We’ve been busy during the lockdown period ploughing through as many of your direct enquiries as we can, getting back to you with our advice on where you should do your research, and one vehicle that pops up with regularity is the 2020 Isuzu MU-X.
Specifically, though, plenty of you want to know how it performs as a tow vehicle. It’s a subject that crops up on our radio shows, via email or direct to the website – it seems plenty of potential buyers want to know more about the soon to be replaced Isuzu. And that might only increase with the number of buyers thinking about a caravan purchase and regional travel.
So, with that question in mind, we hitched up the CarAdvice trailer, loaded up our long-term 2020 Hyundai Veloster SR (which is running perfectly mind you), and headed for the Blue Mountains west of Sydney to find out how the MU-X behaved with just over 2000kg in tow.
The reason so many of you are interested in the venerable Isuzu is its value proposition. At the time of testing, Isuzu was running a drive-away deal of $54,990 for the MU-X LS-T 4x4, which is sharp value when you start to compare it to higher-spec models from the direct competition. Added to that sharp pricing, Isuzu trades on the growing reputation of bulletproof reliability from the 3.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder – an engine that is seemingly impervious to hard work.
Our test example is fitted with an Isuzu towbar kit ($1187), blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert ($1375), and an electronic brake controller ($731), bringing the total package in safely under $60K.
The word ‘venerable’ gets used a lot to describe Isuzu’s 3.0-litre oiler, and for good reason. It’s been around seemingly forever, being pipped only by Ford’s 3.2-litre five-cylinder in terms of capacity amongst diesel engines within the segment, and it always gets down to work without raising a sweat. That’s despite relatively low power and torque outputs of 130kW at 3600rpm and 430Nm between 2000rpm and 2200rpm.
What’s most interesting about the way the engine works is the agricultural nature of it. It’s not refined, it’s not anywhere near the quietest you will sample, and you can hear it working enthusiastically when you nail the throttle off the mark. However, settle into a relaxed cruise at any speed really, and it quietens down a lot. Right up to 110km/h on the highway. You may not be able to hear that so much in the accompanying video, but it’s something we all noticed in testing.
Despite the sometimes clattery soundtrack – which evokes memories of diesels of old – the 4JJ1 never feels like it’s working especially hard, and that remains true during this tow test. Laden or unladen, uphill, at freeway speed or around town, it just chugs along without complaint. The drive experience goes to show that numbers on paper don’t always translate to a seat-of-the-pants sensation in the real world.
Likewise, the fuel consumption, which Isuzu claims as 7.9L/100km on the combined cycle. We’ve tested the MU-X anywhere from 8.5L/100km to 10.5L/100km in the real world in the past depending on the type of driving you’re doing.
On this test, all around town in heavy traffic to start with, the fuel use settled into a 10.8L/100km groove. We hitched up the empty trailer and it didn’t budge. Then we loaded the Veloster onto the trailer and it still didn’t budge. After hauling the Veloster up and over the Blue Mountains, the live fuel reading was still sitting on that same 10.8L/100km. Impressive. With the trailer removed and after a couple of days of easy cruising, the average had dropped into the mid nines.
Part of the story the engine is telling is related to the six-speed automatic, which while not as technically advanced as some competitors, is proficient, smooth and neatly matched to the way the engine generates its power and torque. In fact, it’s a perfect reason to formulate the ‘when is too many ratios, too many’ argument.
You won’t find it caught out in the wrong gear, it doesn’t hunt and slice through the ratios needlessly, and it seems to pick a gear and stick to it. Kickdown on longer hills is swift enough that the MU-X doesn’t lose any momentum, and the six-speed simply assists the engine to do its best work as easily as it possibly can.
We’re (as in all of us who might be interested in cars) currently being told all manner of engineering stories about hybrids, smaller engines, smaller turbos, less cylinders, and how they will all ‘suffice’ in terms of towing and off-road work. However, the humble and undoubtedly old Isuzu 3.0-litre tells a slightly more time-worn story. It’s an effective one, too, as seen by how effortless it is – you can see that in the video – and how efficient it remains under load.
Importantly, the suspension works nicely with the load hitched up, also. Plenty of promising tow vehicles can come unstuck here, but the trusty MU-X certainly doesn’t. A five-link, coil spring set-up at the back and independent upper and lower wishbones up front are unaffected by the 2000kg weight, and the rear end doesn’t sag a lot either.
The CarAdvice trailer is a beautifully balanced one, so you could argue that it makes things a little easier, but still the MU-X deals nicely with the weight. The steering doesn’t feel light or vague, and with the trailer’s electric brakes dialled in, the Isuzu’s brakes work perfectly, too.
Visibility from the driver’s seat is expansive, and hitching the trailer up is a cinch thanks to the rear-view camera. It’s a rudimentary camera compared to the clearest available, but it’s good enough for the job here.
One area enthusiastic tourers will want to look at, no pun intended, is the exterior rear-view mirror situation. Fine with a low trailer and a narrow car like the Veloster, but wider caravans or horse floats will ensure you find the edges of the mirror’s effectiveness when you’re keeping an eye on what’s going on out back. Still, the standard mirrors are broader, and therefore more useful, than some standard offerings.
The seats are decent enough to offer the comfort required for long touring days in the MU-X. Again, like other aspects of the interior design, they aren’t as good as the best in the segment – Ford Everest, for example – but they are comfortable enough.
You can read our thoughts on the infotainment and cabin amenities in our other MU-X reviews, but the short story is that it is now dated and there’s no escaping that. This platform has been around for some time and the game has undoubtedly moved on.
New Isuzu product (in the form of the D-Max) promises to be bang up to date, but if you don’t care about such novelties as the best in infotainment or screen size, and a new cabin design, then the current MU-X (which will probably soldier on for another year or more) will serve you well. It’s worth remembering that when the subject is raised with readers wanting to know about the MU-X, most of them couldn’t care less, and are more interested in a reliable mechanical package.
The MU-X gets a six-year, 150,000km warranty as well as a six-year roadside assistance plan and seven years' capped-price servicing. Service intervals are 12 months or 15,000km, and cost an average of $549 per year to the end of the seven-year program. If you’re planning on adding some bulk miles to your Isuzu, you’ll be able to easily fit that service schedule in around the country.
It’s the reputation for reliability and durability that is serving Isuzu well in Australia, and it’s that reputation that keeps people asking about the MU-X. There are better engine packages on paper, and there are obviously more up-to-date interiors and infotainment systems on offer. However, if you’re in the market for a cost-effective warrior that won’t let you down and will do what you ask of it with ease, it’s hard to go past the Isuzu MU-X.