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.

Go! Camp & Drive - - DRIVING IMPRESSION - Isuzu mu-X

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.

Fa­mil­iar cabin

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.

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