With the departure from the South African market of General Motors last year, Isuzu was left without a home. One of the country’s most loved brands, there was no way that it or its customers could have been left in the lurch, and so Isuzu Motors of Japan stepped in and bought the local firm; forming Isuzu Motors Southern Africa.
The brand’s market-leading truck division and its beloved KB range of bakkies was saved (the KB subsequently being renamed to D-Max, in line with international markets). The new company also took the opportunity to fill a gap left by the departure of the Chevrolet Trailblazer and it wasn’t long before the mu-X was launched to tackle the “Fortuner segment”.
What can I expect from the mu-X?
If the mu-X looks familiar, that’s because it’s the same basic vehicle on which the old Trailblazer was based. It’s a body-on-frame SUV that shares the same underpinnings with the D-Max, albeit with a more comfort-biased multi-link rear suspension. The family link to the D-Max is undeniable.
Jump aboard and the interior is a direct lift from the D-Max too – with some slightly classier finishings dotted around. Overall quality of materials is OK, but there were some annoying fit and finish issues on the model I drove.
However, in line with its seven-seater SUV brief, the mu-X is upholstered in high-quality leather with contrasting white stitching, giving it an upmarket air. The seats (power adjusted for the driver) are flat but comfortable enough, while space all round is impressive.
Even adults will be comfortable enough in the third row, which is also easy to access past the split folding second row. Passengers will also appreciate the separate roof-mounted climate controls and vents.
The rearmost seats also couldn’t be simpler to raise and lower; with the simple tug on a strap at the back of each seat. Luggage space is good with the seats down, and par for the course with them up.
Is it loaded with lots of safety features and other nice toys?
While the only model choice you have to make is whether or not you want 4×2 or 4×4, Isuzu has taken the opportunity to spec the mu-X as comprehensively as possible. Up front are Bi-LED headlamps with daytime running lights (these aren’t auto, though), while in the dash is a 6,5-inch infotainment display.
If you want to upgrade to the nine-inch, satnav-equipped Alpine unit you see here, it’ll cost you an additional R14 000. However, while it offers a range of connectivity options including Apple Carplay and Android Auto, this is not the most intuitive system to use. The eight-speaker “Sky Sound” system does sound good, though.
You also get keyless entry and starting, cruise control, a reversing camera (not the best image quality), automatic climate control, rear privacy glass, six airbags and ISOFIX child seat mountings. The suite of electronic braking and stability aids includes electronic stability and traction control, hill start assist, hill descent control and trailer sway control.
What’s it like from behind the wheel?
What the mu-X does really well is comfort; its levels of ride comfort and refinement are surprisingly good. I’ve never been able to find a truly comfortable position behind the wheel of a Trailblazer/D-Max and the same is unfortunately true for the mu-X – however, visibility is good and manoeuvring its 2,7-t bulk is easy (handling is good, too).
With the mu-X Isuzu has ditched the 2,8-litre turbodiesel unit previously fitted to the Trailblazer and instead opted for its tried and tested 3,0-litre, a la D-Max. With 130 kW and 380 Nm it pulls well. It’s not the most refined turbodiesel in this class, but owners will be happy to know it’s virtually bombproof.
Power goes to Isuzu’s electronically controlled Terrain Command 4×4 system via a smooth-shifting six-speed auto. Isuzu claims the mu-X 4×4 will consume 7,9 l/100 km in mixed driving, but I managed a more realistic (for this type of vehicle) 12,7.
Should I buy one, or look around?
Isuzu has launched the mu-X into a highly competitive market that is dominated by the Toyota Fortuner, with the accomplished Ford Everest selling about half as many units a month. There’s also the underrated Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and new entrant Haval H9.
The mu-X 4×4 has been priced at R638 600 and adding significant value are the five-year/120 000 km bumper-to-bumper warranty and roadside assistance, a five-year/unlimited km anti-corrosion warranty and a five-year/90 000 km service plan.
This price places it in the middle of its group of automatic-transmission, 4×4 rivals. Fans of the Isuzu brand will no doubt take to it immediately, but I fear buyers of the Toyota, Ford and even the Mitsubishi won’t be swayed.
CyberStoep rating: 6,5/10