First drive: Isuzu MU-X

Isuzu clearly knows when it’s onto a good thing. Riding on the D-Max’s wave of success – which is up 30 percent year on year – the Japanese brand will launch its first SUV, the MU-X, in Australia next month. And we’ve been driving it.

But first things first, despite its hauntingly similar looks, don’t think the MU-X is simply a D-Max with a seven-seat body bolted on top. Yes the two share common parts, like Isuzu’s venerable 3.0-litre 130kW/380Nm four-cylinder diesel (albeit with a few internal tweaks), but company big-wigs went to great lengths to explain the MU-X was designed and engineered as a passenger car.

Its ladder chassis is 250mm shorter, for one, and gone is the D-Max’s leaf-spring rear-end, with Isuzu instead fitting rear disc brakes and an independent, multi-link suspension system for a more comfortable ride. Towing capacity is rated at three tonnes while ground clearance is 230mm.

As you’d expect from Isuzu, pricing will be sharp and should range from $40,500 to $53,500 – but expect sub-40K offers when the MU-X launches in early December. Seven variants will be offered, ranging from the entry-level 4x2 LS-M to the range-topping, five-speed auto-only LS-T 4x4.

But what’s it like to drive? As you’d expect of a car of this type, razor-sharp tarmac dynamics aren’t really its forte. Our limited time behind the wheel at the MU-X’s international launch in Thailand revealed a large amount of body roll and lifeless, vague steering – particularly off centre.

It’s off-road, though, that the MU-X really makes sense. Isuzu claims it spent half of the MU-X’s development preparing it to be a rugged as possible – something it proved by throwing us in the driver’s seat at the purpose-built Isuzu 4X4 Land.

Moguls, deep corrugations and ravines were clambered over with ease, while Isuzu’s torquey 3.0-litre oiler proved its worth by crawling up 40 degree inclines at idle. Underneath steel , not plastic, skidplates have been fitted to ensure durability, with the MU-X also getting Isuzu’s five-year/130,000km warranty.

Inside it’s much as you’d expect, with the MU-X getting the same functional interior as the D-Max. Top of the range LS-T models do boast leather upholstery, climate control, touchscreen navigation, reverse camera, ceiling-mounted entertainment system and Bluetooth, but the extensive use of hard, egalitarian plastics are a low-light. Storage space is good however, as is rear passenger room – even in the third row - with both rows of rear seats able to fold flat to reveal a cargo area 1995mm in length.

Isuzu plans sales to begin in early December and is talking big game, claiming the MU-X will sell twice as many models as its freshly-launched cousin, the Holden Colorado 7. Whether it will remains to be seen, but it’s clear Isuzu’s first SUV is a solid performer with real off-road capabilities.

Isuzu MU-X manufacturer’s list prices:

4x2 LS-M auto - $40,500
4x2 LS-U auto - $42,000
4x4 LS-M man - $45,600
4x4 LS-M auto - $47,800
4x4 LS-U man - $47,100
4x4 LS-U auto - $49,300
4x4 LS-T auto - $53,500

Click here to read the full range review of the Isuzu MU-X.

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