Isuzu’s MU-X has been refined rather than redefined. 

Story Bruce McMahon 

While the second iteration of the successful Isuzu MU-X is smoother than its predecessor, it loses little respect as a true Sports Utility Vehicle. Based around the current Isuzu D-Max ute, 4WD versions of this re-worked wagon can claim pretty high ground when it comes to heavy-duty bush and beach work.

Australia has played a fair part in the development of the new seven-seater, as this is the Isuzu’s second-largest market outside Thailand. Here, the previous MU-X was a particular favourite with caravanners – some 50% of owners tow trailers over long distances. 

Isuzu UTE Australia’s managing director Hiroyasu Sato says Australian customer comments were important in shaping this wagon’s specifications. “By focusing on this feedback, we’ve fine-tuned the Australian specification, refined areas that traditional large SUV drivers need, introduced new features that motorists want, and improved the overall formula to broaden the appeal and capability with all buyer types.”

So, among changes (and price hikes) for 2021, the re-bodied MU-X offers a stronger chassis with re-engineered rear suspension for better ride comfort and towing ability – up to 3.5 tonne – plus fresh safety and convenience features in a better sorted cabin.

Style-wise, the new MU-X is similar to the previous five-door wagon. This one is 25mm longer, at 4850mm, 10mm wider at 1870mm, and 35mm lower, with a clean and bolder design. It may have lost some of its previous character in profile – the rear window over the back seats has gone a touch coupe-like, with more swoop to the roof line, so it isn’t as distinctive in the car park.

Yet the Isuzu remains quite familiar to drive. It retains a five-door, seven-seat body on a full ladder-frame chassis with coil suspension and the choice of two or four-wheel drive. All sit with 230–235mm of ground clearance, good approach and departure angles, plus steel and plastic underbody protection. A ‘rough terrain’ drive mode, available with a centre console switch, adjusts engine and transmission settings as an extra traction aid.

There are three MU-Xs – LS-M, LS-U and LS-T – with varying levels of trim and features. All run with the uprated 3L, turbocharged diesel engine producing an extra 10kW for 140kW of power and 400Nm from 1400rpm. Power and torque from the four-cylinder Isuzu powerplant head on to the wheels through a revised six-speed automatic transmission.

Brakes and suspension have been reworked and electric power steering added to the mix. The stronger and suppler suspension is a boon, whether crawling through a gully or crossing speed bumps.

All this engineering work, plus new body, stronger and more refined chassis and extra attention to insulation, means the MU-X is quieter and smoother than before. This is no tarmac terror. Rather, the Isuzu spins through the transmission with quiet authority, needing a decent prod on the throttle – or manual drop-down through the auto – for smarter acceleration. A tonne of torque available from the get-go is always appreciated in slow and steady 4WD work on rocks or ruts.

Average fuel consumption is listed at 8.3L per 100km. Around town expect low 9s, and low 8s on the highway.

Along with mechanical refinements comes a revamped MU-X interior. Switch gear is neat and tidy, the centre screen offers good resolution and connectivity to GPS, phones and audio sources, and dashboard lines are straight – better for calculating vehicle body angles on slopes. The only quibble here is the lack of a volume knob for the audio. On the move, greasy fingers or a worker’s gloves don’t always work on touch screens or small buttons on steering wheels.

The driver’s seat (squab and base) could be a tad wider perhaps, but there’s fair space across three rows of seats for seven folk providing those down the back are not adult footballers. 

Rear cargo space can be configured in several clever ways and there’s a full-sized spare below. A lighter tailgate now opens wider. 

The Isuzu MU-X, dearer in 2021, is a refined successor to a well-credentialled 4WD: a proper SUV with the ability to handle all Australian conditions. And do it with all the family on board. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #140

Outback Magazine: December/January 2022