mu-X has moxie
ALWYN VILJOEN ponders timelessness v timeous in the mu-X
THE question I had before driving the mu-X was whether Isuzu has waited too long to bring us their mu-X sport utility vehicle.
The mu-X was first launched in Thailand in 2013; already had its mid-life facelift in 2017 and on paper, the numbers suggest the mu-X’s underpinnings are aimed at timeless durability rather than setting faster times between the traffic lights like all Ranger drivers seem intent on doing. This is all in keeping with Isuzu’s reputation for slow but steady, which has certainly not damaged the mu-X sales in Australia, where this SUV has been known to outsell the Toyota Fortuner and Ford Everest.
South African buyers, however, are a breed apart and we have already spurned Isuzu’s first SUV, the Frontier, when it was launched here in 1998.
We are now also spoiled for choice not just with a slew of these enclosed bakkies, but normal double-cabs that deliver car-like handling and a luxury car comforts in spades.
Here, the Nissan Navara, Mercedes-Benz X-Class and VW Amarok set the benchmarks, but all the others try their best to be race cars instead of the top-heavy utes they are.
To not topple over in the first fast swerve, the Fortuner’s suspension is tuned rock hard, while the Everest uses a Watts link lifted straight out of oval racing cars.
Compared to them, the mu-X is a hippo that wallows when the others pirouette. Part of this is because the mu-X weighs 2 650 kg, but the Everest weighs 307 kg more and still manages to hug the corners.
A steady workhorse
Under the hood, Isuzu’s proven 3.0-litre four-cylinder intercooled turbo diesel engine does not help matters in the car-like handling stakes either. It makes the least power (130 kW and 380 Nm) of the three and clatters like a Massey Ferguson while at it. But as Wheels have shown by going up a wet Ongeluksnek with the same engine, it’s all how those Newtons are put down.
This engine is a steady workhorse, sending power to the rear via six-speed auto that is tuned to keep the revs near 2 000 rpm, more or less in the middle of the nicely level torque curve between 1 800-2 800 rpm.
With all four wheels engaged, this drivetrain will maintain speed over hill and dale even while towing a heavy car on the back. The dad who needs to load a lot will be happy to know the cabin takes 612 kg, excluding all the cupholders — there’s one for each of the seven seats.
Drivers with a towing licence can also hook a threeton, braked trailer or caravan.
A standard sump guard and diff lock on the 4x2 allow one to be braver on farm roads with high middel mannetjies, sand or mud.
On long roads, the mu-X’s 65-litre diesel tank should give over 890 km range.
This is far enough for most bladders, but the competitors have 80-litre tanks in the Ford and Toyota, allowing them to travel all the way back to KZN, where fuel is cheaper.
So, did Isuzu enter South Africa’s much-contested SUV fray with too old a model?
After a week with the mu-X, I say no. Sure, the drivetrain and suspension are not aimed at drivers who feel any need for speed, but the engine is proven and the ride pliant.
One needs not be timeous if one is timeless, right?
Besides, inside the mu-X, it’s bang-on 2018, with all digital gizmos modern parents and their kids demand, including eight speakers and a rearfacing camera that aids reversing and parking on a large, full colour display. The 5-Volt USB charging ports front and rear are also a welcome modern addition to any vehicle whose passengers have to charge smartphones and such.
The mu-X also passed its crash tests with the maximum of five stars and at night, its lights are, well, light years removed from the dim Halogens we got used to on the first KBs.
At the rear, ultra-bright LED tail lights remain visible even in the thick fogs that one finds on the escarpment.
The mu-X also comes with a five-year or 120 000 km bumper-to-bumper warranty and a five-year or 90 000 km service plan, with service intervals once a year or every 15 000 km.
Buyers can choose from four colours — all covered by a five-year, unlimited kilometre anti-corrosion warranty.
mu-X 3.0 4X2 AT6 R568 000 mu-X 3.0 4×4 AT6 R629 100
Look again, that colour is not black, but Isuzu’s mu-X painted in Orchid Brown, which shines with a hint of purple depending on how the light catches it. The mu-X gives buyers who want their bakkies enclosed a solid alternative to the Everest and Fortuner.
The start of a legend — the Isuzu Frontier, first launched in 1998, was SA’s first enclosed bakkie that also managed to look good. We now call them SUVs and the 2018 mu-X aims to succeed where its predecessor failed to win hearts.