By its sheer presence, the Isuzu MU-7 with its 3 l engine, 5 m length and 210 mm ground clearance, is a giant among existing SUVs in the Indian market. However, in the 15 months since its launch in India, the MU-7 hasn't quite excited the consumers. Loaded with brawny exteriors, and appreciable space inside, the MU-7 is gifted with attributes one would attach to a large utility vehicle with sporty characteristics. But does it have the wherewithal to take on the likes of the immensely popular Toyota Fortuner?
We recently drove the vehicle through the oft-maddening Delhi traffic, and indulged in some spirited driving out on National Highway 1 towards Chandigarh on a somewhat chilly morning, to find out what the MU-7 delivers. Here's our report.
In the 11 months of FY2014-15 starting April, the Japanese manufacturer has sold 239 units as reported by SIAM data – an average of 22 units a month. While the numbers don't really paint a bright picture, it is impossible to miss its presence on the road. A rather late entrant in the Indian market, Isuzu was never expected to have it easy against the likes of Toyota Fortuner, or the Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda CRV, HMFCL Pajero Sport and Ford Endeavour. But Isuzu has packaged the MU-7 in a manner that it offers all that a typical SUV customer would ask for.
Lengthwise, the MU-7 is measured at 4,995 mm and has a wheelbase of 3,050 mm. The aggressiveness of the size is accentuated by the wide tooth grille and large bumpers. Add to that the large intercooler intake scoop on the bonnet, and projector headlamps that gel well with the bulky design of the front. Built on a body-on-ladder frame, the side and rear profiles of the MU-7 are subtle and go well with the overall design of the vehicle. On offer are wide foot-boards, body coloured roof rails and large wheel arches that maintains the tough look of the MU-7. The exterior look of the vehicle is further helped by generous amount of chrome offered on door handles, the exhaust tip and around the rear number plate.
Inside the cabin lies the MU-7's real USP – space. The feel inside, however, isn't quite lavish one would expect in a vehicle that is priced at Rs 23.90 lakh for the BS IV variant of the MU-7 4x2 MT HI PACK that we drove. Barring the comfortable leather seats, the quality of plastics in the cabin or even the wood-finish on the dashboard, weren't quite upmarket. We particularly liked the driving position of the MU-7, but the missing steering-mounted controls came as a surprise considering even mass market B segment hatchbacks have steering-mounted controls as a standard feature these days.
The touchscreen DVD player offers numerous options, but the buttons are quite small for the driver to operate, especially while on the move. Additionally, there's a roof-mounted DVD player for the rear passengers, which should appeal to the chauffeur driven. Like we've mentioned earlier, space inside the cabin is the MU-7's biggest USP. There is ample space in both the rear seat rows, and folding the third row of seats gives you generous amount of space to carry cargo. The door pockets nonetheless, are too small even for half litre bottles to go in.
From a comfort perspective, AC vents are offered on both rows of seats. Airbags, however, are only offered for the driver and passenger in the front seat.
Engine & Performance
The MU-7 is powered by a 2,999 cc, inter-cooled VGS turbo diesel engine that delivers about 163 hp of peak power and 360 Nm of torque at 1,800-2,800 rpm. The want of features and the missing dashes of plushness inside the cabin are more than compensated for by the spirited unit under the hood. The engine is mounted longitudinally, which powers the rear wheels through a five-speed manual transmission. The drivetrain is a 4X2 rear wheel drive. The gearshift though could be better.
The engine may not come across as very refined for some, but it roars aloud when revved. It pulls well from around 1,000 rpm with no visible turbo lag. The power delivery is linear and the narrow power band and short gearing ensures your drive is effortless around cities. It responds very well to any amount of throttle action, under any condition – be it on the highways or city traffic. We didn't measure the 0-100 km/h dash, but one can experience great energy in the way the engine pulls to about 4,000 rpm. As a service initiative, the company also offers Isuzu Insight, which informs the driver of his/ her driving habits and ways of improving them based on data taken from the ECU.
The suspension set-up includes independent double wishbones with torsion bar springs upfront, while the rear suspension unit is a gas-sealed, twin-tube shock absorber. The brakes – disc in the front and drum in the rear – have adequate bite to ensure no nervous decisions even for first time drivers of an SUV of this size.
The dimensions of the vehicle, especially the high ride height, may not suggest agile handling but the MU-7 stays grounded and is very stable even through corners. SUVs are not particularly kind to passengers in the rear, but the MU-7 is quite different in this area and offers passengers a very decent ride experience. We couldn't manage to go off-roading with the MU-7, but the overall package supported by the 210 mm ground clearance clearly suggests a lively experience with the vehicle.
Being a relatively new entrant in the Indian market, Isuzu is still building up its network across the country. The current network only means it could reach out to a few metro and Tier II cities. The Japanese CV major has announced a Rs 3,000 crore investment to set-up a manufacturing facility in Sricity, Andhra Pradesh, where it will manufacture SUVs and pick-up trucks, starting 2016. Currently, products are being manufactured at the Hindustan Motors facility in Chennai to manufacture about 5,000 units a year. By the end of next year, the company also plans to establish a network of 60 sales and service outlets.
That Isuzu is serious about its India foray requires no reiteration. That the MU-7 is a true-blue SUV has also been well established. But from a customers' perspective, the company would do well to add some more equipment to the vehicle, including a 4X4 variant, and that could become a serious option in the large SUV segment.
Text: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah
Photo: Arpit Mahendra