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You know the old saying — if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck... right? Not according to Isuzu, because while this version of the MU-X might look and tow like a 4X4, it is in fact only rear-wheel drive.
The 2016 Isuzu MU-X LS-M 4x2 is the entry point to the Isuzu SUV range. Like all other MU-X and D-Max models, it is powered by a 3.0-litre 130kW/380Nm 4JJ turbo-diesel truck engine and sports a body-on-frame configuration.
Throw in seven seats, a high riding stance and a 3-tonne tow capacity, and what results is a rather basic but highly functional SUV tow-truck.
The 2WD MU-X also has a 100kg weight reduction over the 4X4 version, and most vitally a $7300 price saving over the equivalent 4x4 version. It is a very low-frills adventure, but all the core hardware is there to get you where you need to go in relative comfort.
The key word here is relative.
The cabin is very basic, with an array of hollow, hard plastics and 1990’s style air-conditioning and entertainment controls. But the thing is, they are so simple to use the MU-X is better for being ‘worse’.
Sure there are no auto wipers, or auto headlights, or auto pretty-much-anything, but the ergonomics are good for the most part (mirror controls are down by your knee) and the car beeps (incessantly) if you leave the lights on anyway!
There’s a blanking plate that usually houses the selectable 4WD system dial, but otherwise the interior is identical to the 4X4 version. This means it's all easy to live with.
You set the fan speed and temperature using the chunky dials, and the conditioning is quick to chill the cabin (lucky as there are no rear vents), while the cup holders in front of the side vents ensure a few more crucial minutes of enjoyment from your icy cold beverage.
Incidentally – these work well as a phone holder, and if you are anything like me, the poor handset is usually working overtime, so a bit of external cooling will help keep the laws of thermodynamics in check.
The stereo is very basic, but it works and doesn’t judge your poor musical tastes. At night though, neither the volume or tuning knob light up with a label, so it takes a few skipped tracks before you can reliably join Sammy Hagar and punch out the chorus of Dreams at peak volume.
The biggest issue is the use of a Mini USB port as a connection point. It means us iPhone users need a separate cable to connect to the stereo, which of course I never had with me. You can resort to using the 12-volt outlet as a charger and stream music via Bluetooth though, so it’s a short-lived whinge.
Pairing a phone is a simple 10-second process and the link reconnects quickly while you are in the car. Quality while listening is good, but from all accounts, the ‘callee’ would have a better experience chatting to poor Mark Watney on Mars.
Storage, like the D-Max, is great, courtesy of the central console cubby, twin gloveboxes (the top one has a 12-volt outlet) and good door-pockets. The ‘handy when you can open it’ dash-top cubby in our MU-X stayed stuck closed for most of our time with the car, a constant tease as to what may be lying trapped underneath. The 'push down to open up' mechanism just doesn’t work – the push-catch design in the Holden Cruze is a much better implementation.
You sit high in the MU-X, which is great for outward visibility, but you do feel you are sitting ‘on’ rather than ‘in’ the car. The driver’s seat can slide up and down, but with the position of the steering wheel (which has height but not reach adjustment) is never spot on. You can’t help but think the seating arrangement has been deigned to suit drivers well under six-foot, as the wheel can drop unnaturally low – which constantly reminds me of a dirty pirate joke…
Overall though, there’s something about the cloth seats that make it feel sort of snug and welcoming, and despite the imperfect seats, there’s no real issue with comfort even after some solid miles are under your belt.
There’s reasonable room in the back seat for adults, despite the near-vertical seat back, but it at least encourages excellent posture. No vents, but there are good door pockets.
Access to the third row is easy enough with the fold-and-flip 60:40 bench. The rearmost seats too are suitable for adults on short trips, but with the third row up, the boot is beyond useless at just 235 litres. To add insult to injury, the storage cubby that sits on top of the main floor might give you a place to store your parcel blind, but if you have anything in the back resting on it, and you open the (heavy) tailgate while on the slightest of inclines, everything falls out.
Think of the MU-X as a five-seater with a good boot and occasional room for extra littlies and you’ll be much better off.
On the road, the MU-X sounds just like a D-Max, which essentially means it sounds like a truck. The clatter from the exhaust and whistle from the turbo have no qualms in crushing any thoughts you may have of being mistaken for some hyper-refined Euro-hybrid. It’s very much business before pleasure.
In fact, on my audio notes for the car, you can hear ‘ol 4JJ clacking away in the background. Anyone who mis-fuels an MU-X needs to get their hearing checked…
That’s not to say that trucking-about in the MU-X isn’t enjoyable. Realign your centre to that of a more simple world, and the big Isuzu will feel right at home in no time.
Yes the steering is heavy and slow (we counted four turns of the wheel, lock-to-lock) and it's not super nimble at the shopping centre carpark – in fact, even without a reverse camera (parking sensors are there though) the MU-X is easier to back into a spot than it is to head in nose-first.
The ride is firm but compliant. There are no harsh or violent jabs from the suspension, the MU-X jostles a bit on the ‘down’ side of larger bumps, but the car remains composed at all times. Once you get used to the nature of the MU-X, the ride could even be called ‘comfy’.
Urban speeds and freeway cruising are a breeze for the Isuzu. Start pretending it is a race-car and the MU-X lets you know you are being foolish – the rear end skips a bit and the body roll and brakes remind you that slow and steady wins the day.
You can hear the shocks working away, particularly over speed humps, as the suspension compresses. Also too, despite not having the front-drive linkages, you get the benefit of the 4WD suspension articulation and flexibility – which makes the 2WD MU-X perfect for towing.
The two-tonne load made its presence felt by restricting the MU-X’s off-the-line pace, but the Isuzu never had trouble getting up to speed and cruised effortlessly in 60km/h traffic as well as 100km/h freeway legs.
There was a slight whistle of wind from the A-pillars, but the MU-X is generally a very quiet place to be and is a very competent tourer.
Typical of a large load, there is a slight longitudinal ‘floating’ sensation as the trailer tugs at the car. If I had paid more attention in those second-year lectures I’m sure I could explain it in detail – but if you are reading this and nodding, then we are on the same page.
With its five-speed automatic transmission, the LS-M never exhibits the ‘hunting’ sensation some of its newer and more cog-laden alternatives might. Helpful too is the self-shifting mode which allows you to hold a gear to better manage the load up steep inclines where cautious speed is important.
Our pre-trailer benchmark of fuel consumption was around 7.0L/100km on the highway, and with the S15 Nissan in tow, the MU-X sat at around 10L/100km. That is pretty impressive in our book.
In fact, after ten days behind the wheel in mostly urban situations, and including the trailer towing, the MU-X averaged just 7.8L/100km consumption.
Here’s a tip too – want to make your chunky diesel SUV feel fast? Take the trailer off.
Put simply, the 2016 Isuzu MU-X LS-M 2WD is a perfect long-distance, five seat tow car. If you legitimately don’t need the 4WD ability, you can do almost anything with the 2WD version. It can reliably handle a big weight out back with comfort and economy thrown in to the deal, plus at the moment you can nab a 2WD MU-X for just $36,990 drive away.
Sure it’s basic, but it is almost better for being simple - just hook up the trailer and hit the highway on life's next great big adventure.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser and James Ward.