The Isuzu mu-X has been wholly improved. However, has it managed to shed the stigma of utilitarian SUV?

+ bold design; improved overall comfort and refinement

– steering too lightly weighted?

Words: Kumbirai Mtshakazi Twitter: IamKumbi

We spent a great deal of time testing the second-generation Isuzu mu-X. Isuzu has been working hard to ensure that the model looks stylish and gets rid of the utilitarian stigma that it has long been associated with. The mu-X competes in the challenging large bakkie-based seven-seater SUV segment, and it has always had trouble keeping up with the Toyota Fortuner and the (previous-gen) Ford Everest (the Blue Oval brand has, however, positioned the latest iteration against the Land Cruiser Prado) in terms of sales, power figures, and overall popularity.

Isuzu mu-X

Now, based on the new D-Max, the Isuzu mu-X has not only been given a bold and striking design but has also been handed a refreshed engine. Although not the last word in power, the 4JJ3 3.0-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel looks up to par with the competition. 

Outside, the mu-X has been modernised, with accentuated lines and bulges imparting a striking appearance. At the same time, the aggressive fascia is enhanced by arrow-shaped LED headlamps, replete with daytime-running lights. LED lighting continues at the rear. 

Isuzu mu-X

Locally, a trio of models is on offer. The entry-level LS, which is available in 4×2 and 4×4 guise; the mid-range LSE model that’s only offered in 4×2; and the range-topping ONYX version. All models come with a generous level of specification. 

Moreover, a range of alloys has been added, with 17-inch items for the base model, 18-inch wheels for the LSE and 20-inch alloys for the range-topping derivative sampled here. In our case, the dual-tone design on our particular unit looked the best. 

As for the interior, the outgoing model seemed lacking compared to its rivals. While it did receive a mid-life update toward the end of its lifecycle, it didn’t completely shed its utilitarian roots. 

However, this model represents a significant improvement over its predecessor. As a result, it stands firm against its competitors on paper. While the 9.0-inch touchscreen infotainment display has screen-mirroring capabilities and relays footage from the rearview camera, it is a bit slow in its workings. 

Isuzu mu-X

The driver’s display also would do good with some improvement. Despite being user friendly when navigating through the menus, it does feel a bit out of touch with today’s digital world. 

In terms of build quality, it’s comparable to other bakkie-based SUVs. Overall comfort has been improved. The second row offers plenty of room for adults. However, as we’ve noted in other bakkie-based SUVs, the third row is best suited to those smaller in stature. 

Based on the ladder-frame chassis of the D-Max, the suspension has been improved with redesigned bushes, thicker anti-roll bars and redesigned dampers to ensure a comfortable ride on and off-road. Compared to the previous model, there is a significant difference. 

The 4JJ3 engine, coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission, produces 140 kW and 450 Nm of torque. Drive is initially sent to the rear wheels, but it can be redirected to all four corners through the transfer case and locking rear differential. This can be done from the drive-selector switch on the centre console. In addition, the power is delivered from a mere 1 600 r/min, which is an advantage for adventurers looking to venture off the beaten path. 

The lightly weighted steering makes manoeuvring and parking easier. However, the trade-off is that communication between the front wheels and driver at the national limit isn’t always the best.

The biggest highlight for us was, however, how refined and relatively quiet the reworked engine was. Hardly any road noise pierced through the cabin. 

In terms of frugality, the engine-transmission combination did its part to try and match the claimed figure of 7.6 L/100 km. We do, however, feel that the addition of a start/stop button could have been beneficial in this regard. However, our most impressive figures came in at just under 9.5 L/100 km.

In terms of its off-road prowess, the mu-X marched through an off-road course with ease. Like its forebear, this was always its strength. The added benefit of increased telemetry in terms of ground clearance, approach and departure angles as well as a stronger driveline and a rear differential lock (instead of a limited-slip differential) ensured effortless off-roading.

Safety is another aspect that Isuzu has not compromised on. The host of assistance systems that have been added to the all-new model is commendable. It’s worth noting it achieved a five-star ANCAP safety rating. Standard safety equipment includes blind-spot and lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control. However, the lane-keeping assist system can become somewhat intrusive at times. Seven airbags, which include a first-for-the-segment centre airbag, ABS with EBD and BAS, stability control, hill-start assist, hill-descent control and Isofix child-seat anchors round off the safety package.

Isuzu mu-X

The verdict

3 ½/5

The second-generation mu-X is a massive leap forward for the Japanese company. The new mu-X is now, more than ever, a worthy competitor in the bakkie-based SUV segment. The bold exterior styling, modernised cabin and level of specification will surely attract even more buyers. While they have always settled for a modest share of the market, we predict this generation will turn that around for them.

Deep Data

Isuzu mu-X 3.0 Ddi 4×4 ONYX AT

  • Price:R 895 900
  • Engine: 3.0 L, 4-cyl, turbodiesel 
  • Transmission: 6-spd AT
  • Driven wheels: 4
  • Power: 140 kW @ 3 600 r/min
  • Torque: 450 Nm @ 1 600-2 600 r/min
  • Top Speed: n/a
  • Fuel Consumption: 7.6 L/100 km
  • Weight: 1 675 kg
  • CO2: 200 g/km
  • Length: 4 850 mm
  • Height: 1 825 mm
  • Width: 1 870 mm
  • Wheelbase: 2 855 mm
  • Weight: 2 125 kg
  • Luggage capacity: 311 L (3rd row up)/1 119 L
  • Fuel tank: 80 L
  • Warranty: 5 years/120 000km
  • Service plan: 5 years/90 000 km