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The spiritual successor to the Frontier might just have what it takes to shake up the local bakkie-based SUV establishment. We test the new Isuzu MU-X...

Published in the September 1998 issue of CAR, the last line of copy in the Isuzu Frontier’s road test reads: “More stylish than the Nissan Sani but also more expensive, the well-equipped Frontier is bound to make many friends.”

Indeed, Isuzu’s bakkie-based SUV made so many friends locally that it it could well claim to have proved the catalyst for the introduction of similar bakkie-based SUVs from Toyota, Nissan, Ford and Mitsubishi. The Fortuner, of course, has gone on to become one of the best-selling vehicles in South Africa.

Sadly, for many with fond memories of the Frontier – complete with its spare wheel mounted on its tailgate – Isuzu’s path of ownership through Delta Motor Corporation and then General Motors meant any plans to re-enter the lucrative segment it essentially pioneered were always going to be decided at GMSA boardroom level.

And to be fair, the arrival of the Chevrolet Trailblazer in 2012 did at least slightly dent runaway Fortuner sales of the day. At the same time, 10 000 km away from our shores, the Trailblazer’s Isuzu-branded cousin was destined to conquer the Australian body-on-frame SUV segment, remaining a best-seller to date.

While market comparisons with Australia may ultimately be skewed, General Motors’ recent departure from SA and the subsequent investment by Isuzu Japan into the company’s Struandale plant has breathed fresh life into a brand that remains both close to many South Africans’ hearts and widely respected by its local rivals. With this restructure comes the arrival of the Frontier’s spiritual successor, the MU-X.

Sharing its KB-derived ladder-frame underpinnings (and thus its wheelbase) with the Trailblazer, the MU-X is nevertheless 62 mm shorter and slightly narrower (by 42 mm) than its Chevrolet-branded cousin. Fortunately, these tighter dimensions have a minimal impact on interior space and the new Isuzu offers class-competitive levels of comfort throughout each of its easily manipulated three rows of seating. Like the Trailblazer, the 50:50-split rearmost pews can be neatly folded away into the floor when not required. With these stowed, the MU-X boasts 416 litres of packing space, up from both the Chev and the current Fortuner (with third-row seats that fold upwards rather than stow).

Offered with one specification level throughout (more on this later), the only choice to make when purchasing your MU-X is whether to opt for a 4x2 or 4x4 drivetrain. Both models in the initial line-up are powered by the brand’s venerable 3,0-litre, common-rail turbodiesel mill, mated with a six-speed automatic transmission. Offering 130 kW at 3 600 r/min, it’s a pity (according to Isuzu South Africa) the quality of our local fuel doesn’t allow for a recent Euro 5 update to this motor as available in the Australian market. That additional 50 N.m (from 380 to 430 N.m) the Aussies enjoy might well have added a welcome amount of gees to an engine that, as in the KB, thrives on leisurely rather than spirited progress.

This languid pace isn’t in any way aided by the relatively slow workings of the Aisin-sourced torque-converter transmission. Slow, steady and somewhat agricultural in its workings (including being fairly audible inside the cabin), the benefits this long-serving drivetrain brings to the MU-X party include an undisputed reputation for both durability and reliability. There’s also the matter of a 3 000 kg (braked) towing capacity. Some 100 kg heavier than the rear-wheel-drive derivative, the 4x4 model tested here recorded 8,9 L/100 km on our standardised fuel route.

In conjunction with a shared 230 mm of ground clearance on both models, 4x4 versions offer a shift-on-the-fly transition into all-wheel drive. A further turn of a conveniently sited dial draws a low-range transfer case into action. Two tonnes of overall mass aside, the MU-X makes the most of its proven KB-sourced underpinnings to render light work of most off-roading challenges. As with other vehicles of this ilk, it’s ultimately the MU-X’s standard-fitment runner boards that will hamper any serious off-road work. Hill-descent control is standard in both models.

Like the outgoing Trailblazer (and the current KB), the MU-X’s tall stance, combined with a suspension setup designed for maximum bump absorption, does translate to a relatively floaty ride quality. Well suited to traversing long, ideally straight sections of gravel road, it’s a setup which lags behind the likes of the Ford Everest and Toyota Fortuner in terms of body control and on-road handling prowess. Combined with the hefty weighting and relative vagueness around the hydraulically assisted steering’s centre point, the Isuzu, once again, exudes all the qualities of a brilliant leisurely adventure seeker rather than an about-town pavement hopper.

The MU-X also shows its relative age compared with rivals such as the Everest when it comes to the look and feel of its cabin. A notable upgrade on the current KB double-cab’s layout it may be but there is still a frustratingly narrow range of adjustment on the steering column, together with the presence of some scratchy plastics and dated-looking instrumentation.

For better or worse, this lends the MU-X a somewhat old-school character, although Isuzu has countered this by loading as much modern specification as is currently available to the brand into the local MU-X package. This includes full leather upholstery, a reverse camera (but optional sensors), climate control (with vents in the rear), keyless entry and a comprehensive audio/Bluetooth setup operated via both the multifunction steering wheel and a 6,5-inch touchscreen.

Another area brought up to modern standard is the MU-X’s safety-features list. It includes a full complement of airbags (including curtain), Isofix child-seat anchorage points, stability control and ABS-assisted brakes.

On the latter, those aforementioned soft damper settings result is a fairly aggressive pitching motion before bringing the MU-X to a stop in an acceptable (for this segment) average of 3,37 seconds. It should be noted, though, that its two main competitors do offer a few extra safety features: the Everest and Fortuner both boast knee airbags, as well as trailer-sway control, and the Ford adds roll-over-mitigation.
CLARENS, Free State – While the first Isuzu-badged pick-up was produced in South Africa back in 1978, and the latest iteration of the KB continues to sell well on local shores, the Isuzu Frontier from the 1990s is still one of the brand's recognisable products, with many still going strong on our roads today. Now, however, we have the new Isuzu MU-X, with the moniker standing for "multi-utility crossover".

With the exit of General Motors from the South African market at the end of 2017 (along with the Chevrolet brand and the Trailblazer with which this MU-X shares some components), Isuzu SA became wholly owned by the parent company in Japan. Interestingly, though, the MU-X is imported from Isuzu’s factory in Thailand, rather than built locally alongside the KB.

Styling is distinctly Isuzu, with a strong front treatment, a fair deal of chrome and bi-LED headlamps. The rear is also neat enough. Only from the rear-quarter view does the design seem to lose the plot somewhat.

At the heart of the MU-X is the familiar and highly regarded 3,0-litre turbodiesel engine from the KB series. As with KB, this unit produces 130 kW and 380 N.m of torque. The local range comprises just two models: a rear-driven derivative and a 4x4 variant, both with automatic transmissions as standard. The 4x4 model boasts selectable drive so grunt can be directed to just the rear wheels or all four wheels, the latter including low range. The gearbox has six forward ratios and both versions use 18-inch wheels.

With a power output of 130 kW and a body mass of nearly 2,1 tonnes, acceleration in the Isuzu MU-X is not particularly brisk. There is minimal turbo and torque converter lag, but the resulting slow gear shifts are at least very smooth. Sequential shifting using the gear lever is possible, but the engine management system will decide if your revs are suitable for a gear swop and block you if not.

Unlike the Frontier, this is a proper SUV designed for the purpose of transporting seven occupants in comfort. The rearmost seats are suitable for adults and fold flat into the floor to create a huge luggage space. Upholstery comes in the form of good quality black leather with white stitching, and the steering wheel is also trimmed in this material.

A 6,5-inch touchscreen comes standard, although there is the option of specifying a larger, nine-inch version (both systems, however, include sat-nav and a reversing camera). A neat addition to the infotainment setup is a second USB port in the back of the centre armrest, catering for rear passengers. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality is also included.

While the MU-X doesn't boast particularly modern mechanicals (or all the latest bells and whistles) in the form of its 3,0-litre engine, many pundits prefer older designs that have proved their reliability over the years. Whereas some Toyota Fortuner and Mitsubishi Pajero Sport derivatives use newer, smaller-capacity engines that have yet to prove their extended service credentials, it's worth noting that the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado still uses the virtually unburstable 3,0-litre D-4D engine.

We completed a serious, mountainous 4x4 route near Clarens and the ease with which all the MU-X coped with the rocks, mud and steep slopes was impressive. In addition, the relative comfort despite the exuberant boulder-hopping suggests that the suspension has been cleverly tuned to make light work of poor conditions.

Switching from 2H to 4H to 4L is via the usual console-mounted switch, while the ground clearance is excellent at 230 mm. Furthermore, extended wheel articulation and five-link independent rear suspension means that the wheels are almost always in contact with the ground. Electronic stability control, hill descent control and trailer sway control are standard, but take note that there is no selectable rear differential lock (although a similar effect is achieved using the braking system).

On tarmac, you might expect a floaty ride, but we didn't notice any problems here. The MU-X is simply a pleasure to drive, featuring something similar to the good ride that the KBs are known for, just a bit softer as befits an SUV that does not need to load up a tonne of goods behind. That said, should you need to move plenty of heavy things, you'll be glad to hear that the towing capacity is a full 3 000 kg.

There is minimal wind- or road noise in the cabin, although the engine is not quite as quiet as the latest diesels. Fuel consumption is a claimed 7,9 L/100 km, so an everyday index of just under 10 L/100 km can be expected.

Safety features, apart from all the usual suite of electronics, include six airbags and Isofix seat anchors. Some convenience features found on competitors (such as an auto-dipping rear-view mirror, automatic headlamps and rain-sensing wipers) may be missing here, but these are often a matter of personal preference anyway.

The Isuzu MU-X's main rivals? Those would be the Ford Everest and the aforementioned Fortuner and Pajero Sport. If you're in the market for a bakkie-based seven-seater SUV, I'd suggest you include this newcomer on your short list due to the Isuzu heritage and record of reliability. Dealer support should be strong, too, as the company has a solid reputation throughout the continent. A five-year/90 000 km service plan (with intervals of 15 000 km) is included in the price along with a five-year/120 000 km warranty.

Years ago, the Opel Rekord was nicknamed the poor man's BMW. Could the Isuzu MU-X be the poor man's Prado? Based on these first impressions, I'd say so ... and that's by no means a slight.

2018 Isuzu MU-X 3.0 4WD for sale

R462,600
Ref No: 1692710

Latest Resutls for Isuzu MU-X

Full Manufacturer Specifications

Standard - standard Optional - optional
  • Leather upholstery: Standard
  • Seats quantity: 7
  • Split rear seat: Standard
  • Folding rear seat: Standard
  • Air conditioning: Standard
  • Climate control automatic air conditioning: Standard
  • Cup bottle holders: front + rear
  • Front armrests: Standard
  • Antilock braking system (ABS): Standard
  • Electronic brake distribution (EBD): Standard
  • Brake assist (BAS/EBA): Standard
  • Stability control: Standard
  • Hill descent control downhill brake control: Standard
  • Driver airbag: Standard
  • Front passenger airbag: Standard
  • Front side airbags: Standard
  • Curtain airbags: Standard
  • Airbag quantity: 6
  • Automatic drive away locking: Standard
  • ISOFIX child seat mountings: outer rear
  • Start stop button: Standard
  • Hillstart assist hillholder: Standard
  • Alloy wheelsrims: Standard
  • Power steering: Standard
  • Multifunction steering wheel controls: Standard
  • On board computer multi information display: Standard
  • Navigation: Standard
  • Cruise control: Standard
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Standard
  • CD player: Standard
  • Aux in auxiliary input: Standard
  • USB port: front + rear
  • Powersocket 12V: 2
  • Central locking: keyless
  • Remote central locking: Standard
  • Key less access start hands free key: Standard
  • Electric windows: front + rear
  • Electric adjust mirrors: Standard
  • Heated exterior mirrors: Standard
  • Electric seat adjustment: driver
  • Daytime driving running lights: LED
  • Xenon headlights: LED
  • Frontfog lamps lights: Standard
  • Park distance control PDC: rear camera
  • Camera for park distance control: rear
  • Metallic pearl escent paint: Optional
  • Fuel Type: diesel
  • Fuel range average: 823 km
  • Driven wheels: all
  • Driven wheels quantity: 4
  • All wheel drive: part-time
  • Gearratios quantity: 6
  • Lowrange: Standard
  • Gearshift: automatic
  • Transmission type: automatic
  • Front tyres: 255/60 R18
  • Reartyres: 255/60 R18
  • Length: 4825 mm
  • Width excl mirrors incl mirrors: 1860 mm
  • Height: 1860 mm
  • Wheel base: 2845 mm
  • Ground clearance minimum maximum: 230 mm
  • Turning circle wheels body: 11.6 m
  • Approach angle: 24
  • Break over ramp angle: 22.4
  • Departure angle: 25.1
  • Wading/fording (water crossing) depth: 600
  • Unladen/tare/kerb weight: 2085 kg
  • Load carrying capacity / payload: 617
  • Gross weight (GVM): 2750 kg
  • Towing capacity - unbraked: 750
  • Towing capacity - braked: 3000
  • Fuel tank capacity (incl reserve): 65l
  • Fuel consumption average: 7.9 l/100km
  • CO2 emissions average: 208g/km
  • Power maximum: 130 kW
  • Power maximum total: 130 kW
  • Power peak revs: 3600 r/min
  • Power to weight ratio: 62 kW/ton
  • Torque maximum: 380 Nm
  • Torque peak revs: 1800-2800 r/min
  • Torque maximum total: 380 Nm
  • Torque to weight ratio: 182.3 Nm/ton
  • Acceleration 0-100 kmh: n/as
  • Maximum top speed: n/a km/h
  • Engine position/ location: front
  • Engine capacity: 2999 cc
  • Engine size: 3.0l
  • enginedetailshort: 3.0TD
  • Engine + detail: 3.0 turbo diesel
  • Cylinder layout: inline
  • Cylinders: 4
  • Cylinder layout + quantity: i4
  • Cam: dohc
  • Valves per cylinder: 4
  • Valves quantity: 16
  • Turbocharger: Standard
  • Warranty time (years): 5
  • Warranty distance (km): 120000 km
  • Service plan: Standard
  • Service plan time (years): 5
  • Service plan time (distance): 90000 km
  • Roadside assistance time: 5
  • Service interval (distance): 15000 km
  • Service interval (time): 1
  • Brand: Isuzu
  • Status: c
  • Segment: passenger car
  • MMcode: 28069390
  • MMVariant: MU-X 3.0D 4X4 A/T
  • MMintrodat: 2018-05-01
  • Introdate: 2018-05-10
  • DuoportarecordID: Isuzmu-X1e2

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Isuzu MU-X 3.0 4WD for sale in Midrand from one of Carmag.co.za's apporoved car dealerships
Used MU-X 3.0 4WD availbale from the following auto dealer:
Williams Hunt Midrand used car dealership located in: Midrand, Gauteng, South Africa
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