Text: Anton Andres / Photos: Patrick Cardano | posted July 04, 2016 15:56
Old dog, new tricks
The mu-X has been out in the market for quite some time now and has been a popular choice in the segment since. When it was launched, it was saddled with a 2.5 liter turbodiesel with 136 PS which seemed adequate at the time. While no rocket ship, it got the job done and being one of the lowest priced PPVs in the segment, buyers came in droves.
You could say it was smooth sailing from there until the new wave of PPVs entered the market, starting with the Ford Everest. The wave continued when Mitsubishi unveiled the all-new Montero Sport and, after that, it's own twin got a more powerful engine. Then, of course, Toyota stepped into the ring with the all-new Fortuner. Isuzu soon found itself on the back foot as the competition either updated or completely redesigned their PPVs.
Late last year, Isuzu added a new engine in the mu-X in the form of the 3.0 liter turbodiesel. Will the extra 500ccs boost its appeal even more? We take one out for a spin.
One look and you'll struggle to find any difference between the 3.0 and 2.5 liter models. In fact, only a badge separates one from the other. The exterior is pretty much the same SUV you've been seeing for the past three years. The D-Max inspired front fascia, Chevrolet Trailblazer doors and wraparound tail lights carry over in the 3.0 liter engined mu-X although it does come with daytime running lights right near the foglights.
One look at the interior and it offers no hints that you are indeed driving the top of the line model. The mu-X has traditionally been generous with equipment levels and the top spec model adds a ceiling mounted 10-inch screen at the back and power operated adjustments for the driver's seat. It does get an updated touch screen but other than that, it's the same interior that features acres of hard plastic. Like it or loathe it, it will most likely stand the test of time, wear and tear. The only ergonomic quirk I found in the mu-X was the circular housing of the vehicle's automatic climate control system. The rest of the cabin is well laid out and very user friendly.
This being a PPV, it offers load of storage space, cup and bottle holders for all occupants (and by all we mean seven) and loads of space. The third row can fit adults although those nearing six feet tall will find it a squeeze, just like in most trucks in its class. Fold down the third row and you're greeted by a generous cargo area although you have to add the optional storage box that will make the floor flat. Our tester did not come with that feature which made the floor area uneven. Still, it will easily take in several days worth of luggage with no problem.
Under the hood is Isuzu's 3.0 liter 4JJI-TC (Hi) engine. Slightly detuned in our market, it produces 163 PS and 380 Nm of torque. Interestingly, it makes the same amount of horsepower as the previous generation Fortuner with the 3.0 D4-D engine although offers almost 20 Nm of torque more. It's noticeably quieter than the Duramax Diesel in the Chevrolet Trailblazer too.
Start up the mu-X and you wouldn't mistake the mu-X for a gas powered SUV. The diesel clatter is present but smoothed out, adding a touch of refinement for the PPV. Despite the lack of a telescopic wheel adjuster, I was able to find a comfortable driving position for my rather short arms. At no point did I have to struggle reaching for the steering wheel or compromise my legs just to step on the pedals. Needless to say, the seat height adjusters are enough for most to find the ideal driving position.
Driving around the city, one will notice that the mu-X's steering veers towards the heavy side, reminiscent of old Troopers and Pajeros. It does offer a lot of feel and never felt unnervingly light. Parking the mu-X was easy thanks to its standard rear-view camera and reverse sensors. Pothole infested streets were no problem in the mu-X either. Low speed ride is smooth although sudden road imperfections make their way to the cabin. Still, it has to be said that it is one of the smoothest riding PPVs in the market today. It is also nice knowing that the mu-X comes standard with stability control, helpful when I had to avoid a suicidal motorcyclist quickly cutting across four lanes of traffic with his lights off at night in the pouring rain.
On the highway, the mu-X established itself as a comfortable cruiser, easily maintaining speeds throughout the stint. Considering it had large side mirrors, wind noise levels were on the low side and the diesel motor was hushed at cruising speeds. Ride on the other hand was smooth, if a little floaty for some tastes but it never felt unstable on the highway. The 3.0 liter engine made quick work of overtaking maneuvers and you no longer have to plan ahead thanks to more grunt.
Despite the bigger engine, there was almost no penalty in fuel economy. In the city, we managed 8.2 kilometers per liter with an average speed of 16 km/h. Out on the highway, we averaged 14.7 kilometers per liter and we reached a high of 16.2 kilometers per liter.
I could best describe this PPV as an honest car. It's not pretending to be a luxury car or a crossover and it wears its truck roots proudly on its fenders. To be honest, I appreciate the car's honesty and as the line between car and truck narrows, the mu-X firmly roots itself in the truck category. Thanks to modern creature comforts and a soft ride, it banishes the harshness of old truck based SUVs but it still retains the feeling of robustness Isuzus have been known for. It offers great mileage too despite the bigger engine, blending in performance and efficiency that will be just right for most and maybe even exceed expectations. Needless to say, the new engine enhanced an already competitive package.
It's safe to say that the mu-X is one of the value leaders of the segment. At PhP 1,748,000, the mu-X 3.0 liter offers four wheel drive at a price point where most competitors stick with two wheel drive. That, plus the generous equipment levels, help make the mu-X a very compelling purchase and the heart transplant made it even more capable and appealing as well.