The departure of GM from SA, and with it the Chevrolet brand, left an SUV-sized hole in the Isuzu line-up; fortunately, the new custodians have now filled it with the Thailand-built Aussie-spec mu-X.
The Trailblazer was no great volume seller in the mid-size ladder-on-frame bakkie-origins market here. This is properly dominated by Toyota’s Fortuner, with the Ford Everest taking the rest of the lion’s share, and the Pajero Sport now vying for the scraps. Not that the Trailblazer was bad, as it was quite a decent looker; it’s rather that the Chev nameplate had lost currency, and the interior plastics and finish were a bit lowrent. More critically, the Duramax 2.8-litre diesel (co-developed with Italian firm VM Motori) promised class-leading outputs of 144kW/500Nm, but was rather gruff on delivery; and, at a claimed fuel index of 9.6 litres/100km, rather thirstier than its rivals. Our off -road testing also found the traction control system a bit slow on the uptake for tougher rocky trails; it needed a rear diff – lock to keep pace.
So, to the MU-X, launched at a 4×4 track outside Clarens in the Free State, where muddy water crossings, steep uneven ascents and descents, rocky patches and loose gravel were the order of the day. This was after a three-hour drive from the smoke of Gauteng, where we could get to grips with the good ride-quality, low levels of NVH (much improved over the Trailblazer), the new packaging, and the interior appointments. There were some welcome surprises.
A lower and wider-looking rear are among the sheet-metal improvements, along with auto levelling BI-LED projector headlamps, LED taillights and 18-inch alloys shod with 255/60 R18 Bridgestone Dueler rubber. The chassis is the familiar ladder riding on a double-wishbone front and five-link rear, with a solid axle and coils all round.
True to Aussie-spec, however, the mu-X reverts to the KB300’s familiar 4JJ1TCHI turbodiesel, with both the 4×2 and 4×4 versions mated to an Aisin 6-speed auto. (The KB stays with a fi ve-speeder). This mill is reliable, if a little unrefined, with modest outputs of 130kW at 3600rpm and 430Nm in the 1800-2800rpm band, and it offers a more wallet-friendly theoretical combined fuel index of 7.9l/100km than the Traiblazer’s mill.
Traction control is standard for divvying drive to the wheels with the most grip, plus there is Hill Descent Control, which comes into play when low-range is engaged. The 4WD system is called “Terrain Command”, a fancy title for the familiar part-time system (engaged by using a twist dial) with 4H available at speeds up to 100km/h. A ground clearance of 230 mm, and a 24-degree approach angle and 25.1-degree departure angle, ensure getting over the humps and bumps is easy. Isuzu has still not specced a rear differential lock, though a manual locker is apparently being tested and could be introduced later. A braked towing rating of 3000kg is high for the segment.
Active and passive safety features include ABS braking with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), emergency brake assist (EBA) and electronic stability control (ESC), along with six airbags and pre-tensioner seatbelts to protect passengers in the event of an accident.
Seven leather-clad seats offer plenty of room for the whole family, with decent second-row accommodation and a childspec third row which folds flat into the boot floor. The driver’s seat is six-way adjustable. The multi-function steering wheel (adjustable only for rake) is the same as the Trailblazer’s, as is the basic interior design. What is new is a recently grafted but not superbly integrated 9-inch touchscreen and embedded navigation, audio and comms system. Android and Apple Car play offer audio stream, there’s the usual Bluetooth link and two USB slots, plus HDMI and iPod input ports. The keyless entry/start and a reversing camera (no rear PDC) add to the ease-of-use elements.
The Isuzu mu-X (multi utility crossover) is a decent competitor, and looks better than its immediate predecessor; it also has an added smidgen of new tech and a more frugal (but hardly new) engine. It is certainly capable, on- and off-road, with improved NVH; but then again, it is up against two key high-tech competitors: the Toyota Fortuner 2.8 GD-6 4×4 AT which costs R18 000 more (R646 800), and the Ford Everest XLT 3.2 6AT 4WD for another R26 000 (R654 900). Buyers will also be tempted by the Pajero Sport 2.4 D4 4×4 priced at R599 990 − with its 8-speed auto and similar outputs. It is well placed against the Isuzu mu-X 4×4, which has been priced at R629 100.
The mu-X comes with a five-year/120 000km warranty, roadside assistance and a five-year/ 90 000km service plan.