The Isuzu mu-X is a pickup platform vehicle (PPV) we've become accustomed to at Autoindustriya. We've known it as a value-packed SUV with great fuel economy, flexibility and versatility. While it was never the most refined, nor the most powerful option among its peers, the mu-X found a lot of buyers and fans, us included.
There is a mantra that goes 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' and the mu-X didn't really need a significant update. Isuzu thought otherwise by giving their popular PPV yet another heart transplant, as well as a host of upgrades to give it a touch more refinement.
One does not need an eagle eye to spot the differences between the 2018 model from its pre-update variants. At the front are new headlights which feature LED projector units, as well as integrated LED daytime running lights. To complement the new lights, there is also a mildly tweaked grill, similar to that of its pick-up counterpart, the D-Max. Lower down, the apron has been remolded with a new set of air intakes and foglights.
Changes to the rear are less prominent but the LED strip on the tail lights separates it from last year's model. With Isuzu Philippines celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, there's also a commemorative blue badge on the tailgate to highlight this milestone. Wrapping up the exterior changes to the mu-X are a set of 18-inch alloy wheels and a slightly raised ride height. While the shape is still familiar, these changes have made the mu-X that bit more upmarket than before.
Inside, Isuzu spruced up the cabin by adding more piano black panels soft foam and faux leather trimming. It may sound like a minor thing but it does help boost the ambiance inside. Truth be told, the hard plastics in the SUV made the older mu-X feel a bit downmarket. Also new is the instrument cluster with its enhanced vehicle information display. Gone is the old 8-bit LCD screen and taking its place is an colored display, bringing the mu-X bang up to date.
Taking a leaf from luxury cars, the 2018 mu-X even comes with ambient lighting, giving the cabin a blue glow. The seats have been redesigned too with softer cushions and it also seems like these are mounted higher than before. The rest of the cabin however is carried over, from the air-con vents to the center console. Unfortunately, that also means that there is no steering wheel reach adjuster, meaning shorter drivers may have difficulty finding a comfortable driving position.
That said, the infotainment system has been redesigned to accommodate text-to-speech navigation and USB linking which also allows a wider range of entertainment options. A expected, this variant has a pull-down screen so the rear passengers can watch movies while on the go.
As mentioned in the previous review, space inside is abundant with the option to slide the second row forward for more room in the third row. Typical of PPVs, the third row is best reserved for children or smaller adults. Three USB ports are found in the mu-X with two in front and one in the second row. Also, there are enough cup and bottle holders to keep all seven occupants happy. It is, however, worth pointing out that the raised front seats give second row passengers more toe room. On the flipside, the third row seats do not fold flat, leading a ledge on the cargo floor. That said, stowing the said seats is as simple as pulling a strap and pushing it down.
Powering the 2018 mu-X is a new, cleaner, more powerful turbo-diesel. Isuzu calls it Blue Power and it gains a significant gain in horsepower while running cleaner than the old 3.0-liter unit. It still uses the same block as the older version but it now benefits from a diesel particulate filter. That means less soot and emissions coming out of the tailpipe. As for power, the Blue Power engine puts out 177 PS, 14 PS more than the outgoing model, and 380 Nm of torque, the same figure as before. Replacing the old five-speed automatic transmission is a new six-speed with manual mode. Despite being a two wheel drive model, it is still equipped with hill descent control.
How does the new Blue Power diesel perform on the road? It won't push you back to your seat as it retains its torque output. What you do notice is the speedometer climbing up faster than expected. Lag is noticeable but let it build up the boost and the new mu-X picks up the pace with authority. The shift to the Blue Power unit meant that it's quieter too and less vibration was being sent inside the cabin. Needless to say, it's a far more refined driving experience.
Despite the addition of power, fuel economy was also improved. Thanks to the new six-speed automatic, the engine is more relaxed at highway speeds with the revs being significantly lower than before. At an average speed of 93 km/h, this two-wheel drive mu-X's info screen displayed 16.2 kilometers per liter with a fair bit of overtaking made in the process. That's actually better than the old 2.5-liter model with a manual transmission. City driving meanwhile yielded 8.9 kilometers per liter at an average pace of 18 km/h.
So, the new engine is impressive, but what about the overall package? Thanks to those new seats, it's a far more comfortable ride. The lumbar area no longer digs into your lower back, which caused some discomfort on a long drive. Now, your back is better supported and the higher seating position gives you a better view of the road ahead. It also felt like there was more sound insulation in SUV too, with less wind noise and tire noise than before and that's despite the large side mirrors and the larger, wider wheels.
As for its suspension, it felt softer than the model it replaces although the body heaves a fair amount after running through large bumps. The nose dives that bit more too and the car settles down on its springs after a while. That aside, the soft suspension does mean road imperfections are not as felt inside, ideal for those who frequent broken pavement. Couple that with the improved seats and it's a floaty driving, and riding, experience.
The trade-off of the soft damping is wallowy handling. Granted, the usual user of a mu-X won't go out on a mountain road for a spirited drive. Also, if one has gotten used to electronic power steering, they may find the steering a touch on the heavy side. However, if you're coming from a pre-Blue Power model, it feels about the same. Handling then is not its forte but thankfully, it comes standard with stability control.
At Php 1,598,000 (1,608,000 for this pearl white example), it sounds expensive for a two-wheel drive SUV. However, take the new engine into account, as well as the redesign inside and out plus the amount of standard equipment and standard stability control, then the mu-X is still a value-packed model. In fact, even with its generous equipment list, it still undercuts most of its top of the line, two-wheel drive contemporaries.
To sum up, the new engine did a lot of favors to the mu-X. The 2018 model is noticeably more comfortable, more powerful, more efficient and cleaner than last year's model. At the same time, it doesn't scrimp out on features, which is also one of the reasons why the mu-X has been such a popular choice in the segment. While it's not perfect, the 2018 mu-X is still a PPV one should shortlist.