Holden's rugged SUV feels more at home off the road than on it, as Matt Campbell finds out.
Seven-seat SUVs come in all shapes and sizes, but the vast majority of them offer little to no off-road prowess - enter the Holden Colorado 7 and Isuzu MU-X.
The bodies of the two cars are very similar and the interiors are essentially the same design, but while the basic ladder-on-frame chassis’ are identical, each has unique suspension setups and steering calibrations, not to mention different engines and transmissions.
The Colorado 7 is available in two trim levels, both with four-wheel-drive as standard – LT, priced at $46,990; and LTZ, priced at $50,490. The latter is the model we’re testing here.
For that expenditure, buyers get a reverse-view camera and rear parking sensors, 18-inch alloy wheels with a 16-inch spare, leather-trimmed seats, electric seat adjustment for the driver, single-zone climate control air-conditioning, projector headlights and LED tail-lights, and Holden’s handy MyLink media system with USB, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and voice control.
The Isuzu MU-X has a broader range of options to choose from, with a pair of 4x2 models priced at $40,500 (LS-M) and $42,000 (LS-U) respectively, and three 4x4 variants available: LS-M, priced at $45,600; LS-U, priced at $47,100; and the range-topping LS-T tested here, priced at $53,500 (though Isuzu is promoting the LS-T at $49,990 drive-away).
The LS-T model comes standard with a reverse-view camera and rear parking sensors, leather seats, climate control air-con and projector lights, 17-inch wheels with a full-size spare, and a touch-screen media system with USB, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and an in-built satellite navigation system with off-road maps. There’s also a 10.0-inch flip-down DVD screen for rear-seat passengers.
Both cars have seven seats, both can tow up to 3.0 tonnes (braked capacity), and both have turbo-diesel four-cylinder engines.
The Colorado 7 is powered by a 2.8-litre turbo diesel that produces 147kW of power at 3600rpm, and a healthy 500Nm of torque from 2000rpm. Holden claims a consumption figure of 9.2 litres per 100km. On test we saw a little higher than that, with an average of 9.9L/100km over more than 250km of varied testing.
That engine is a strong and willing thing, with good mid-range response and plenty of grunt on the move – and clearly more than its rival. However, around town it is slow from a standstill before lurching to life as the torque kicks in rather abrasively, and at idle it rumbles in an unsophisticated manner, sending unwanted vibrations through the cabin.
The Colorado 7 makes use of a standard six-speed automatic in both trim levels. It works well during highway driving by allowing the engine to use its torque, but it can hunt for the right gear at lower speeds. It was also particularly active during off-road duties. We’ll come to that soon.
The Isuzu carries over what is essentially the same engine that has been seen in the D-Max ute range. Despite the engine’s larger 3.0-litre capacity, the Isuzu is down considerably on power – it produces 130kW at 3600rpm and 380Nm between 1800-2800rpm. It gains ground back with its fuel use, claimed at 8.4L/100km. We saw a higher figure of 10.1L/100km during our time.
The Isuzu’s engine offers more linear power delivery, revving more smoothly from low revs with less turbo lag. The torque deficit is noticeable – during overtaking manoeuvres, for example – but the MU-X’s powerplant is more refined and relaxing, particularly in stop-start traffic. There’s also considerably less clatter and vibration at idle.
Swapping cogs for the Isuzu is a five-speed automatic, which comes standard on the LS-T but is optional on all other 4x4 MU-X variants. The transmission is slightly clumsy at times, but hunts less during urban duties. At speed it is more likely to drop a gear to help keep things moving rather than relying on the engine’s torque – which has a negative effect on fuel use.
There’s no disguising the rugged ute underpinnings of either of these SUV spinoffs, and neither manages to offer a plush on-road experience – though the Isuzu does have the edge in this regard.
The Colorado 7 has a crude nature about its driving dynamics – the suspension lacks compliance and the ride never feels settled or composed. Occupants will feel all the bumps on the road surface, and the driver will notice plenty through their hands, as the steering offers inexcusable levels of play and kickback. It is less of an issue on the freeway, but during city driving it quickly becomes tedious.
The Isuzu is the lesser of two evils during commuting. It feels far more composed, isolating smaller bumps from the cabin, and dealing with larger inconsistencies adeptly. There’s less clumsiness all around, and the steering feels more direct and better calibrated.
The story is similar off road – while both have switchable four-wheel-drive systems that can be triggered between high range two- and four-wheel-drive on the fly, though switching to four-wheel-drive low range requires you to stop and have the gear selector in neutral.
The MU-X offers better body control over when it comes to the rough stuff, with its suspension allowing for better rebound over larger obstacles and a smoother drive experience on coarse roads. We put it through its paces, and it proved itself more than capable over a slippery, craggy hill climb and descent, and its steering feels quicker and more intuitive when negotiating mud or loose gravel surfaces.
The Colorado 7’s off-road abilities are almost identical to the Isuzu. Over the same slippery surfaces it crept down with the assistance of an active hill descent control system, something the Isuzu misses out on. The steering is a little less direct, and the aforementioned steering play did dampen its effectiveness on loose surfaces. Its ride was also coarser.
Inside, both models have enough room for seven average-sized adults, with the third row in each car surprisingly decent for leg- and head-room and reasonably easy to get into and out of courtesy of a flip-fold second row. That rear row eats in to boot space for both cars, with 235 litres of cargo room meaning family buyers who plan to use all the seats may need a storage pod or trailer for holidays. With five seats in use, the boot increases to more than 800L.
Both have ventilation for all three rows – ideal for cars like these – and full-length curtain airbag protection (along with dual front and front-side ‘bags).
In terms of interior design, both have a similar look but a very different feel. The Colorado’s plastics are rougher, but it has a digital speedometer and a driver’s side vanity mirror that the MU-X misses out on, and it is a lighter space which could be a positive for some buyers. The MyLink media system is simple to use but you need to have your phone to stream the sat-nav system, which could chew data and battery life quickly, and the app doesn’t have off-road tracks.
The MU-X’s interior plastics feel smoother to the touch and are of a higher perceived quality. We liked the darker fabrics, and the leather felt suppler. That navigation system with off-road maps is a bonus.
When it comes to ownership, the Isuzu has a five-year, 130,000 km warranty and five-year roadside assistance package. However, the Japanese brand doesn’t offer any form of capped price servicing at this point in time.
Holden, on the other hand, has capped price servicing for three years or 60,000km, with each visit costing a maximum of $295. Services are required every nine months or 15,000km, whichever occurs sooner. The Holden does have a less comprehensive warranty, though, at three years or 100,000km.
There’s no denying both of these cars achieve their objective of offering a more affordable alternative to the traditional off-roader crowd. But the Isuzu MU-X is a more refined offering than the Holden Colorado 7, and certainly more liveable if you spend the majority of your time on the road.