Were you dreaming of owning a mid-sized SUV? Did the excise tax quash those dreams? Don't worry because you're not alone, and I'm part of that camp too. These days, it seems like the most affordable mid-sized pick-up based SUV you can get these days creeps towards the Php 1.5 million mark.
But here comes Isuzu with the newest addition to the Mu-X range. It won't cost you Php 1.5 million. Heck, it won't even cost you Php 1.4 million. For the princely sum of Php 1.3 million flat, you can drive home with a Mu-X. An automatic one, even.
Dubbed the Mu-X LS A/T it's the most affordable automatic PPV in the market today. Tempting, isn't it? But what what do you get for Php 1.3 million in an SUV?
You get a lot less chrome for a start. The entry-level Mu-X is devoid of chrome from the front, all the way to the back. A gloss black grill takes place of the chrome piece up front, and the foglights have been ditched as well. Unpainted door mirrors and door handles lets everyone know you're driving the base Mu-X, and downsized alloy wheels further emphasizes that. At the back, you don't get a spoiler and even the rear wiper has been removed. Roof rails? Don't even ask.
But the thing is, I rather like the end result. The base Mu-X now looks tougher, meaner than the luxed-up LS-A variants. It looks like something I'd drive through bad roads and not be hesitant about it. For those who say that they don't make SUVs like before, the appearance base Mu-X may appeal to you. I do wish they kept the rear wiper though.
Step inside and you're greeted by a spartan interior, and I mean spartan. There's no seat height adjuster, the steering wheel is fixed to one position, and you can't even redirect air to the floor because they took that out too. There's two less cupholders at the back as well but at least they kept the rear arm rest and the air-con vents on the ceiling. What did surprise me was the standard touchscreen. It's lifted straight out of the range-topping 3.0 LS-A 4x4 so that means you get navigation and smartphone linking standard.
The dash is pure hard plastic, which is a good thing if you frequent jobsites or, according to a friend of mine, have dogs or young children. It makes cleaning up spillages easier he said. But if you're looking for luxury touches, you won't find it here. Still, the cabin means business and it feels like it will stand the test of time. It feels well screwed together and robust. The cloth seats also mean it won't get too hot when it's baking under the sun. As for space, it's typical Mu-X so there's a generous amount of room in the first two rows and the third row is best suited for small adults and children.
So it's bare inside and out but the engine is Isuzu's most advanced yet. Yes, under the hood is their new 1.9-liter RZ4E mill and, for its size, it packs a fair amount of power. Yes, 150 PS and 350 Nm doesn't sound like a lot but keep in mind it's a competitive figure against its larger-engined competitors. Also, you get a six-speed automatic to boot.
I'll be blunt in saying that the deletion of the seat height adjuster and the steering wheel tilt adjuster made it difficult for me to find a good driving position. If you're not tall (like I am), you'll have to adjust to the rather high steering wheel. It will be a bit of a struggle but you'll get used to it as I did.
But to the base Mu-X's credit, you won't really notice the lack of equipment on board once you hit the road. Instead, you'll notice that the Mu-X has a soft ride when you're seated in front, albeit a bit firm when you're at the back. Mind you, it's not harsh in the second row but it seems to ride stiffer than the higher-spec LS-A variants. On the plus side, the air-conditioning was commendable, keeping us cool under the hot sun. The seats were actually comfortable, providing decent lumbar support and bottom padding. All in all, it's not quite as plush as the LS-A, but it's better than some PPVs out there.
To drive, the steering is a tad heavier than the higher variant Mu-X but still manageable nonetheless. It's rather maneuverable for its size and the large windows make it easy to park, a plus given that it doesn't have reverse sensors. It drives like, well, a pickup-based SUV you get get a rather wooly steering feel, spongy brakes and a lot of body sway. But despite that, the Mu-X doesn't feel wayward to drive. Besides, you won't be bringing one to a track day, right? On twisty roads, it handles just fine. Not stellar, but you won't feel unsafe. If you're curious, the Mu-X LS doesn't come with stability control, but at least it has anti-lock brakes and a pair of airbags.
But where the base Mu-X really shines is on the beaten path. It may only be a 4x2 but it handles soft sand with ease. Handling on the dirt was actually good and boy can that suspension take a pounding. Dips and ruts were dealt with effortlessly, and the RZ4E engine has more than enough grunt to keep us going in the rough. Nothing shook loose or rattled as we were driving on dirt at a good pace and, overall, the SUV felt sturdy and can take on just about anything we threw at it. Needless to say, the Mu-X LS is one tough rig, and not once did we get stuck.
As for the engine, it's a decent performer for its size. For those saying 1.9-liters are too small for a relatively big SUV, I suggest trying it out first because it's rather good. It's no rocket but overtaking isn't a frightening proposition. It does highway merges well too, and for the daily drive, it felt more than adequate. It can be a little vocal while doing passes, but it can deliver. Fuel economy is worth praising too. On the highway, we managed 16.2 kilometers per liter with three passengers and a full load of camera gear. Around the city, it didn't even dip below 10 kilometers per liter, registering 11.1 kilometers per liter in moderate to heavy traffic.
Yes, it's bare and basic, but the price is very tempting at Php 1,300,000. Think about it, the Mu-X LS not only undercuts its PPV rivals, it even undercuts some MPVs. It's actually priced lower than an Innova E with an automatic and a diesel (albeit a more potent one). Yes, it's not a direct comparison, but the Mu-X LS can be an alternative to Toyota's popular MPV. After all, it's got seven seats and high ground clearance. Plus, you get the Mu-X's wading capacity of 600mm, meaning you can go anywhere be it bone dry or flooded.
There may be a lot of things missing inside the Mu-X LS, but it has a lot to offer for value-minded customers who need a tough, solid, seven-seat SUV for not a lot of money.