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ISUZU mu-X

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Had the Isuzu Frontier not been discontinued in South Africa over 15 years ago, the Isuzu mu-X may well have become the best-selling SUV in its segment in South Africa – as witnessed in Australia over the last seven years.

Following the discontinuation of the Frontier, the unique niche occupied by the compelling SUV was swiftly usurped by others. The rejuvenated Isuzu Motors South Africa, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Japanese mothership, was left with the unenviable task of clawing lost market share due to corporate turmoil, accompanied by maladroit decision-making.

The much-anticipated second-generation mu-X shifts frontiers, and, in true Isuzu fashion, the changes are subtle rather than drastic. Based on the upcoming Isuzu D-Max pickup, the new seven-seater SUV offers pleasant, progressive styling, the largest cabin in its class, improved interior materials, as well as the latest driver assistance systems and safety features.

Superior Interior

Besides a new integrated infotainment system (with a 9” or 7” touchscreen display depending on the model) and Multi-Information Display (MID) on the instrument panel, the feature that immediately stands out is the large grab handles for second-row passengers – a neat and practical touch. Another standout feature is the power tailgate on top models.

The new Intelligent Driver Assistance System (IDAS) – a suite of passive and active safety systems that continuously monitor driving conditions and act autonomously to avoid a collision or minimise accident damage – and a centre airbag between the driver and the front passenger (a world-first for the segment), secured a five-star ANCAP rating for the top model mu-X. 

Rugged Good Looks

Noticeable design iterations are the bold new front grille, the arrow-shaped Bi-LED headlights, a signature line running from front to rear, linking the headlamps with the rear light 3D winglets, as well as new, prominently styled alloy wheels – with a different pattern and size (17”, 18”, and 20”) for each of the three derivatives (LS, LSE, and range-topping Onyx) now available.

Turn the Key

All of the derivatives are powered by the latest version of the venerable 3.0-litre four-cylinder Isuzu turbodiesel engine (no 1.9-litre derivatives are on the cards, yet), now delivering 140 kW and 450 Nm of torque, coupled with a six-speed Aisin auto transmission (with transfer case and rear diff-lock on the 4×4 models).

The roads and mountain passes snaking through George and Oudtshoorn again emphasised the engine’s typical laidback and relaxed power delivery. While audible at low revs, the engine noise is well suppressed at cruising speed, and noise levels in the roomy cabin are considerably lower. 

With a ground clearance of 235 mm, class-leading wheel articulation and a wading depth of 800 mm, the mu-X again proved its mettle on a short off-road track (even shod with on-road biased 20” tyres) and in this sense, it ticks all the boxes. However, the omission of a 4×4 LSE in the line-up is puzzling.

Last Word

Comfortable new seats with side bolsters, dual-zone climate control with roof-mounted aircon vents for second and third-row occupants, commendable road manners, and close to class-best ride comfort (on the 18″ tyres) makes the mu-X an exceptional long-distance cruiser. However, we found the IDAS functions to be very intrusive and, at times, unexpected and challenging to disable.

In true Isuzu fashion, the new mu-X is an uncomplicated, honest and competent SUV, and these attributes will make it popular. Yet, its pricing is on the steep side compared to its direct rivals.

Report by Ferdi de Vos | Images © Isuzu

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