Established in Japan in the early-1930s, Isuzu has a long history of making sturdy, dependable, diesel-powered vehicles. While it doesn’t currently manufacture any sedans or hatchbacks, Isuzu still has an impressive global portfolio of commercial vehicles (trucks and buses) and also makes marine and industrial engines. Isuzu Motors India was set up in 2012 and the company’s line-up includes the D-MAX range of pickup trucks, as well as the mu-X seven-seater SUV, which was launched in India last month. We had a chance to drive the top-of-the-range 4x4 Isuzu mu-X, and here’s our take on the vehicle.
Design & Styling
The easiest – and possibly the most apt – way to describe the mu-X’s styling is, ‘traditional, old-school SUV.’ And it has all the requisite bits that make up the way an old-school SUV looks – a tall, muscular and aggressive stance, large, 17-inch alloy wheels (shod with chunky 255/65 Bridgestone Dueler H/T rubber), bulging wheelarches and straightforward lines that clearly convey that the mu-X has been designed to get the job done without any fuss or drama. Indeed, in terms of its design ethic, the Isuzu mu-X seems to be on the lines of the last-generation Toyota Fortuner – big, boxy and uncompromisingly ‘proper’ SUV styling. While the Fortuner has moved on, with the current model being definitely being slinkier, more feline compared to the older version, the mu-X resolutely sticks to traditional SUV design cues, and in the Indian context that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
With short overhangs, a taut and muscular stance, and a friendly ‘face’ that features large projector headlamps and a double-slat chrome grille, the mu-X looks purposeful. No flamboyant design flourishes here, and the mu-X doesn’t need any. Recessed fog lamps, LED DRLs, subtle touches of chrome all around (the door handles, ORVMs and rear number plate garnish and exhaust pipe cover), and wrap-around rear glass all come together to create a package that looks substantial, without being garish or over-the-top. The restrained, understated design works for us, and we believe it will work for most prospective SUV buyers in India, who’re looking for something with ‘presence.’
Engine & Transmission
The mu-X is powered by a 3.0 l, 4-cylinder turbodiesel, with 16 valves and double overhead camshafts (DOHC). Power output is 175 hp at 3600 rpm, and 380 Nm of torque at 1800-2800 rpm. Claimed fuel economy is 13.8 km/l, which is not bad at all for a vehicle of this size. Isuzu has a hard-earned reputation for making rugged, highly reliable diesel engines, and the mu-X’s unit should be no different. The cylinder heads are made of aluminium alloy, with double-walled water jacketing, while the block, with cast iron upper (featuring advanced anti-friction induction-hardened cylinder bores) and cast alloy lower sections should withstand years of rigorous use.
The engine also features heavy-duty steel chain-driven overhead camshafts, roller rockers and 16 valves, and graphite-coated pistons with nickel composite piston rings for high efficiency. With its variable-geometry turbo and high-pressure common-rail direction injection system, the mu-X’s engine has been well optimised, and pulls cleanly across the rev range. At lower rpms, it feels and sounds a bit gruff, and isn’t as slinky-smooth as some other engines that the competition has on offer in this segment. But once it gets going and settles down into its steady, long-distance rhythm, the BS 4-compliant Isuzu engine feels like it’ll just keep on going for an eternity.
The engine is mated to a 5-speed automatic, which by and large works well. It’s a bit slow at times and doesn’t offer DSG-style rapid shifts, but gets the job done. It also features a lock-up torque converter (on gears 3, 4 and 5) for better fuel economy, and has the option for manual sequential shifting for those who feel compelled to fiddle with the gear shift lever. More importantly, it’s been designed with off-road use in mind, and features a shift lock system as well as ‘adaptive grade logic control,’ which selects and holds on to the right gear for steep ascents and descents. With shift-on-the-fly possible at speeds of up to 100 km/h, a rotary dial allows drivers to select between 2WD and 4WD (high) with the vehicle on the move, while 4WD (low) can only be selected when the vehicle is at a standstill. Regular 2WD works best for normal road use, 4WD (high) is for mild off-road use and 4WD (low) is probably for times when you’re stuck in gluey wet mud and wishing you’d exercised more caution while going off-piste.
Chassis and Suspension
While we did not get a chance to test 4WD (low) mode, we did take the mu-X for a bit of moderate off-roading in 4WD (high), which it handled very well indeed. This SUV’s full-length, heavy-duty ladder-type chassis is just perfect for off-road use, and the rather softly-sprung, long-travel suspension comes into its own when the mu-X is taken off-road.
Speaking of the suspension, the mu-X features an independent, double wishbone setup at the front, with coil springs, gas shock absorbers and a stabiliser bar, while there’s a penta-link setup at the back, with gas shock absorbers and a stabiliser bar. The setup is on the soft side, which works wonders for ride quality on bad, broken roads. On smooth tarmac, the mu-X’s cornering capabilities are limited partly due to its soft-ish suspension, but ride quality is very good (which is what matters for most SUV buyers in India) and for off-road use, the system is just brilliant. The speed-sensitive power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, which frankly feels a bit numb and ‘distant’ on smooth tarmac, also works extremely well in off-road use.
Electronics & Safety
The Isuzu mu-X has most of the electronic safety features that you’d expect a modern SUV to have. Dual front airbags, front seatbelts with pre-tensioners and load limiters, and 3 ISOFIX child seat anchorage for second-row seats are all there and accounted for, as are traction control and electronic stability control systems. The brakes (300 mm ventilated discs at the front, 318 mm discs at the back) get a 4-channel, 4-sensor anti-lock system, with electronic brake force distribution, along with an emergency brake assist system that kicks in during sudden, forceful application of the brakes.
To test the braking system, we subjected the mu-X to some hard braking manoeuvres at relatively high speeds, and while the vehicle nosedived at the front each time (due to the softly tuned suspension) with the brake pedal pulsing away vigorously due to the ABS kicking in, it always stopped in a straight line, without any slipping or sliding, and within an acceptably short time and distance. Impressive.
The list of other safety features on the mu-X includes a hill start assist system, emergency locking retractor for all seatbelts, automatic door lock release on airbag deployment, collapsible steering column, side anti-intrusion bars inside the doors, and a rear parking assist camera that’s actually quite useful when manoeuvring the vehicle into tight parking spaces.
Interiors & Infotainment
The mu-X features simple but plush, well-appointed interiors, with beige leather upholstery on the seats, and high-quality plastics that look and feel good. The automatic air-conditioner worked very well even in 45-degree Delhi summers, while a roof-mounted 10-inch DVD display provides entertainment options for rear seat passengers. The driver’s seat gets 6-way power adjustments (other seats have to be adjusted manually), and steering wheel mounted controls allow the driver to operate the infotainment system without taking his hands off the steering wheel.
The infotainment system itself, with an integrated 7-inch touchscreen, is simple to operate and features DVD, CD and USB compatibility, iPod compatibility and Bluetooth connectivity for smartphones, with audio streaming. And yes, this surround sound, 8-speaker system does sound pretty good.
Coming to the seating, the mu-X is, of course, a full-sized 7-seater SUV, with 60:40 split, one-touch fold and tumble 2nd row seats, and 50:50 split, one-touch fold and tumble 3rd row seats. It’s all very efficient, everything works well and when required, the fold-flat 3rd row seats release a vast amount of useable space for carrying luggage. However, the two things that we did notice was that the 2nd and 3rd row seats have less than optimal under thigh support, and that for 2nd and 3rd row occupants, the mu-X’s relatively high floor requires you to bend your legs at acute angles. For taller people, this might be an issue, especially on longer journeys.
The top-of-the Isuzu mu-X (with shift-on-the-fly 4x4 and 5-speed automatic transmission) that we drove is priced at Rs 25.99 lakh, ex-showroom Delhi. The 4x2 variant (which also gets automatic transmission) is priced at Rs 23.99 lakh, but since its off-road prowess is one of the mu-X’s best talents, not getting the 4x4 may not be a very good idea.
In terms of pricing, the 4x4 mu-X compares well with the Toyota Fortuner 4x4 AT (Rs 31.86 lakh, ex-showroom Delhi) and the Ford Endeavour 4x4 AT (Rs 31.51 lakh, ex-showroom Delhi), though both of those vehicles offer more refinement, better on-road driving dynamics, and bigger dealer networks for aftersales support. The mu-X, on the other hand, offers better off-road performance, and the rugged reliability that Isuzu diesels are famous for. If that’s what you’re looking for, making a decision shouldn’t be all that hard.
Text & Pics: Sameer Kumar