The Isuzu MU-X is on a roll at the moment. Despite entering its twilight years – it's been around since 2013 – it’s holding its own against newer rivals.
For every two Mitsubishi Pajero Sports sold in 2018, Isuzu sold three MU-Xs.
Australians with a sense of adventure clearly have a soft spot for the MU-X’s tough styling and relatively sharp price.
For 2019 the MU-X has had a mild makeover, distinguished by a more angled grille across the range, and new wheels on the top-of-the-range model.
In welcome news for mums and dads on the school run, Isuzu has also finally addressed the MU-X’s heavy steering. Engineering changes make the steering lighter and easier to manoeuvre in tight spots and on the open road.
Conspicuous by its absence: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, although built-in navigation is available on top grade models.
The MU-X still lacks advanced safety tech such as autonomous emergency braking, which unlike the Isuzu is being added to rivals with each model update.
While the Fortuner is expected to get AEB mid-year when it is added to the HiLux locally, the Isuzu and Holden ute-derived SUVs look set to soldier on without this advanced safety until the next generation of their respective models.
Isuzu has added blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and front parking sensors to the MU-X – but only as extra-cost options.
To coincide with the arrival of the 2019 model-year change, the MU-X gains six-year/150,000km warranty coverage (up from five years/130,000km), service price protection for seven years and 105,000km (up from five years and 75,000km), and roadside assistance for six years instead of five.
Most other ute-derived SUVs have five-year warranty coverage.
While some brands offer an unlimited-kilometre warranty, Isuzu says it capped coverage at 150,000km because research showed most private buyers travelled just 20,000km each year on average.
It also means private buyers aren’t paying for the higher warranty costs of fleets that might do endless kilometres during the warranty period. Warranty isn’t free –each car company holds back a portion of the profit from each vehicle to cover future claims.
The cost of routine maintenance on the MU-X at 12 months/15,000km intervals is now as follows: $350 12 months/15,000km, $450 2 years/30,000km, $500 3 years/45,000km, $450 4 years/60,000km, $340 5 years/75,000km, $1110 6 years/90,000km, $400 7 years/105,000km.
Most other brands offer roadside assistance renewals only if the vehicle is serviced within their dealer network.
However, Isuzu’s roadside assistance offer covers the car for six years as long as the vehicle has been well maintained – inside or outside the Isuzu dealer network.
The complimentary roadside assistance coverage is also transferable to the next owner of the car if sold within the six-year period.
The only catch to all of this is that the price has risen by up to $1000 across most models.
For example, the flagship LS-T seven-seat 4x4 auto is now $53,990 drive-away, up from $52,990. The middle-of-the-range LS-U 4x4 auto is now $49,990 drive-away (up from $48,990) and the entry level LS-M 4x4 auto is now $45,990 drive-away.
The base model LS-M 4x2 auto is now $39,990 drive-away according to the information supplied to media, although curiously the website showed a full retail price of $47,000 drive-away when we checked, so be sure you don’t pay over the odds.
On the road
Although the MU-X SUV and D-Max ute share most of their mechanicals and a large portion of the chassis (the rear suspension and rear chassis rails are unique) it’s amazing how different they are to drive.
Obviously designed more for family use than for carrying a load (the MU-X can tow 3000kg; the D-Max is rated at 3500kg) the MU-X is much more pleasant to drive. It’s more supple over bumps and more forgiving on your body.
The other big improvement is the steering. Isuzu engineers have given the hydraulic steering setup a tweak to make it lighter and easier to use, without being vague.
That said, there is still plenty of play in the wheel (you can wriggle the steering wheel and not feel the effects on the road), as is the case for many 4WDs of this type.
Isuzu has also mirrored the switch on the top-end D-Max models to highway tyres rather than all-terrain rubber.
I didn’t get to push the Bridgestone Dueler H/T highway tyres as much as I did the Toyos on the D-Max, but initial impressions are that this is a better option than the 18-inch Toyos that come on the ute.
Isuzu has switched to a highway tyre rather than a nobbly off-road tyre for the top-end models, given that most of these vehicles rarely leave the tarmac – and serious off-roaders will upgrade to more aggressive tyres in any case.
The MU-X gets a slightly better-quality information screen in the instrument cluster than does the D-Max, although it still lacks a digital speed display.
The infotainment screen still lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but top-end models come with built-in navigation.
It’s still not ideal, though. The rear camera display is milky, in part due to the low-resolution cameras. There’s no volume dial for quick and easy use on bumpy roads, and you can’t brighten the display if you drive with headlights on during the day.
The steering wheel lacks reach adjustment, but the new pattern on the leather seats and flashes of gloss black trim give the updated MU-X a more upmarket appearance.
Overall, it has better sound suppression, a better six-speed automatic transmission calibration and better steering feel than a D-Max ute.
If comfort was a priority, I would opt for the MU-X over the ute.
The Isuzu MU-X still lacks advanced safety aids and a modern infotainment system but it’s a comfortable all-round package for a ute-derived SUV.
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling