• First Drive: Isuzu mu-X 3.0 and D-Max 3.0

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    The Isuzu D-Max and mu-X stands prepared for the steep challenge ahead.

    The Isuzu D-Max and mu-X stands prepared for the steep challenge ahead.

    Fast Times finds out how much extra shove an additional 500cc gets you

    The mu-X sport utility vehicle (SUV) and the D-MAX pick-up truck have been strong sellers for Isuzu since their respective debuts in the Philippines, offering higher equipment levels compared to similarly priced rivals.

    But these vehicle segments are in an on-going power struggle (not of the Marxist kind). Even in the 4×2 models, which typically have smaller engines than their 4×4 siblings, Chevrolet is in the lead with their 200-horsepower, 2.8-liter Duramax turbodiesel. Mitsubishi is second with its 178-hp, 2.5-liter turbodiesel with a variable-geometry turbocharger. Ford, which has just updated its engine line-up, now gets 160 hp from its 2.2-liter TDCi turbodiesel and if Toyota will mirror the engine line-up of the recently launched Hilux in the upcoming Fortuner, the 4×2 variant will get the 150-hp, 2.4-liter turbodiesel.

    So although Isuzu buyers got a lot of toys with their rides, many hankered for more than just the 136 horsepower that they got from their 2.5-liter turbodiesels. (Indeed, when I drove the 2.5-liter mu-X earlier this year, I found the engine responsive and smooth, but it struggled with the Sport utility vehicle’s over 2,500-kilogram weight.)

    Isuzu has answered their customers’ call by introducing new 3.0-liter variants of the D-MAX and mu-X, which have been available in other markets since their launches. As Fast Times reported in late October this year, the twin-cam, 16-valve, common-rail-direction-injection VGS turbodiesel produces 161 hp and 380 Newton-meters of torque (60 Nm more than the 2.5) and is available with a five-speed manual gearbox (only for the D-MAX) or a five-speed automatic gearbox with sequential-shift mode.

    Fast Times got the chance to test this new powerplant around Bonifacio Global City (BGC) at the November 27 press opening of the Isuzu Off-Road Event at the BGC Open Grounds along 9th Avenue.

    More than enough heaven, but D-MAX needs better manual gearbox
    Fast Times drove both the P1.398-million mu-X 4×2 LS-A automatic and the P1.090-million D-MAX 4×2 LS manual. Right off the bat, the new engine provides performance that these two behemoths have long deserved. Even a small step of the accelerator pedal provides much more rapid progress than the 2.5 ever did.

    Floor the throttle and you are pinned to your seat (and you even get some wheelspin from a stop), though perhaps not as violently as the Chevys or even the 2.2-liter turbodiesel in the old Kia Sorento. But under the right circumstances, the extra power is both welcome and amusing. Much like the 2.5, this new motor is fairly smooth, with minimal vibration and engine noise entering the cabin.

    Thankfully, both the mu-X and the D-MAX have strong brakes to counter all this punch. However, pedal feel is a bit spongy in both cars. Also, much like rivals in their classes, steering is light but offers little feedback.

    And while the automatic gearbox in the mu-X is a smooth shifter, the manual in the D-MAX is not. Much like my Hi-Lander, clutch pedal travel is quite long though light to depress. However, it doesn’t come up as quickly as it should and finding the bite point is tricky. Also, the very rubbery gear-change with long throws was simply unpleasant.

    A positive for both cars, though, is the suspension (fully independent front and rear for the mu-X). Driving on and off the parking area, the vehicle had to mount the curb to go on the road. Both the mu-X and the D-MAX didn’t rock unduly from the shock. But driving around BGC’s impeccably paved roads couldn’t reveal anything nasty. A long-term test should better determine on-road and off-road ride and handling.

    Nice to sit in, but could use jazzing up
    Inside, the mu-X and D-MAX come standard with the same black leather interior, which Fast Times believe should have more chrome, gloss trim and/or light colors to counter its sombre feel. The standard six-way electric driver’s seat and the adjustable steering column helped find a good driving position, with its lofty line of sight, together with the large windows and mirrors, providing excellent visibility all around. Meanwhile, while the standard reversing camera and parking sensors in both models were particularly useful in the 5.3-meter-long D-MAX, although camera guide lines were also available in the mu-X.

    The backlit instrument cluster and center multi-information display are clear, with the latter showing important driver information like instant fuel-consumption readings. The seven-inch, touchscreen infotainment system, which made the 2.5-liter variants such compelling buys, is carried over here, offering GPS navigation and Bluetooth connectivity. Screen responsiveness is good, but the design and graphics could be more refined.

    On the whole, though, the new 3.0-liter engine finally gives the mu-X and the D-MAX some much-needed credibility in the power stakes and makes them better buys (more so, we think, than the 2.5-liter variants still being sold). With further improvements, these two could be even stronger contenders in their classes.

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