There’s an old vaudevillian trope that says when the audience has had enough of an act, a large hook would appear from offstage and drag the unlucky fellow into the wings.
Perhaps a more modern representation of this is the simple decree of, “Gong him, Red”.
Whether by hook or by gong, there’s no arguing that when your time is up, it's up. It’s true for entertainers and politicians, and it is true for cars.
The 2020 Isuzu MU-X might only be approaching its eighth birthday, but I’m here to say that its time has come.
The venerable family truckster misses out on some now-expected convenience and safety technology, and what has been added feels just a little bit ‘stuck on’ rather than implemented from the ground up.
The form-factor and functionality haven’t changed with the times, and you can’t help but feel that the MU-X can be summed up with just one word.
However, let’s not ignore the all-new RG D-Max ute, which recently replaced the RT-series pick-up that has served as the base for the MU-X since it launched in 2013, and addresses all these issues and more.
That new RG-series car will sit underneath the new MU-X when it arrives next year, but until then, the MU-X as we know it is in runout, which means now could be the time to grab a great deal on a car that, while dated, still has plenty to offer.
|2020 Isuzu MU-X LS-T|
|Engine configuration||3.0-litre turbocharged diesel|
|Displacement||3.0 litres (2999cc)|
|Power||130kW at 3600rpm|
|Torque||430Nm at 2000–2200rpm|
|Drive type||Four-wheel drive with low-range|
|Fuel claim, combined||7.9L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.5L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating (year tested)||5-star (tested 2013)|
|Warranty (years/km)||6 years/150,000km|
|Main competitors||Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Toyota Prado, Ford Everest|
|MSRP||$57,400 (offer when written at $54,990 drive-away w/ tow pack)|
|Options as tested||Magnetic Red Mica paint, $500|
The list price of our top-specification MU-X LS-T is $57,400 before on-road costs. Isuzu is currently offering the LS-T with a tow-pack and electronic brake controller for $54,990 drive-away. That’s an immediate saving of around $8000, and we’re not even a third of the way through the review!
For your spend, the LS-T features stitched leather-accented seats that have a pattern strangely akin to LEGO Batman’s abs. There’s an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with integrated satellite navigation in the dash, and a 10.0-inch flip-down monitor on the roof.
There's a five-star ANCAP rating (from 2013), a six-year warranty, and seven-year capped-price service program that will run you $1377 for three years, $2255 for five and $3843 for all seven.
You score keyless entry (on the driver’s door only) and push-button start, side steps, roof rails, climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED head, tail and running lamps, a rear camera and parking sensors, and even a powered driver’s seat.
A generous list in anyone’s book, but I’ll get to how this all works in a moment.
|2020 Isuzu MU-X LS-T|
|Wheels/tyres||255/60R18 – Bridgestone H/T|
The MU-X was treated to a mild refresh in 2017 where new wheel designs, revised grille treatment, LED lamp units and colour options were added. This has managed to keep the MU-X looking reasonably smart and cohesive in a market that tends to move very quickly.
It’s not timeless, or classic, or even very modern, just clean and conservative enough to get away with it.
Our Magnetic Red Mica paint ($500 option) does suit the car and is one of seven choices. There are no other options on the LS-T, but there is a comprehensive catalogue of accessories you can add to further personalise or enhance your MU-X.
Rugged good looks can only take you so far, though, and the real hook to the Isuzu MU-X lies under the skin, where the venerable 3.0-litre 4JJ1 Isuzu turbo diesel engine gives this, as well as the D-Max, class-leading fuel economy and a reputation for long-life reliability.
Isuzu claims 7.0L/100km for highway touring, but I regularly saw mid-sixes with this car, which is pretty impressive.
That said, if you’re comparing the MU-X to a car that averages 50 per cent more fuel use, say 10.0L/100km, it only really equates to 400L every 10,000km, or in context, two free tanks of fuel per year.
It’s not a bad bonus, but if you split it out over your lifetime vehicle ownership, it’s like taking your lunch one day a week rather than buying it from the café. Not a bad thing, but not a life-changer, particularly given at 65L, the tank on the MU-X isn’t huge, and so the added efficiency doesn’t really translate into a longer touring range.
Given its truck-sourced nature, the turbo-diesel sounds very much like a truck engine under load, offering a very typical four-cylinder rattle, particularly above 3000rpm. It’s not the most pleasant sound and almost encourages you to ease off the line.
Peak power of 130kW is available from 3600rpm, but 430Nm of torque peaks lower, between 2000 and 2200rpm.
While it is quite tractable around town, the MU-X is most at home on the open road, where the engine can relax into a low-RPM cruise and tootle along with low stress for all involved.
The six-speed auto is again a pretty hardy and basic unit, but works well enough both up and down the ratios. All MU-X models are available in both 4x4 and 4x2 specification, and our four-wheel drive includes a low-range ratio selection and hill descent control.
Ride comfort is another strength of the MU-X, where the big Isuzu quite happily soaks up surface changes and minor bumps, and feels particularly stable at sensible speeds on any of the nation’s many gravel roads.
Bigger hits will cause the car to move around a bit, but given its ladder frame and working-class origins, that’s not to be unexpected. And you find it moves quickly back into line, never feeling unwieldy, especially given its high centre of gravity and 2110kg tare mass.
Flatten things out somewhat, from the widest freeways to the most remote gravel trails, and the MU-X is a well behaved and manageable tourer.
But touring gives you time to reflect, and your attention cannot help but turn to the MU-X’s interior.
|2020 Isuzu MU-X LS-T|
|Colour||Magnetic Red Mica|
|Options as tested||$500|
|ANCAP safety rating||5-star (tested 2013)|
The ‘Batman’s abs’ Daytona-style seats are quite comfortable, but there is no lumbar adjustment, and you may find you’ll need supplementary support on longer trips. Further, in terms of getting into that perfect driving position, you can adjust the steering wheel up and down, but there’s no telescopic reach.
Then there’s the dashboard. If there were a single area that betrays the age of the MU-X, this is it. Example? The cigarette lighter is actually a cigarette lighter.
In terms of infotainment, the 8.0-inch touchscreen looks dated. There’s a giant button in the middle of it marked ‘maps’, which isn't a button at all, but actually hides the SD card maps are stored on.
There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto device projection (only the limited MU-X Onyx Edition scores that feature), although it will show album artwork when your phone is connected via USB cable. However, you can connect an HDMI input, but I’m not sure why you would, though.
On top of that, it’s 1990 all day long in the centre of the dash, where the wacky circular climate-control interface sits, completely out of context of any other element in the car. The giant single-zone LED temperature display isn’t hard to use, it just looks so dated. So much so that even Holden got rid of it in the Colorado in 2016.
It’s not just these that feel dated either. There is no adaptive cruise control, nor is there a digital feedback display to show what speed your regular cruise control is set at.
There’s no AEB, and the keyless entry function only works from the driver’s door. Minor things, sure, but all features that buyers tend to expect, and functions we know are present on cars like the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Ford Everest.
As far as safety equipment is concerned, the MU-X now includes blind-spot detection, which has been implemented as a light-up ‘badge’ on the A-pillar. It works, and it is a good retrofit of technology, but tends to be something you notice in your peripheral vision more than mirror eye-line.
A rear camera, front and rear parking sensors, and rear cross-traffic alert are also included.
It’s not all bad inside the MU-X, though. The cabin does offer an impressive amount of storage, including twin gloveboxes, pull-out cupholders in front of the side air vents, and another two cupholders in the console.
Some elements are still frustrating to use, though, like the dash-top storage bin you have to press down to make go up – and, due to this fundamental design flaw, never really works.
Rear passengers have good head and knee room as well as a centre armrest with cupholders. There are roof-mounted vents and a separate air-conditioning fan for the back-seat passengers. Plus, the flip-down screen is there to play CDs or DVDs – or probably VHS tapes if you try hard enough.
The MU-X is a seven-seater, and the third row is quite usable for children, but with these seats up the boot is absolutely useless (235L). The car is much better considered as a five-seater with decent cargo space (878L that expands to 1830L).
But despite all this, the 2020 Isuzu MU-X is a continual sales success, quite probably because all of these quibbles and ageing components are right there, front and centre, when you buy this car.
The MU-X is an honest and value-packed player that isn’t trying to pretend it is something it isn’t.
Go anywhere, do anything, and the MU-X will take you in economical, reliable and capable comfort. It’s not a market-leading techno-fest, but it is a great-value family tourer, and that is apparently what buyers want.
Being based on the impressive new D-Max, the brand-new MU-X will no doubt find some new fans when it arrives in 2021, but until then, if you are after a bargain in the cross-country touring segment, the runout car still presents a strong argument.
It might be time for the Isuzu MU-X to leave the island, but if you’re after a good deal, make sure it’s you behind the wheel.