We've said it many times: this year is a great one if you're in the market for a rugged seven-seater SUV.
Many competitors are fielding fresh and updated models in this space. Everyone wants a bigger piece of the market, and that's why we're seeing more features, better looks, enhanced interiors, improved performance, and confidence-inspiring safety than we ever have before in this class.
Isuzu, however, has somewhat of an advantage in timing. While many competitor models like the Toyota Fortuner, Mitsubishi Montero Sport, Ford Everest, and Nissan Terra are updates of the current generation, Isuzu is not in sync. The mu-X that just landed in showrooms is not a facelift, but an all-new generation.
Prior to the launch, Isuzu gave us a sneak peek of the mu-X with a test drive event in Laguna. But given that it's such a restricted and small area, we are hesitant to give it a full review. For that, we need to have a vehicle for a few days, put 100 kilometers on it (at the very least), and really learn its ins and outs.
Even with the limitations, there are many things we can say about the mu-X. Even after just a day, we can tell that Isuzu went to work in making sure their SUV in such a competitive category is ready for the challenge. And what is clear is that Isuzu based the engineering and design of the mu-X on valid customer feedback.
Let's explain why.
1. Upmarket Curb Appeal
Many rivals in the 7-seat PPV (pick-up passenger vehicle) class are typically styled to be more rugged and more truck-like, and Isuzu wasn't immune to that in the past when they did the first-gen mu-X and the Alterra. But now, they're going for something more upscale with the mu-X.
In the initial set of photos during the world premiere of the mu-X in Thailand, the model looked a bit strange. However, when you walk up to it in person, things actually change rather dramatically. The treatment that Isuzu employed with the front is very classy and very sophisticated. They didn't adopt the styling of the D-Max with its sharper creases and lines; instead, they seem to want the mu-X to flow. The body isn't boxy either; this is a rather curvaceous SUV and has rather large 20” wheels in the LS-E trim. There are no quasi 4x4 details like chunky black pieces of plastic trim or silver faux skid plates even for the 4x4 model.
This shift in how they designed the mu-X is a sign that Isuzu is moving away from their truck roots with this SUV. That's actually quite courageous for Isuzu's designers, as one of the reasons they have such a loyal fan base is because Isuzu has given them what they wanted. But for the brand to grow, they have to expand the curb appeal far outside the loyal clientele and take away sales from upmarket crossovers while offering the robust qualities of a truck.
2. High-Grade Interior
The moment I stepped into the mu-X (in this case the 4x2 LS-E), I was surprised at the upgrade in quality compared to the predecessor. The previous generation mu-X (2014-2021 in PH) was never a vehicle that we considered impressive in terms of interior quality because much of it was plastic... and not the impressive kind.
Today that all changes. Examine the materials and much of it feels and looks very high grade (at least in the LS-E). The leather has a nice smell, the dashboard materials have a nice texture, and the gaps in the panels are very consistent; actually, that last one we were able to test with a panel gap ruler.
The interior design and quality upgrade are as profound as moving from an apartment with flat-pack particle board furniture to a premium condo unit with solid wood tables and fixtures. That is not an exaggeration; go see for yourself.
3. The Attention to Comfort
What truly surprised me is the attention that Isuzu paid to comfort. Since this was derived from the D-Max, the driving ergonomics are fantastic and a far cry from the previous model; there's even telescopic adjustment on the steering wheel you can set it to your body shape and height. The seat shape for the driver's seat is also excellent, and that's without touching the lumbar support yet.
The middle row is one of the highlights of the mu-X because they reworked the lower part of the B-pillar to give more toe room when going in. The seat cushioning is superb; it's not memory foam levels of soft, but it's very comfortable. The fold-down armrest also has cupholders that slide out; Isuzu didn't cut out from the top to give the passengers more surface to put their forearms on.
The only thing missing is a sliding function for the middle row, but that's alright. There's plenty of legroom in the middle anyway. And speaking of the third row, the mu-X now has our favorite one of the lot because of the comfortable proportions, the very adequate knee, and headroom, as well as the reclining function. Fully grown adults won't feel like they drew the short straw by sitting here. Ask me how I know.
4. The Tech Package
Being that this is an LS-E, it basically came with everything that Isuzu can put in.
Owners of the previous mu-X and/or Alterra may find it strange that the drop-down screen has been omitted even for the LS-E model, but here's the thing: Isuzu customer feedback states that the rear screens are rarely used. So Isuzu instead focused on having a bigger 10.1” head unit with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Bluetooth. All variants actually get the same infotainment system and navigation, but the LS-E has 8 speakers while the other versions get 6.
There are many USB ports all around including 2 for the middle row and a 220-volt outlet (for the LS-E). so you can charge your laptop on the go. One major absence is a handbrake lever for all variants; the reason is that Isuzu upgraded all mu-X models with an EPB or electronic parking brake. All versions even have auto brake hold for traffic.
But one thing Isuzu didn't hold back on is safety. Apart from the stronger chassis (more on that later), all versions of the mu-X have enough safety letters to fill up a Scrabble bag: ABS, EBD, BA, ESC, TCS, BOS (brake override), HSA, and HDC. To put that in perspective, the previous generation base model mu-X didn't even have ABS. All models get at least 2 airbags as per usual, but the LS-E models get 7: dual front, dual side, dual curtain, plus one more for the driver's knee.
Like the D-Max, the mu-X gets a lot of ADAS safety features. The mid-grade LS-A has a blind-spot warning, a rear cross-traffic alert, a rearview camera (no 360, unfortunately), and rear sensors. In the LS-E that list gets expanded with auto high beams, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, and much more. The feature most drivers will like is adaptive cruise control for more convenient driving on the expressway.
5. Enhanced Utility and Versatility
What surprised us with the mu-X is Isuzu's attention to the versatility when it comes to the cargo area which is much better than the predecessor.
The third and second rows are both fold flat and create a continuous space that is perfect for long cargo. I always bring a tape measure to these things, and the maximum length to the back of the driver's seat is 79 inches, while the maximum length to the back of the second-row seat (if occupied) is 46 inches. That's pretty spacious compared to the rest of the class.
The width occupied by the third row is 43 inches, which is also good. Isuzu reckons that a full golf set can fit in the trunk space that's left if all rows are occupied because of a recess on the left panel that extends the width to 51 inches. What we also like is the rather discreet compartment behind the third row.
Maybe we shouldn't be surprised with the versatility and utility of the mu-X because it's there in the name after all: mysterious utility-X.
6. Enhanced Driving Performance
Even though the driving space was limited, we can already tell that there's a significant improvement in performance.
One of the reasons behind it is the improved engine: the LS-E gets the 3.0L 4JJ3-TCX. It's more powerful at 190 PS (previous: 177 PS) and has more torque at 450 Nm (previous: 380 Nm). There's also the RZ4E 1.9L that has been retained from the previous model for lower grade variants. As before the gearbox options remain unchanged: 6 forward speeds in either automatic or manual. Most are rear-wheel drive as only the top-spec model gets 4x4 with the off-road mode but no electronic diff lock.
The powertrain, however, is just one aspect of why driving is better. The ladder frame is stronger and lighter than before because of better and stiffer steel. The suspension is very much improved in front and in the back. The major difference is the braking system: the mu-X has 17-inch vented disc brakes for all variants.
There were many upgrades to the ruggedness of the mu-X too with the extensive under-chassis protection for critical parts (e.g. skid plate for the larger 80-liter fuel tank) as well as the higher ground clearance at 235mm. And just like the D-Max, the water wading of this mu-X is 800mm because the air intake has been raised up to 1080mm.
The only real question mark is the tailgate. Yes, it's motorized for the LS-E, but Isuzu opted for a rather different material. The windscreen in the back is glass, but the tailgate panel itself isn't steel or aluminum. It's plastic; polypropylene, to be exact. That was done to reduce weight, and Isuzu says it won't be an issue given the new chassis with the integrated bumper support directly bolted to the frame rails. If you want to see it, check out the video above.
What I think Isuzu achieved with the mu-X is centered around one key concept: futureproofing.
Big truck-based models generally have long showroom lives. These aren't changed every five years; more like 8 to 10. And what Isuzu did was to anticipate that they have to make the mu-X competitive for longer, and so they poured their resources into engineering and designing a vehicle that is futureproofed for what will likely be another 8 or even 10 years until the next generation.
And given that many of the competitors are upgrades, Isuzu is coming in with everything they got. The only thing that can really hold them back now is the global chip and parts shortage, but that will hopefully be sorted out soon enough.