2016 Isuzu MU-X review
Robert Pepper’s 2016 Isuzu MU-X review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.
In a nutshell: The MU-X is a capable offroad 7-seat wagon, offering the essentials at a budget price.
2016 Isuzu MU-X
Price : from $54,000 (plus ORC); Warranty : five-year, 130,000 kilometres; Safety : five-star ANCAP (33.58 / 37); Engine : 3.0L 4-cyl common-rail turbo/intercooled diesel, 130kW @ 3600rpm, 380Nm @ 1800-2800rpm; Transmission : five-speed automatic, part-time 4WD, low range; Body : 4825mm (L); 1860m (W); 1825m (H); wheelbase 2845mm; Turning Circle : 11.6m; Ground Clearance : 230mm; Approach / Ramp / Departure Angles : 30.1 / 25.1 / 22.6; Wading Depth : 700mm; Seats : 7; Tare Weight : 2075kg (unladen, 10L of fuel); GVM : 2750kg; Towing : 3000kg braked / 750kg unbraked, GCM 5750kg; 300kg TBM; Fuel Tank : 65 litres; Spare : full-size alloy underslung; Thirst : 8.3L/100km ADR81/02 combined cycle; Fuel : diesel
ISUZU ARE A BIT DIFFERENT from the rest of Australia’s 4WD manufacturers. Most of the others are carmarkers, who also make SUVs or 4WDs, whereas Isuzu is a truck maker who has scaled down to make the D-MAX ute and the MU-X wagon. It’s a fundamentally important difference that becomes more obvious the more time you spend in their vehicles.
Trucks aren’t there to look pretty, they’re there to be useful, and to a large extent that’s Isuzu. They do try their hand at a bit of carmaker grandiose – “taken inspiration from Japanese culture and integrated the elegant curve of a katana (Japanese sword) into the doors of each and every MU-X” is a bit of verbal…let’s say artistry…right up there with the finest hyperbole carmakers can produce.
But really, no serious 4WD owner is going to care about where designers were inspired, they want to know how well the little truck does its job. Family holidays, for example, with a bit of offroading thrown in. So for our test of the MU-X we loaded up two adults, two kids and spent a long weekend in the Grampians and Little Desert area of Victoria. As usual, we didn’t travel alone and used the MU-X to lead a club convoy of modified Jeeps, just for a bit of variation.
Here’s what an MU-X looks like from the front:
and from the back. Can you see the katana shape? No? Don’t worry about it then.
There’s three trim levels of MU-X and ours was the top model, the LS-T. It was an automatic (manual is an option), with 9000km on the clock. We like it when test cars have done a bit of work as there’s generally a few signs of use here and there, giving an indication of how the car might fare as it ages.
Room & Practicality
Isuzu are not going to win any points for interior design beauty with this expanse of uninteresting plastic, but you know what? That’s irrelevant in a vehicle like this, and here’s why:
Look at that! So many wonderful storage compartments; two gloveboxes, a centre dash pod, and did you spot these?
Coffee cup holders that can double as clever little storage compartments.
Isuzu’s design here is a rare triumph of practicality over fripperies. There’s lots of space for everything; tyre pressure gauges, Leathermen, small shifter, maps, GPS receivers, racetape, cable ties, tissues and everything else practical vehicle users like to have close to hand.
And there’s more. Look what’s under the steering column:
No other vehicle matches the MU-X’s array of useful storage places in the front, and it’s great to be able to praise a car manufacturer for actually designing a vehicle interior that is real-world usuable. However, the high standard drops to average as we move backwards through the car.
Into the second row and it’s more standard; small door pockets, but there’s at least twin seat pockets on the back of front two seats. There is also the usual fold-down table in the second row, which is a 40/60 split. The 60 is on the kerb side, not ideal, but tumbles forwards easily enough, something not every 7-seater can boast. The angle of the rear seats can be changed, as per the photo below. Big tick for incorporating the second-row middle seatbelt in the seat, as opposed to in the roof. Fails to score a point for not being able to move the second row forwards and backwards.
The third row and cargo area is interesting, and let’s have the big problem first; there’s only two tie-down points, neither of which are in the floor, so securing anything is hard work. A very odd omission indeed, and one that most owners would certainly need to rectify as otherwise you have unsecured loads in the rear.
That aside, there is good news. The loadspace is flat and reasonably spacious, the third row is split and folds neatly down into the floor, and is locked down by a latch.
There’s also a plastic storage compartment which would be an ideal location for all sorts of practical things – recovery straps, winch controller, tools, baby changing equipment, safety gear. It is easily removeable with a couple of thumbscrews, so you could even take it to the job. The internal dividers are a good idea too. The photo shows it storing the cargo blind, still in its wrapper.
On the inside
All the controls are Japansese standard and easy to use, although not all buttons are sensibly positioned, for example the ESC switch behind the steering wheel.
The infotainment unit is sub-par; it’s a small screen, clearly not a modern unit, and the Bluetooth didn’t want to work effectively with a Samsung S7 or S4 – it’d take calls, and worked fine when the unit’s dialler was used, but the microphone didn’t work when the call was initiated off the phone. It’s possible that this was a configuration error, but do check your phones instead of assuming they work. The satnav isn’t great either, fiddly to use. There’s not many other features on the unit, and frankly I wouldn’t bother with it at all. If you must have one, get an aftermarket unit.
There is, on this top spec LS-T model, a roof-mounted DVD player. I was sarcastic about these things in the Pajero Sport and the Kluger, so I’ll do the same here – discs are dead, downloads are done and streaming is the way to go. Your kids almost certainly have phones or tablets they play media on – mine are on a mission to watch every YouTube video ever – so buying a device mount for back of the front seat headrests is the way to go. It also means your rear vision won’t be obstructed by the screen.
On the subject of devices, Isuzu have placed one 12v in the top glovebox, another in the dash, and a third in the cargo area. There’s none, sadly, in the second row.
The windows are all electric as you’d expect, but only the driver’s is one-touch. The rear windows do at least go all the way down into the door.
The heating/cooling controls aren’t split, which isn’t ideal, but they are at least easy to use.
The driver’s seat I found to be too flat-based for comfort, and the steering wheel is only tilt-adjustable not reach-adjustable. The remainder of the seats are acceptable, and there is some space in the third row including headroom for me – height just under 6ft. That goes some way towards alleviating the lack of fore/aft adjustability in the second row.
Overall, the interior is one of the more practical for any 4WD on the market, certainly at this price point.
Click any image below to start the gallery.
Performance, Ride and Handling
Around town: Vehicles like the MU-X are no nippy little shopping trolleys. That said, the turning circle of 11.6m is acceptable, and the LS-T has a reversing camera which works well enough but doesn’t have moveable guidelines. The engine is noisily gruff, but has enough grunt to shift the MU-X’s two-tonne kerb weight acceptably well away from the lights, and there’s even a pleasant bit of urge as you gather speed in second and third gears. The steering is fairly slow, requiring quite a bit of wheel-twirling, but you get used to it. Visibility is good for a modern vehicle too.
The MU-X may be a 4WD, but it is a part-time 4WD which means that on high-traction surfaces like bitumen it drives the rear wheels only. This means traction isn’t as good as equivalents which have drivetrains that allow all four wheels to be driven on road. That said, the MU-X is pretty good at putting its power to the ground, and its stability control system will effectively dampen any tendency to break the rear end loose without undue loss of momentum, for example when accelerating out of wet suburban roundabouts.
On the open road: The MU-X is a surprisingly decent cruiser. The specs wouldn’t suggest it’s overpowered, and it’s not, but the 3.0L diesel’s 130kW / 380Nm is enough to make progress. Handling is interesting; the car is not sharp, but there’s more grip than I expected, and while there’s more understeer than is the norm it’s very predictable and easy to handle, so the car inspires confidence, you can adjust driving styles to suit and it becomes oddly fun in ways that other vehicles can’t quite manage – again, I am reminded of a commercial vehicle. That is I think good, because it gives the driver something interesting to work with as opposed to SUVs where everything is designed away leaving the driver nothing to do except fall asleep, which is why fatigue sensing devices have been invented.
Freeway cruising could really do with a sixth gear, but the five it has are liveable and it’s not noisy at speed. An annoyance is the way a slight change of speed on the cruise control will trigger a panic downchange or jump out of torque converter, wasting fuel and disturbing the occupants. There’s sufficient torque for this to be avoided, but the auto transmission isn’t smart enough to use it. It is however a “smart” transmission, and will shift down automatically on hills.
Dirt roads: The MU-X is a part-time 4WD which means it should only be driven in 4WD on looser surfaces, and that includes dirt roads. As with all cars of this nature, there’s a big difference in traction out of corrguated corners when using 4WD – in 2WD there’s the expected looseness of the rear end, but it’s all very easily controllable. In 4WD there’s just smooth and easy understeer. Stability control is retained when in 4WD, and the electronics efficiently intervene with brakes and throttle limit as you press on. The ride and handling is more safe than exciting. Across the city, rural and dirt roads the MU-X is fairly standard for a 4WD wagon of this nature; safely predictable handling and ride. It’s more gruff and unrefined than the current standard, but don’t mistake that for lack of competence. Offroad: Let’s start off with what the MU-X offers:
- Part time 4WD system. Can switch from 2WD to 4WD up to 100km/h.
- 5 speed automatic transmission with manual selection (32:1 crawl ratio for the auto, 40:1 for the manual).
- Low range (2.482:1 reduction).
- Live rear axle, independent front suspension, coil springs all round.
- Front and rear recovery points.
- Conventional park brake.
- Strong metal bashplates (unusual, many such vehicles have plastic underbody ‘guards’ these days).
The MU-X also has engine traction control, brake traction control and stability control. More on those shortly.
MU-X 4WD Drive Modes
- 2WD – for use on high-traction surfaces like bitumen. Only the rear wheels are driven.
- 4H – 4WD. All four wheels are driven, but because the MU-X doesn’t have a centre differential to allow the front and rear axles to turn at different speeds around corners, this mode is for low-traction surfaces only such as mud, snow, rocks and dirt roads.
- 4L – same as 4WD, but low range which is a crawler set of gears.
2WD and 4WD can be swapped to just by flicking a dial at speeds of up to 100km/h. To engage or disengage 4L you need to stop and select neutral on the main gearbox. Isuzu have the front to call their 4WD system “Terrain Command” which is presumably a marketing ploy to make it sound like an adaptive terrain system, but it’s actually nothing of the kind and identical systems have been around since the 1950s. “Old School 4WD” would be more accurate. Seriously Isuzu, the MU-X has plenty of strengths without needing to resort to pretending things are what they’re not.
Still, a basic design is not necessarily a bad thing as clever systems are only effective when properly designed, and several computer-controlled systems are just marketing exercises. Sticking with the basics is never a bad bet, and that’s what Isuzu have done.
The MU-X also has some electronic driving aids – stability control (ESC), engine traction control (ETC) and brake traction control (BTC). We have explained the difference in detail between the three of them here, so read that first if you aren’t sure. This is how they work:
- Default mode – all three on, ESC, ETC and BTC in both 2WD and 4WD. This is the safest mode, as there will be minimal wheelspin thanks to ETC and BTC, and the the ESC system will instantly (and effectively) correct any tendency to understeer or oversteer. This is the mode you’d use for bitumen driving (in 2WD) and dirt roads (in 4WD).
- ESC and ETC off – press the stability control button once for about 2 seconds. It’s located, semi-hidden, to the right of the steering wheel. With ESC off the electronics will let the car get as sideways as you want, not interfering to pull it back into line. With ETC off there’s no restriction on excess throttle either, so all four wheels (or two, in 2WD) can spin without restriction. However, BTC is still active. If you read the explanation above then you’d know that’s a good thing, as BTC only brakes a single spinning wheel on an axle, which is what you want when you’re offroad. In contract, ETC chops engine power when it detects wheelspin, and you don’t want that, ever. So this mode of a single press is what you’d want for all offroad work – mud, rocks, ruts and the like, in 4H or 4L. You can run it in 2WD, but there’s no real point unless you want to drift (powerslide) as if you needed that mode you should be in 4WD anyway.
- ESC, ETC and BTC off – press the button for six seconds and all three turn off, which means BTC is now off. Congratulations, you have just neutered your MU-X. I’m not entirely sure why manufacturers insist on an BTC off mode, but there is one on the MU-X. Now the car will uselessly spin two diagonal wheels forever, whereas with BTC on those two spinning wheels would be braked and away you’d go. It is possible that this mode may be useful in sand, but based on previous experience with other cars I doubt it. As you can see, we did some sand driving but it was insufficiently deep or soft to properly get an idea of sand performance.
One clarification, as a couple of people asked – the MU-X does NOT have electronic hill descent, or any form of uphill ascent system. What it does have is what Isuzu call “Uphill/Downhill Transmisson Control System” which is simply the automatic gearbox programmed to select lower gears on hills, just like every other modern automatic gearbox. Isuzu’s marketing is a bit misleading on this point, but all you need to do is drive the car down a steep hill and there is your answer.
So that’s what the MU-X has got, and let’s now talk about how effective it is. Unsurprisingly given the 4WD system and the Isuzu name, the answer is “very effective”. The MU-X is absolutely a real offroad vehicle you’d not hesitate to take anywhere in Australia. It is well protected underneath, suspension travel is reasonable, has recovery points, a proper low range, good low-speed power with controllable delivery, and fairly well calibrated traction control. It is on the lighter side for a 7-seat 4WD wagon too, at around 2000kg tare weight. There are the usual junk sidesteps which hang wide and low, so every offroader will flick them onto the nearest scrap yard as soon as they get the car home.
However, it’s not perfect. The traction control is average for 2016, which means it’s effective but a little off the pace of the very best systems, requiring slightly more revs than should be the case today to work. The low range reduction is only 32:1, and today’s autos should be closer to 40:1. The fact it’s only a 5-speed is something to do this with, as is the 2.48:1 transfer case ratio. This means that engine braking is a bit below par on downhills, albeit still reasonably useful. Another criticism of the gearbox is its misplaced intelligence. It is possible to start off in second gear in either high or low range – this is good, because sometimes in slippery conditions you need to do that. However, on second-gear climbs at low speed the car will change down into first of its own accord, which results in a slight loss of momentum and a slight drivetrain jerk. In marginal conditions that can be enough to lose traction, and indeed on one slope that wasn’t super steep but was muddy, cold and rocky this is exactly what happened. Similarly, coming downhill the car was in second low with light braking, and unilaterally decided that first would be better, provoking a small slide. Thanks, Isuzu. Memo: if in manual mode the driver has selected a gear, then leave it in that gear!
The MU-X is also missing an electronic hill descent control system. In years gone by I’d let that pass without comment, but today’s systems are so good that human drivers cannot better them, so the omission is noteworthy, particularly given the slightly below par engine braking.
Another area where Isuzu haven’t gone high-tech is the parkbrake, which is a conventional handbrake. That’s good, we don’t need more electronic parkbrakes on offroad vehicles until reliability is sorted.
There is, unusually these days, no cross-axle locking rear differential. This isn’t the major problem it used to be, as modern traction control (BTC) systems are so good the need for lockers is now mostly for very high-traction rutted climbs. However, it’s still a definite negative. There are various aftermarket options that can be fitted to one or both axles.
Overall, the MU-X is a very capable offroader that wouldn’t be embarrassed by the best of the 4WD wagons on the market, but it’s not up there with the very best like Fortuner or Prado.
Confused about towing terms? Learn everything you need to know about towing trailers.
We didn’t tow with the MU-X so this is a desktop assessment only, but there’s two points we picked up while on test; it is easy to see the towball in the centrally-located reversing camera, and the factory towbar is nicely tucked up, not hanging down like a plough which is something of a rarity these days, good on Isuzu for both.
The MU-X is rated at 750kg unbraked, and 3000kg braked. Max towball mass is 300kg…good. It’s surprising how often you see a towball mass of well under 10% of the max braked tow, so we’re kind of praising Isuzu for doing the basics right. In a similar vein, the front axle load is 1350kg and the rear 1600kg, totalling 2950kg which is a useful 200kg above the GVM of 2750kg. Payload is average for class at 675kg. Subtract the 300kg max towball mass from the payload and you have 375kg or so left, not a lot, but still good by 4WD wagon standards.
The GCM is 5750kg, which is – and well done Isuzu – the sum of the 2750kg GVM and the max rated 3000kg braked tow. Most 4WDs shamefully cheat with a GCM of less than the GVM and max tow just to get a headline tow figure.
However, while the numbers stack up, there are a couple of other points worth noting. First, there’s no constant 4WD for use onroad as the MU-X is 2WD only, so in some cases traction will suffer. And the fuel tank is a mere 62L, which isn’t going to go far with a big trailer on the back. There’s also no trailer stability control system.
So what does all this mean? The MU-X’s 3000kg is a truer rating than that of many wagons which have higher apparent ratings. Isuzu, like Mitsubishi, seem to have focused on the realities of towing rather than chasing a headline figure that can’t legally be reached in real-world situations. The MU-X wouldn’t be up there with the likes of the Discovery or LC200 for towing (and nor is it the same price or size), but it is quite comparable to its peer wagons and Isuzu is at least honest about its capabilities. In fact, I reckon they should push it a bit harder, maybe team up with Mitsubishi and start a “Real Tow Ratings” campaign or something.
4WD touring: The MU-X starts off well with a full-sized spare (alloy on our tester), and 17″ rims.
The size of 255/65/17 is fairly common, alternates will fit are and easy to come by. The spare itself is underslung, which is good as it won’t require a cargo unload to access. The release point is in the bumper:
which is good for accessibility, so no need to unload the back, not so good for security. Ideally, you want the release in the door jamb.
The MU-X is well supported by the aftermarket which has fixed its two major drawbacks; the tiny 62L fuel tank and the lack of tie-down points. There are long-range tanks available from the likes of Brown Davis, ARB and Long Range Automotive, some of which require the spare wheel to be relocated to a carrier – Kaymar will help you out there. However, those are significant costs which 4WD tourers need to factor into the overall vehicle setup price. While the MU-X is frugal at 8.3L/100km, that figure will never be seen once the vehicle is set up with touring kit, loaded and driven offroad so less than 60L translates to less than 500km of range before the low fuel light comes on. On test, we had the light illuminate about 10km before a short, sharp track and actually suffered fuel starvation – a servo was close by so no risk, but nevertheless it’s not a long-legged car. That little experience did show a good point; while the fuel cut out, the car didn’t throw a Christmas-tree dash light tanty or jump into limp mode, it just coughed, we put it back down the hill and carried on.
On the storage front there are also a wide range of drawers and shelf systems for the MU-X, some of which do not require any drilling or changes to the back of the vehicle. Offroad tourers can also remove the third row entirely – we didn’t try, but apparently it’s a relatively easy job. Unlike the Fortuner.
Once the range and tie-down systems are fixed, you’re good to go in your MU-X. Naturally the sidesteps would be shot into orbit and you’d want light-truck tyres along with a suspension lift, but there’s plenty of options for both.
Isuzu do call out that the diffs have breathers, which is unusual, so we’d assume the job is done well but it wouldn’t hurt to get it checked.
The MU-X has been rated 5 stars by EuroNCAP, and ANCAP have accepted that rating for Australian models – maybe that’s why the official ANCAP photos are of the D-MAX rather than the MU-X! The score was 33.58 out of 37, and the reports don’t say but that was likely to be against 2014 criteria not 2016. The score is on the lowish side but that’s in part due to the MU-X not having any SAT, or Safety Assistance Technologies such as lane keep assist, AEB or blind spot detection which would have scored it an extra point. The factory alloy bullbar retains the 5-star ANCAP rating too.
You do get a reversing camera that is well positioned, but the guidelines don’t move…not a big issue. There are also an array of reversing sensors on the rear bumper, always good to see those as well as a reversing camera. The vehicle cannot be started without a foot on the brake either.
There are three properly positioned child restraints – that is, in the back of the seat rather than the boot – and two ISOFIX restraints on the outboard seats. Small points, but not every comparable vehicle has the same.
Pricing & Equipment
There’s three grades of MU-X, and two drivetrains, 2WD and 4WD. Prices below are for auto 4WDs, manuals are $2200 less. There are no petrol engines, because Isuzu have never heard of petrol and Aussies like petrol SUVs about as much as they like manuals.
We’ll look at the 4WD versions here, and as usual only actual differentiating features are listed as opposed to bling like “chrome door handles”, or “gas filled shocks” – which shocks aren’t! Anyway, here’s the basics of what’s different between the grades:
LS-M $47,800 plus onroad costs
- 16″ wheels (245/70/16, all-terrain tyre, steel spare)
LS-U $49,300 plus onroad costs
- 17″ wheels (255/65/17, highway terrain tyre, alloy spare)
- Folding door mirrors
- Privacy glass (tint)
- Climate control
- Rear cabin cooling vents
LS-T $54,000 plus onroad costs (our test model), no manual available
- Reversing camera with semi-park assist
- Semi keyless entry
- Roof rails (max load 60kg)
- Leather appointed seats
- Electric driver’s seat
- Rear DVD screen
Out of that lot I would pick the LS-M if you don’t have kids, as none of the additions are really worth the extra money to the LS-U. For kids I’d go the LS-U only because of the rear cooling. I cannot see a case to be made for the LS-T; you’d want a reversing camera, but they are easily fitted aftermarket, and the satnav is pretty hopeless, you’re much better off with your phone and a decent mount. I’ve written above about how outdated the idea of a DVD player is, and the electric seat isn’t worth the money. You can get an aftermarket tint done easily enough. The keyless entry only works on the driver’s door too, and the roof rails aren’t any use by themselves, you’ll need a roofrack anyway. Isuzu offer a good warranty, above average for the industry and especially 4WD vehicles – 130,000km and 5 years, and that includes roadside assist. Trivia – there is no timing belt, just a chain designed to last the life of the engine. The 2WD versions are around $5100 less and auto only. Why would you want a 2WD MU-X? I’d personally look at the softer road-oriented SUVs in that case, but they won’t tow as much as the MU-X and while they might look smoother and offer more refinement, they’re unlikely to top the Isuzu for practicality. So, yes, there’s a case to be made for a 2WD MU-X, but it’d be a niche buy. If you own one, comment below please, I’d love to understand this side of the market. As with most manufacturers, there are driveaway deals offered at regular intervals. As of the time of publication you can get an auto LS-T on the road for $50,990 driveaway.
Second opinion – Juliette Remfrey
The MU-X meets the brief of a competent family SUV with real 4WD capability, offering a relaxed and comfortable on-road drive with decent handling and brakes, yet just as easily becomes your off-road track explorer with a quick turn of the Terrain (drive) selector. The MU-X is as comfortable off-road, not a bounce-bucket and having light enough steering that offers just enough feedback so you don’t feel like you’ve endured arm day at the gym. There’s ample power in either scenario. On the road it gets away from the traffic lights smartly enough and off-road there’s no point at which the engine feels over-stressed. You’ve got selectable ‘manual’ mode in the auto, however the car won’t always grant you the gear you want off-road, for example changing itself down to 1L when you ask of it to hold 2L, or beeping at you when it doesn’t agree that you should be allowed to have 3L at what feels like appropriate speed and revs.
The interior matches the exterior – functional, minimalist, bland. You don’t have many controls to fuss with, just the basics and they’re easy to find. The hard plastics would appear to mark and scratch easily, but time will be the test of that. It is clever in design, and you get the sense the designers put a lot of thought into the kinds of occupants that might use it with ample storage cubbies for whatever your family is looking to stow away. One complaint being my lady sized fingers couldn’t comfortably reach the indicator stalk from the steering wheel and needed a bit of a stretch. I can’t say I’ve encountered that in any other vehicle to date but it’s otherwise a pretty minor thing as the size of the steering wheel felt just right. I found the reversing camera difficult to see in any light due to glare off the screen, low resolution and being easily dirtied which is a shame because despite the large mirrors, the tall rear window makes it hard to know what isn’t adult height and directly behind you.
Overall it is a better 7-seater and transporter than others in a similar size and price range (Fortuner) but there’s no excitement in the drive, no cheeky playfulness, no luxury, it’s all business for the serious Isuzu.
Want to know more about MU-Xes? As ever with vehicles of this nature there is a owner’s forum which you can find here: