I got out the Iced Vovos, brewed a nice cup of Mr Tetley’s finest, and settled in on the camp chair to take in the view. This was what life was like for so many Isuzu MU-X buyers – caravan in tow, a trip down the coast with nothing but time on my hands.
And then I snapped out of it, realising my quick loop towards Wollongong was just to test out the towing credentials of the flagship 2017 Isuzu MU-X LS-T automatic large SUV.
It’s a vehicle that appeals to buyers who need a tow-truck but also want some luxuries, and not at a high price. Isuzu lists the MU-X LS-T auto at $56,100 plus on-road costs, but the brand is promoting this spec at $52,990 drive-away. Read the full pricing and specs story here.
That’s pretty attractive pricing for a family-friendly four-wheel-drive with a 3.0-tonne towing capacity, and there’s even better value lower in the spec line-up. More on the towing later, but if you want everything Isuzu can throw at a vehicle, you need to get into this version.
From the outside you can differentiate the LS-T from its more affordable siblings by way of a rear spoiler, chrome exhaust tip and roof-rails, while our test vehicle had some attractive 18-inch alloy wheels from Isuzu’s accessories catalogue ($1623).
Things like leather-accented seats, faux-leather trim on the doors and dashboard, electric driver’s seat adjustment (but no lumbar, no memory settings, no seat heating), keyless entry and push-button start and a 10-inch roof-mounted folding DVD screen are standard in this trim level.
It’s still largely the same vehicle inside, apart from those leathery finishes, some liberally applied piano black plastic on the dash and doors, and new Spirograph-like details on the instrument cluster dials. That means you miss out on some of the inclusions you’ll find in competitor SUVs at this price level, such as the aforementioned front-seat niceties, a digital speedometer, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, dual- or tri-zone climate control (there are vents to all three rows, and a rear fan control, too).
There are none of the great safety kit items you’ll find in a high-spec Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, either, meaning no blind-spot monitoring, no forward collision warning or autonomous emergency braking, no lane-keeping assistance, no surround-view camera and no adaptive cruise control. You get a rear-view camera and rear parking sensors, and six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain), and that’s it.
The recent update proffered by the Japanese brand saw a rethought media system added, with this 8.0-inch touchscreen including satellite navigation with live traffic updates, and better placement of the media-connect USB port: there are three, in fact, two down in front of the shifter, and a third for those in the second row – so the kids can keep their devices charged up. Still, no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
The media system is pretty easy to use, but we had some issues with connecting, or more correctly, reconnecting to a paired phone. At times it would start your music playing back, while at other times you’d have to attempt to reconnect. It got annoying after a few days with the car, so it could be hell to live with. The navigation, too, could be better, with controls that are fiddly at times – it’s hard to zoom in and out when you’ve got a destination set, for example.
There’s an eight-speaker stereo system with head-lining-mounted speakers, and the space on offer in the second-row is good by class standards, with enough head-, leg-, toe- and shoulder-room for three adults to slot themselves across the back row.
The second-row seats don’t slide, but they do have a handy tumble mechanism to allow reasonably easy access to the third-row seats. Back there is enough room, again, for two regular sized adults, albeit in a knees-up position. I drove the MU-X with six adult passengers, and had no complaints apart from the middle seat-belt plug in the second row being a bit hard to get to with three across.
Well, that’s not quite true – there was another minor complaint, that being the lack of boot space with all three rows in use. There’s just 235 litres of capacity – enough for four camp chairs, some jackets and scarves, and a bag of lollies, but that's about it.
If you’re not using the rear-most row of seats, there’s 878L of cargo space, and loose item storage through the cabin is well thought out, with cup/bottle holders in all three rows, and map pockets in the seatbacks of both front chairs.
So, back to my coastal holiday towing test. We borrowed this much-loved house-on-wheels from our videographer Glen’s parents, with the aim being to see what the MU-X was like with a decent-sized ’van hooked up. Decent, not exorbitant! It’s a Fulcher Grand Tourer, a pop-top 18-footer that weighs in at about 1600 kilograms all told – so, theoretically not quite enough to trouble the MU-X’s 3000kg towing capacity.
Our MU-X had the optional towing kit ($891 fitted) including a Redarc electric brake controller, and with a 3.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engine under the bonnet with 130kW at 3600rpm and 430Nm of torque from 2000-2200rpm (up 50Nm over the pre-facelift version), it was certainly up to the task.
The drivetrain managed to get up to speed and maintain pace nicely – even up a steep, long hill approached at 100km/h it didn't lose too much pace. The six-speed (one more gear than the pre-facelift vehicle) automatic did a really good job of maintaining momentum on the open road, and it was particularly good around town, with smooth and purposeful shifts and great throttle response, even with a little bit of turbo lag taken into consideration.
The brake response and pedal feel on offer was reasonable without the brake controller dialled up, but became an afterthought with the dial turned up to about 6 or 7. We noted some brake smell after a bit of a descent, and the grade braking of the MU-X seemed to work better without anything in tow.
With the caravan in tow, the MU-X’s ladder-frame chassis and five-link rear suspension ensured a strong and stable ride, while the speed-sensitive power steering system was very well weighted, making manoeuvres easy at pace.
At low speeds, the steering is a bit slow and requires a lot of turns from lock to lock – 3.84 turns, to be precise – meaning reverse parking can be a little bit of a task when you’ve something hooked on the back, or even if you don’t, for that matter. Anything wider hooked up and you’d want extending mirrors, too.
We also noted that under braking at urban speeds there was some push shunt from the ’van, but it was entirely manageable.
Forgetting my dreams of starting up CaravanAdvice.com, I ditched it and headed to the country for the weekend, where there were some likeable attributes on show, such as its quietness, stability and refinement at highway pace. The Bi-LED projector headlights are good, too, but the high-beam throw isn’t quite as long as it could be.
Another item that didn’t elicit a happy response was the cruise control system, which lacks the logic it requires to maintain a good clip without shuffling, and even shunting at times, between gears. If the road is flat, it’s mostly fine, but any slope will set the transmission hunting, and even with two on board it's still busy between gears four, five and six.
The suspension can be a little upset over really sharp edges, causing some body wobble, but this updated MU-X is considerably more refined in its road manners than it was. The suspension allows it to lope over lumpy roads, and the steering is still a bit slow, but well weighted, at pace.
It wouldn’t be a country drive in Australia without some gravel, and the MU-X dealt with a dirt road without hassle. It was good over ruts, decently balanced in bends, and received praise from my passengers when all six other seats were taken. The brakes felt their weight, though.
When it came to fuel use, we saw 15.7 litres per 100 kilometres with the caravan on the back, but averaged 9.2L/100km including stints of seven-up, four-up, two-up, plus some bad weekend traffic – it’s worth noting that our vehicle had pretty low mileage, so over time we’d expect it to free up, and ease up on the juice a bit.
Isuzu claims 7.9L/100km, but perhaps the most concerning thing was the small fuel tank – 65 litres isn’t really big enough to cover much ground without having to refill, particularly at the higher average fuel use.
If you plan to get an MU-X for a long-distance adventure, Isuzu has a five-year/130,000km warranty and five years’ free roadside assist, as well as five years’ capped-price servicing – but maintenance is required every 12 months or 10,000km. The average visit cost over five years/50,000km is $300 – excellent by any standard.
In summary, if you’re actually going to set up the camp chair and put the kettle on for a caravan-side cuppa under the annexe, you could do a lot worse than the updated Isuzu MU-X.
This spec lacks some of the creature comforts and safety goodies you’ll find in similarly priced rivals, but it offers a genuine solidity and day-to-day comfort levels that better plenty of those competitors. As far as mid-life refreshes go, the MU-X is a convincing one.
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