Pricing, speccing and marketing base variants is a tricky business. Product planners have to work overtime to see which features, trim, and other details must be deleted in order to lower the price of admission. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but with the 2014 Isuzu Alter-uh- mu-X, however, the barebones formula seems to work perfectly.
The “mu” name has actually existed for a while in other markets, but the arrival of the mu-X is the first time the name was introduced here, marking the retirement of the Alterra name (aka the mu-7) as Isuzu’s flagship SUV, a lineage that traces back to the venerable Trooper.
Despite being manufactured in truck-crazy Thailand, the Philippines is actually a key market for the seven-seat pickup based SUV in the region and with good reason. Measuring in at 4,825mm long, 1,860mm wide and 1,825mm tall, with a ground clearance of 220mm, the mu-X can take on a large (but typical) Filipino family of seven plus luggage.
If the front end of the mu-X looks familiar, it’s because it’s based on the D-Max. If the profile looks even more familiar, it’s because the mu-X is very much related to the Chevrolet Trailblazer and the Colorado. Of course many premium exterior details were deleted such as the chrome on the grille, handles, mirrors, the lower portion of the bumper and a few others for gray and matte black. In this shade of white, however, the bare black trim pieces work well to add contrast. Unusually, Isuzu also found a way to fit the mu-X with 16-inch aluminum rims instead of steel wheels.
Inside, the 2014 mu-X LS has a simple black color scheme all around the cabin. The dashboard is the same as the one in the D-Max and the Colorado/Trailblazer, though the fit and finish of the dash in this mu-X seems better than the Chevrolet duo. The fabric seats may seem spartan at first glance, but the quality is good. As with most seven-seater SUVs, two can sit in front, three in the middle and two more on the third row. Both the third and second row seats can stow away for maximum cargo space; the third row folds flat while the second row tumbles forward.
What’s surprising for this base model is that it comes standard with a 2-DIN DVD touchscreen unit with Bluetooth, USB input, navigation and more, but a reverse camera is an option. Power windows are standard along with central locks and the dual airconditioning system. There are some unusual deletions as Isuzu has removed the power mirrors as well as the recirculation valve; this is the first modern car I’ve driven that didn’t have one.
Twist the key in the slot and the 2.5 liter twin cam, 16-valve 4JK-1 TC engine judders to life; it’s a diesel after all. Those familiar with the previous Alterra/mu-7 will note that the engine is actually half a liter smaller in displacement, but the improved variable turbo means that while the mu-X may make less power at 136 PS (previous 3.0L: 146 PS), the new motor makes more torque at 320 Nm (previous 3.0L: 294 Nm). Being a base model, this one has a simple but effective five-speed manual gearbox and rear wheel drive.
In the city, the 2014 mu-X 4×2 LS works flawlessly. The suspension is superbly plush and soaks up our far from perfect roads smoothly. Of note is the build quality in the cabin; no creaks can be heard, so you know that Isuzu’s engineers and assemblers did their job well. While there was no fuel meter, a quick fill up in between urban drives yielded 9.1 kilometers per liter (moderate to heavy traffic); impressive given the size and weight. Also notable is how the clutch pedal feels; light and easy to use even in city traffic.
On the highway, the mu-X LS is equally smooth and refined. The big SUV doesn’t get unstable when you traverse strong crosswinds (no pun intended) and takes on provincial roads with ease. One thing I would want them to change is the gearing; it’s a bit short as a cruise at 100 km/h means that the engine is already past the 2,500 rpm mark. Isuzu Philippines quotes an AAP-verified test at 20.8 km/l for this variant, though we are unsure under what average speed that was achieved at. Nevertheless, at a 95 km/h average cruise, this mu-X yielded 14.3 km/l with two people on board.
The 2014 Isuzu mu-X 4×2 LS 5-MT is undoubtedly impressive, but the best part is the price. At PhP 1,188,000 for this variant, Isuzu’s base mu-X is in the same price range as a top of the line compact car, multi-purpose vehicle or AUV, making for a compelling proposition on the showroom floor.
Given that, there is now doubt Isuzu Philippines Corporation pulled off a masterclass of pricing, speccing, quality and design with the 2014 mu-X 2.5L 4×2 LS.