Blooming in blue
Isuzu Philippines launched the 2nd generation mu-X in the country back in late 2021 as a 2022 model year SUV, and yet here they are introducing a minor model change in early 2023. In most circumstances, car manufacturers introduce model refreshes at the three-year mark. So what gives?
Well here's a simple explanation.
The current mu-X is actually already three years old in other markets, as it had its global debut in late 2020. If you can recall, there was a lot of uncertainty with regard to movement restrictions and the global chip shortages, which is why we got the mu-X in the country late. But now that the situation is getting a bit better, that means we also got the refreshed model a lot sooner.
This particular update to the mu-X is as minor as can be, and we wouldn't even call this one a facelift as nothing has changed design-wise. But the first thing everyone will notice is the new Norwegian Blue paint for 2023, replacing the brown from the pre-updated version and adding a different shade to the otherwise neutral hues being offered by Isuzu. And yes, for me the mu-X looks a lot better with this color.
While the grille flanks remained matte gray, the “fangs” of the grille are now finished in black chrome. For me, this change brings out a more youthful vibe to the mu-X while retaining its upmarket curb appeal. It's still an SUV you're likely to see in a high-end gated community but with a younger person behind the wheel of it.
I also like the new 20-inch wheels, which I think have a better appeal than the fan-type ones on the pre-updated version. It still has six spokes, and it kinda reminds me of the wheels of late models of the previous generation mu-X.
At the back, Isuzu added a smart power tailgate, which makes use of a kick sensor placed between the two parking sensors in the middle. And while it is a good thing to have when you have your hands full with groceries or carrying a lot of stuff, the smart power tailgate is something that Isuzu can improve on as we've encountered glitches during operation. Sometimes it opens quickly, sometimes it needs a little bit more effort for the kick sensor to detect motion.
Inside, you'll find exactly the same interior for this updated model. And that's me saying it both as a good and not-so-good thing. First off, it's good because you have plenty of leather and leatherette inside. The dashboard, the side panels, and the armrest, all feel soft to the touch and they feel very good.
The 10.1-inch touchscreen unit has a crisp display and has both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. This also serves as the screen for the backup camera. However, there's still no 360 camera. But then again, the backup camera has a good resolution and the parking sensors do more than enough to help you fit this SUV in tight parking spaces.
There's generous space in the second row and the seats are very comfortable. There are enough USB charging ports for the occupants in the middle row, while the third-row seats have enough leg and elbow room for my 5'9” frame.
In terms of the cargo compartment, the mu-X has the edge over its PPV rivals when it comes to versatility. Together with the Everest this perhaps has the flattest cargo area when the 3rd-row seats are folded. Size-wise, we measured around 45 inches in length with the 3rd-row seats down and 43 inches wide. In case you need more space for cargo, fold the 2nd-row seats and you get an extra 23 inches of cargo length, so that's around 68 inches.
So between this and Isuzu's previous mu-X LS-E test unit, the only difference was the 2023 model had that new car smell. Because by the time I was able to test the pre-updated version, it was already around 19,000 kilometers old.
Now on to the not-so-good stuff. Because the interior is carried over, it still has blank spaces on the steering wheel buttons, the dashboard, and beside the shifter. It's rather odd to see something like this on what's supposedly a top-of-the-line model that gets all the bells and whistles. Wireless charging is also something I was looking for in this update, as I believe it had the space below the dual-zone climate control. But unfortunately, Isuzu did not include one. Not to mention, the mu-X doesn't have a differential lock, which rather makes it lag behind its PPV rivals.
Under the hood is the same 3.0-liter 4JJ3-TCX inline-four turbodiesel that's good for 190 PS and 450 Nm of torque, paired to a 6-speed automatic made by Aisin. If we compare the previous generation mu-X, there's indeed a definite improvement when it comes to the engine noise that's heard inside the cabin. Fuel economy is also good for an engine this size – 9.2 km/l in the city and 13.8 km/l in the highway.
Isuzu did well in terms of NVH, as it keeps outside noises and road noise down to a minimum. On expressway speeds with the adaptive cruise control activated, the mu-X's cabin is a nice place to be in. Wind noise tends to creep in past 100 km/h, but nevertheless, at lower speeds, the mu-X is an effortless highway cruiser.
Suspension-wise, the mu-X has a good balance of comfort and control. It's not the softest-sprung in its category, but it's comfortable enough not making driving through EDSA a back-breaking ordeal. "Sakto lang" would be the Tagalog term for it. I still have the Montero Sport, Everest, and Terra above the mu-X, but it has an advantage over the Fortuner.
What I've noticed though is the mu-X's power steering, which does feel heavier than other vehicles I have tested before. As far as I can remember, the Mazda BT-50 Pangolin II (which is essentially a D-Max underneath) had a lighter steering feel than this. I believe they share the same hydraulic-assisted unit, so perhaps the 20-inch wheels had something to do with it. Nevertheless, the mu-X is a maneuverable PPV with a good turning radius.
If you're used to driving crossovers or sedans, there's quite a bit of relearning to do when it comes to your braking technique. The pedal travel is a bit long, comparable to that of the Montero Sport. But once you get the hang of it, the mu-X's brakes are pretty good. It's not as grabby as the Fortuner with its brake assist, and neither is it weak in slowing down the PPV.
Along with the minor model change also comes a price increase for the mu-X. From PHP 2.450 million in the pre-updated version, the 2023 refresh now has a price tag of PHP 2.505 million. While that number sits exactly in the middle ground of the PPV battle in terms of pricing, the mu-X has come too close to its rivals that offer a longer list of standard equipment, especially those that add to a PPV's capability as a 4x4.
But nevertheless, Isuzu is known for making reliable and dependable diesels may still be a key factor that could drive customers towards the mu-X.