2016.5 Isuzu MU-X review

The 2016.5 Isuzu MU-X gets more torque, a few minor additions and a price hike. So how does it stack up?

The Isuzu MU-X has received a minor update, tagged '2016.5' by Isuzu, because there really haven't been a lot of changes. It also poses the question, will there be a more significant update for 2017?

Isuzu is staying quiet on that front, so let's take a look at what a 16.5MY upgrade actually entails. The biggest change is the overhauled 3.0-litre four cylinder turbo-diesel engine.

Based on feedback from Australian customers and dealers, the Euro 5 compliant engine features new-design pistons, fuel injectors, fuel supply pump, turbocharger, a diesel particulate diffuser (DPD), and more. We are the first market in the world to have the MU-X and D-Max with this engine and, though power output remains the same at 130kW, torque is up 50Nm to 430Nm. To improve towing performance, peak torque is now available through a wider rev range.

There are also two new transmissions, an Aisin six-speed automatic and an Isuzu-built six-speed manual, additional sound and vibration insulation, hill-descent control is now standard across the range - as are rear-view cameras and rear parking sensors, thanks to the inclusion of the safety features as standard on the base model.

That entry point also now has a 7.0-inch touch screen, while higher-spec models have an 8.0-inch touch screen with satellite navigation.

And that, friends, is what a .5MY upgrade entails in Isuzu land. Other than those few things, the car is exactly the same as the 2016 model. You'll find none of the cosmetic changes we've seen on the 2017 Isuzu D-Max.

All variants have the same engine with three trim levels, LS-M, LS-U and LS-T. All are available in either 4x2 or 4x4. The six-speed manual transmission is offered on the LS-M and LS-U 4x4 variants, while the entire line-up is available with a six-speed automatic transmission with sequential sports mode.

Prices start at $41,800 before on-road costs for the 4x2 LS-M auto and top out at $54,800 for the 4x4 LS-T auto. That's a price increase of $1300 for each variant. When you consider its competitor set, it's a big ask.

The MU-X wrapped up 2016 in sixth position on the large SUV sales chart, behind the Toyota LandCruiser Prado, Subaru Outback, Toyota Kluger, Holden Captiva and Hyundai Santa Fe. The top-tier diesel 4x4 Subaru Outback is $42,420, while the equivalent Holden Captiva 7 is $41,490.

Both of the Toyotas and the Santa Fe are more expensive, so the Isuzu sits right in the middle of this pack and, while it features a genuine off-road system and capability - something not all of its competitors offer - it lacks the modern styling and features of many of its rivals.

The range-topping 4x4 LS-T was showcased at the launch, and as well as fog lights and a chrome radiator grille that's shared with the mid-spec LS-U, it also gets roof rails, tailgate spoiler and muffler cutter. This seven-seat family hauler is 4825mm long, 1860mm wide and 1825mm tall.

The top two trim levels have climate control air conditioning, rear air vents and second row USB outlet. The LS-T has passive entry and start, as well as a roof mounted 10-inch DVD player, leather-accented seats and a power-adjustable driver's seat. All have a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls and cruise control functionality.

The leather feels a little cheap, not rough but not soft and supple like you'd like leather to be. The simplicity and practicality of the cabin wins you over. There are clever storage options including twin glove boxes, another space on the dash top, good size centre console bin, a sunglasses holder and vent mounted cup-holders as well as more in the centre console.

The climate control system is uncomplicated, a simple dial with LED numbers, and the layout of the centre stack makes everything effortless and easily accessible. The 8.0-inch touch screen and associated infotainment system isn't the most modern or technologically advanced, but the basics are covered: Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity as well as CD, radio, aux, USB and a roof-mounted sound system with eight speakers.

Along with that 10-inch DVD monitor mounted on the roof that will provide hours of entertainment for rear seat passengers, they're also kept connected and comfortable, thanks to a USB outlet and rear air vents. The outboard seats have ISOFIX points and all three have top-tether attachment points.

The MU-X has a 60:40 split-fold second row, 50:50 split-fold rear seats and an organiser box in the cargo area which ranges from 235 litres with all seven seats in play, to 1830 with both rows folded. The volume with the third row folded flat is a decent 878 litres.

We were able to drive the MU-X on the sand at Evans Head and it was a lot of fun to handle on the dry sand, as well as giving it a red-hot go along the shoreline. The MU-X has Isuzu's Terrain Command 4x4 system that allows you to switch from 2H to 4H on the fly. Shifting into low-range four-wheel drive requires the car to be stationary.

As well as the now standard hill-descent control, all variants have steel plate skid and splash protection under the front , even 4x2 models. 4x4 models also have steel sump and transfer case protection plates. The MU-X certainly made light work of the time spent driving on the beach and lived up to its reputation as an adventurer's weapon of choice.

It also excelled on the dirt. We headed to a disused quarry to tackle some steep uphill and downhill inclines, and put it through its paces navigating around deep and winding ruts that made it cock a wheel. The MU-X has a 24-degree approach, 25.1-degree departure and 19.5-degree ramp-over angle making it capable of handling some decent terrain. It opens the door to some exciting weekend adventure options.

On the blacktop, as our off-road guides would put it, the MU-X offers a firm ride but it's not harsh or uncomfortable. Improvements to NVH have slightly hushed the raucous note of the diesel engine - but it still sounds like a truck. And of course it would, Isuzu is a truck manufacturer at its core.

What you do get though is a solid, reliable and seemingly unbreakable SUV that feels like it could go anywhere and handle anything. Therein lies its appeal.

The overhauled diesel engine offers up more torque and more pulling power for towing - capable of handling 3000kg braked and 750kg unbraked - and it's sure-footed and confident when zipping around town. Zipping is probably not the right word... it's not going to win any acceleration awards, but it reacts quickly and you know it has what it takes to tackle the more hectic pace of an urban environment.

It can feel a little wobbly around corners because of its height, pitching a little bit as you come over a bump. Something else to keep in mind is that the steering is quite heavy which can be a burden when navigating corners under the pressure of other city drivers, and the turning circle is big at 11.6-metres.

The new six-speed automatic transmission is more at home at lower speeds, finding the right gear and smoothly working its way through the options based on your inputs. At highway speeds it's a bit of a different story. It's less sure of which gear it should be in and seems to hesitate, then hunt around.

Fuel consumption is a claimed 8.1 litres per 100 kilometres, and we saw close to that on our drive loop.

When it comes to ownership costs, Isuzu has upped its game and introduced a new warranty, servicing and roadside assist package called Service Plus 555.

It's a five-year/130,000km warranty, five years of roadside assist and a five-year/50,000km capped price servicing plan. Servicing is due every year or 10,000km, and they are cheap too; $200, $400, $260, $590 and $50 for years one to five respectively. That's an average of $300 a year.

Though this minor update doesn't mark a significant step forward, the '2016.5' Isuzu MU-X is still a viable option for a big and active family. There's no doubting its rough-and-tumble pedigree and, though quite basic, the cabin is comfortable and well-suited to transport a family around both in town and further afield.

If you want style and modern entertainment technology, this is not the car for you. But if a more rustic, simpler life appeals, then this could be worth a closer look.

Podcast

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