drive, USB port, auxiliary port and even HDMI. The second row of passengers also have a say in the matter because there’s an extra USB input between the front seats.
The second row of seats tilt backwards and forwards in a 70:30 split, and you only need to tug at the lever on the seatback once for the entire unit to tuck into itself and up against the front seatback – this allows easier access to the third row, comprised of two individual seats and three-point harnesses. There’s enough room back here to seat older children, but teenagers with an early growth spurt will complain about cramped leg room, even with the second row slid forward on the rails. What the second and third row do benefit from are their own air-con vents in the ceiling.
Tried and trusted
The 3.0 ℓ turbodiesel motor might be 200 cc larger than the 2.8 range-topper from the Trailblazer, but the larger engine doesn’t stress its components as much to deliver its peak outputs of 130 kW and 380 Nm of torque. Plus, it’s already served time in the KB, so it’s not like Isuzu had to develop a new engine from scratch.
The mu-X also uses an upgraded six-speed automatic transmission unlike early versions of the KB, which used a five-speed auto.
Isuzu saw fit to only have a single trim specification available in South Africa, but you can opt for a 4x4 model instead of a 4x2. This drivetrain will cost you R50 000 more. The model sent to us for testing is the lesser of >
the two, being essentially just a raised body rear-wheeldrive family wagon. That said, the Isuzu does have good ground clearance, which counts for when the terrain gets a bit rugged.
We put the rear-wheel-drive mu-X through its paces with a full complement of passengers on the mudslicked obstacles of Dirt & Dust, just outside Durbanville, and it put up a fairly decent account for itself. Obviously we’re not encouraging you to venture out into kneedeep sludge, but the mu-X does have a handy 600 mm fording depth for when you need to cross some water.
Despite the fitment of road-biased Bridgestone Dueler tyres and side steps, the Isuzu was actually quite capable on the ridges and mock hills of the obstacle course where there was no need for low range or even drive to the front wheels.
On the road
The mu-X isn’t packing the same kind of latest technology as some of its more modern and with-it rivals, but it’s definitely not far behind in any department.
The motor might sound gruff on idle (especially after a cold start), but the tractor clatter smoothens as the transmission sends torque to the rear wheels and the mu-X gets moving. And despite the old-school engine, it’s not lazy if you ride the torque plateau to just under 3 000 rpm. Considering that our week with the Isuzu consisted of commuting in heavy traffic for 36 km every day, its 9,1 ℓ/100 km fuel consumption average is nothing to scoff at for a vehicle weighing in at well over 2 tons.
Is it a worthy purchase?
We’re not going to pretend that brand loyalty doesn’t play a major role in purchasing decisions in this country, because it does. Isuzu’s reputation abroad and on this continent is nothing short of stellar, but perhaps the mu-X should have come to market a few years ago because rivals like the Toyota Fortuner and Ford Everest have since run away with market share. Still, don’t be surprised if you see the mu-X well-represented off the beaten track, because it’s a pretty decent buy that you’re not going to see parked on everyone’s driveway.
Considering our 36 km daily commute, a 9,1 ℓ/100 km fuel consumption average is nothing to scoff at for a vehicle weighing in at well over 2 tons.
FAMILIAR FACE. The are still traces of Trailblazer left in the overall design, but Isuzu have performed a clever facelift, with a refreshed nose and tail and an interior that’s more akin to the KB double cab that we’re already so well acquainted with here in South Africa. The second and third rows fold almost flat so you can load particularly large items when you need that kind of utility room.
SPACE FOR ALL. Access to the third row of seating is a simple affair, with plenty of room for ingress and egress with the second row chair folded right up against the rear of the front seatback. There’s stowage room for small items too.