Base models of any mass market automobile tend to be barebones units; variants that -in the interest of making the car more affordable- feel very, very basic. Delete this feature, omit that bit of chrome or body-color, cheapen the seat fabrics and more, all for the sake of lowering the price of admission.
With the 2014 Isuzu Alter -uh- mu-X, the “barebones” formula seems to work like a charm.
Despite being manufactured in truck-crazy Thailand, the Philippines is actually a key market for the 7-seat pick-up based SUV in the region. The Thais love their pick-ups (thanks to the tax breaks they get), but we Filipinos gobble up the SUV versions of those same trucks with gusto and with good reason. Measuring in at 4825mm long, 1860mm wide and 1825mm tall with a ground clearance of 220mm, the mu-X can take on a large (but typical) Filipino family of 7 plus luggage, as opposed to trucks that are limited to 5 passengers.
The “mu” nomenclature has actually existed for a while, as Japan and other markets have received the previous generations of the Isuzu mu, which stands for “Mysterious Utility”. The arrival of the mu-X this past September actually marks the retirement of the Alterra name (which is also called the mu-7) and ushers the new generation of Isuzu's flagship SUV, a lineage that gained popularity with the venerable Trooper.
If the front end of the mu-X looks familiar, it's because it's based on the Isuzu D-Max. If the profile looks even more familiar, it's because the mu-X is very much related to the Chevrolet Trailblazer and the Colorado. Of course there are numerous examples of premium exterior touches being deleted such as the chrome on the grille, doorhandles, the mirrors, the lower portion of the bumper and a few others in favor of gloss gray and matte black. Personally I would contend that in this shade of white, the bare black trim pieces work perfectly well together and adds contrast to the body. Unusually, Isuzu Philippines also found a way to fit the mu-X with 16-inch aluminum rims instead of steel wheels, and they roll on 245/70/R16 tires.
Inside, the 2014 mu-X LS has a simple black color scheme all around the cabin. The dashboard, again, is the same as the one in the D-Max as well as the Colorado/Trailblazer, though the fit and finish of the dash in this mu-X seems better than the Chevrolet duo. The fabric seats may seem spartan at first glance, but the quality is actually good. As with most 7 seater SUVs, two can sit in front, three in the middle and two more on the third row. Both the third and second row can stow away for maximum cargo space; the third row folds flat while the second row tumbles forward.
What's surprising for this base model is that it comes standard with a 2-DIN DVD touchscreen unit with Bluetooth, USB input and more. Navigation is also surprisingly equipped, though you'll have to pay extra if you want a reverse camera. Power windows are standard, along with central locks and even a dual airconditioning system. There are some unusual deletions though, as Isuzu have removed the power mirrors (how often do you adjust those anyway?) as well as the recirculation valve; this is the first modern car I've driven that didn't have one.
Twist the key in the slot and the 2.5 liter twin cam, 16-valve 4JK-1 TC engine judders to life; it's a diesel after all. Those familiar with the previous Alterra/mu-7 will note that the engine is actually half a liter smaller in displacement, but the improved variable turbo and other components means that while it may make less power at 136 PS (previous 4JJ-1 TC 3.0L: 146 PS) the new motor makes more torque at 320 Nm (previous 4JJ-1 TC 3.0L: 294 Nm). Being a base model, this one has a simple but effective 5-speed manual gearbox and rear wheel drive.
In the city, the 2014 mu-X 4x2 LS works flawlessly. The suspension is superbly plush and soaks up our far from perfect roads smoothly. Of note is the build quality in the cabin; no creaks can be heard, so you know that Isuzu's engineers and assemblers did their job well. While there was no fuel economy meter, a quick fill up in between urban drives yielded 9.1 kilometers per liter (moderate to heavy traffic); impressive given the size and weight. Also notable is how the clutch pedal feels; light and easy to use even in city traffic.
On the highway, the mu-X LS is equally smooth and refined. The big SUV doesn't get unstable when you traverse strong crosswinds (no pun intended) and takes on provincial roads with ease. One thing I would want them to change is the gearing; it's a bit short as a cruise at 100 km/h means that the engine is already past the 2500 rpm mark. Isuzu Philippines quotes an AAP-verified test at 20.8 km/l for this variant, though we are unsure under what average speed that was achieved at. Nevertheless, at a 95 km/h average cruise, this mu-X yielded 14.3 km/l with two people on board.
The 2014 Isuzu mu-X 4x2 LS 5-MT is undoubtedly impressive, but that's not all. The best part is the price, because at PhP 1,188,000 for this variant, it means that Isuzu's base mu-X is in the same price range as a top of the line compact car, multi-purpose vehicle or AUV.
Given that, there is now doubt Isuzu Philippines Corporation pulled off a masterclass of pricing, speccing, quality and design with the 2014 mu-X 2.5L 4x2 LS.