First Drive: 2018 Isuzu MU-X

First Drive: 2018 Isuzu MU-X

If you have a family of seven then how on earth are you making ends meet every month? Of course, there aren’t many who require a seven-seater for their own family, but more for those occasions when you need an extra pair of seats to bring a couple of friends home from school or partying teenagers back from a night out or even to accommodate those out-of-town relatives who popped in for the weekend.

Most seven-seaters are not really designed to accommodate seven adults, but rather five plus two youngsters or two adults willing to be uncomfortably squeezed in for a five-minute trip to the shops.

There are plenty of choices for those who need those occasional seats though. The most popular is the Toyota Fortuner. School car parks are full of them and they are regularly seen charging up and down highways and through suburbs like rampaging elephants. Then there is the Ford Everest, Land Rover Discovery and the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport. Until General Motors decided to pull out of SA, there was also the Chevrolet Trailblazer but now it is back, albeit as the Isuzu MU-X.

While the MU-X might look like a Trailblazer facelift with an Isuzu badge, the team at Isuzu SA are adamant that it is a totally different vehicle to the Chevy.

Built in Thailand, it “inherits Isuzu Trucks’ DNA”, says Susumu Hosoi, chairman of Isuzu Motors, who came to SA for the launch of the MU-X. He says this DNA ensures the MU-X has “durability only a true expert like Isuzu Trucks can deliver”.

It is not a truck of course, but we get his point. Interestingly, the MU-X is less truck-like than the Trailblazer. This is most apparent in the powertrain which is a 3.0l turbodiesel delivering 130kW and 380Nm. The Trailblazer was more basic and had a rather agricultural sound to it even when cruising. That is not the case with the MU-X.

The company has paid attention to noise, vibration and harshness levels because the MU-X is remarkably quiet, even at highway speeds where the only real sound is a bit of wind noise from the wing mirrors and a bit of tyre noise. It is unexpectedly refined in this regard.

But there are elements that are still a bit basic. The panel containing the climate controls looks cheap and some of the plastics on the dash are below par, save for a piece of leather stuck over the upper glovebox.

It lacks the tech of the Everest too, particularly in terms of things like the instrument cluster and blind spot monitoring. But it is well equipped, with a nine-inch touchscreen infotainment system that includes navigation and Bluetooth audio streaming. It even has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It has climate control, leather seats and a Sky Sound audio system. There are multiple airbags and various safety systems.

Then there is that third row of seats. Not wanting to pick on the Fortuner, but the Toyota has terrible third row seats. They are outdated jump seats that fold up against the windows and have almost no safety, bizarre considering they are meant for children. The MU-X has seats that fold neatly flat into the floor, improving luggage space too.

On a long drive from Joburg to Clarens along some very scarred roads, dodging potholes and dealing with undulations, the MU-X coped remarkably well. It cruised at the national limit comfortably but its lack of power and slow delivery from the six-speed auto box does mean you need to consider overtaking moves carefully.

That route did take us to an off-road course on the outskirts of Clarens. There are 4×2 (R568 000) and 4×4 (R629 100) versions available. The 4×4 with its auto setting, hill descent control and low-range coped well with the course, although a few running boards were damaged. It has superb approach and departure angles and ground clearance of 230mm, although reduced by those side steps.

We were impressed with the refinement and ride comfort, but it is in a tough segment, one where recent entrants like the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace make it look decidedly overpriced and underpowered.

It’s a pity because everyone remembers the Isuzu Frontier and how successful that was. We aren’t convinced the MU-X will be a spiritual successor, at least not in the sales game. – Mark Smyth