With the all-new D-Max debuting early this year, it was only a matter of time before the MU-X followed. And follow it did. But while there’s a lot of hype for the top-of-the-line LS-E 4x4, that variant costs around P2.45 million, sitting alongside the Toyota Fortuner LTD at the ultra-high end of the market. On the other hand, this 4x2 LS-E variant offers the same level of kit—sans four-wheel-drive system—for P350,000 less, and at P200,000 more than the formerly range-topping LS-A.
Could this truck be the sweet spot in the MU-X lineup? Let’s find out.
Opposed to the D-Max’s evolutionary approach to styling, the MU-X is a bigger jump from its predecessor. The familiar toothed grille now sits within a sleek hexagonal frame. With slimmer headlights and a pulled-back front bumper, it gives the truck a sharper look than the blocky D-Max. A sharp shoulder line rises up to the rear, pinching the greenhouse and giving the impression of a sportback roof.
An upward kick over the rear tires creates a subtler, more muscular bulge than the bulbous arches in the old car. The rear is refreshingly minimalist compared with the confusion of chrome on most competitors, reminiscent of some of Hyundai’s better efforts. Personally, this is the best-looking truck in the class at the moment, and is well complemented by the gigantic 20-inch asymmetric alloy wheels tucked under those sleek new fenders.
The interior is filled with chunky, hexagonal forms with rounded edges. Postmodern modular, if you will. The black hues with white contrast stitching stand in stark contrast to the earth-tone palette on the D-Max. There are other differences, though. The doors shut with a heartier thud. The dashtop box is absent here, but the double glovebox remains. There’s a deeper pocket in front of the shifter for gadgets and keys, fenced in by leatherette-clad wings. An electronic parking-brake button allows for side-by-side cupholders and a bigger center-console box.
Ergonomics are very good thanks to a wide range of electric adjustments for the driver’s seat and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. Leg and side support are good in all rows. I’m not fond of the stiff lumbar support in the driver’s seat, but it doesn’t progress beyond mildly annoying over several hours in the saddle, so I’ll let it pass.
Thanks to a slightly longer 2,855mm wheelbase, legroom in the fixed second row improves a bit. You can cross your legs, yes, but at the risk of scraping your muddy boots on the front seatbacks. The backrests have a lot of recline, however, and the seat folds forward to allow ingress into the third row. Here, knee room is generous for anyone under six feet, and it’s comfortable enough to recline and nap in, even on long trips.
The trunk is accessible via an automatic tailgate—a plastic tailgate—I suppose lightweight plastic construction is meant to keep stress off the servomotor. Space is large and useful, and the seats fold down to reveal a wide and flat load area. Moving the spare tire underneath the chassis allows for a lower load floor than before, but it does slope upwards slightly over the rear axle.
Powering that rear axle is a new 3.0-liter 4JJ3-TCX turbodiesel engine, as found in the D-Max. Thanks to the extra weight over the rear tires, the MU-X has good off-the-line traction, and does 0-100kph in 9.7sec. That’s quicker than both the D-Max and the Fortuner 2.8 4x4 LTD we tested a while back. That said, the MU-X doesn’t quite feel as quick as either in everyday use, thanks to a bit more turbo lag and acceleration delay when you pull out to overtake.
But while it can’t match the linear smoothness of the Toyota 2.8-liter motor, the mighty midrange of the MU-X makes it mighty entertaining, anyway, though not quite as big a kick in the pants as in the D-Max. There are also no paddle shifters here, but the six-speed automatic’s manual shifting gate comes in handy on the highway. A tall fifth gear keeps you at just 1,400rpm at 80kph, and sixth allows the same at 100kph. Fuel economy cruising in fifth falls between 18-20km/L, and should get better as the engine breaks in.
Ride and handling
On the road, the MU-X continues a long-term trend of focusing more on driving dynamics and less on nautical dynamics. Which means gigantic 265/50 R20 Bridgestone Dueler H/Ts for extra grip versus the 265/60 R18 tires on the D-Max LS-E. Yes, the MU-X does feel more surefooted in relatively brisk driving. But those large wheels make the steering feel a bit less connected than in the D-Max, and the low-profile tires can get skittish over low-speed bumps, even at the recommended 35psi pressure. The primary ride out on the open highway is perfectly fine, soft and flowing, but the stiff secondary ride amplifies the bumpiness of certain road segments at low speeds, when the bushings deflect a bit too much as the thin tires jump over certain high-frequency small ruts and bumps. Perhaps the smaller 18-inch wheels on the LS-A variant would deal with these much better.
Around town, the deceptively slim greenhouse gives good visibility, and the hood isn’t as obtrusive as in some competitors, allowing you to park nose first with ease. Backing into spaces is made easier by the rear sensors and parking camera, while driving through traffic is made much less stressful by Isuzu’s Advanced Driver Assist System (ADAS). As in the D-Max, this incorporates lane-departure and blind-spot warnings, and will automatically apply the brakes if it senses an impending collision or even a possible collision from traffic coming in from the side.
Aside from the ADAS, the MU-X LS-E comes with adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control, and seven airbags. You also get remote locking, remote push-button start, and the aforementioned automatic tailgate. LS-E variants also get LED head- and foglights, and while the headlights are quite bright, the fogs mostly just tell other people you are there.
On the entertainment side, you get a 10-inch infotainment screen with offline GPS navigation as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto so you can use your preferred online navigation app and sound streaming service. The system boasts eight-speaker output, including rear tweeters for better clarity, and an impressive 15-band equalizer. No selectable presets here, but experienced audiophiles can tweak away to their hearts’ content. Sound is impressively clear and very strong, and only a lack of bass fidelity—especially at higher volumes—holds it back.
So, is it worth the money? Against the 4x4 LS-E, quite. The 4x2 LS-A, meanwhile, costs P200,000 less, but forgoes remote-start, the automatic tailgate, the impressive ADAS suite, and five of those seven airbags. You might not miss the extra two speakers, since the infotainment system is carried over relatively intact, but you might miss the interior leather. And all the other things mentioned above.
See, the MU-X has come a long way from being the bargain option at the bottom of the seven-seat SUV class, and even that 4x2 LS-A costs a lot more than its be-leathered, multi-monitored, fully-loaded predecessor. Yet in terms of technology and safety features, the new LS-E makes a good case for being well worth the extra money. It’s not perfect. There are things I hope Isuzu will tweak over the coming years. But the new platform, with its class-leading driver-assist technology and five-star NCAP rating, sits squarely at the sharp end of the pack.
And the reputation of the powertrain under the hood? That’s something very few competitors can hope to match.
SPECS: 2022 Isuzu MU-X 3.0 4X2 LS-E AT
Engine: 3.0-liter turbodiesel I4
Power: 187hp @ 3,600rpm
Torque: 450Nm @ 1,600-2,600rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
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