When it comes to mid-sized SUVs, Isuzu Philippines Corporation (IPC) seems to follow its own rules and never fails to gain a substantial market share. Perhaps that can be attributed to the popularity of the Trooper, a rugged full-sized SUV (for its time) that went toe-to-toe with the Mitsubishi Pajero when the mid-sized SUV was still unheard of.
Fast-forward to the mid 2000s, IPC introduced its Alterra, which proved to be one very reliable mid-sized SUV that took on the likes of the first-generation Toyota Fortuner and Ford Everest. Although the Alterra did not stand out in styling, it offered more interior space and had a 3.0-liter engine that was almost indestructible. And most of the Alterras on the road today are still in good condition.
Succeeding the Alterra is the mu-X, which has been one of the best sellers in the mid-sized SUV market and boasting the same traits as its predecessor: rugged and reliable, yet offering a great degree of comfort without too much fuss. But it does not end there.
The first thing one would notice when entering the mu-X is the straightforwardness of its cabin; you can call it simplicity but that is not the right term. The dashboard does not scream “high tech” or luxurious; rather the design is very functional and as stated earlier, without fuss. Fast Times is not saying mid-sized SUVs should abandon luxurious interiors; it’s just that there are buyers who are willing to forego interiors that look like these were taken straight out from more expensive vehicles.
Instead, the mu-X’s dashboard has all the controls placed strategically. The climate control system has an automatic mode or can be controlled manually. It may take time to master the climate control system but its design is very functional, with the center knob clearly displaying the temperature of the system.
The touch screen for the audio controls also serves as the screen for the back-up camera. And when the mu-X is set for reverse, the audio volume automatically goes down, making the driver concentrate more on reversing the vehicle. This is a very good feature.
The interior of the mu-X, at least when it comes to space, is very much similar to the Chevrolet Trailblazer. Even the third-row seats are almost the same.
The more observant motorist can surely spot the similarity in the platforms of the mu-X and Trailblazer. But you can never call both vehicles “mechanical twins.”
The front leather seats provide good comfort over long drives and even in stop-and-go traffic. The driver’s seats are adjusted electronically, although there is no memory feature.
While other mid-sized SUVs boasts of very luxurious interiors, the mu-X feels more utilitarian with its very straightforward design (especially the door panels). Fast Times finds this very functional because during out-of-town drives, a vehicle’s interior will surely get a good dose of dirt, mud and what have you, and interiors that are have a more utilitarian theme are easier to clean up.
When it comes to space, the second-row passengers still enjoy a lot of legroom, with one 5’10” passenger not complaining for lack of it. But the third-row seats do not offer much legroom for passengers standing 5’10”.
The front seats and second-row seats are padded just right to make those long drives truly comfortable.
When it comes to styling, the mu-X is the most handsome SUV to be introduced by IPC so far. The front fascia is simple and how the hood slopes down from the windshield gives it a very aerodynamic styling. The bulges for the tires gives the mu-X an aggressive stance and allows for the tires to be pushed farther out, giving it an good track width (distance between right and left tires) that improves stability.
The bodylines are also clean even if some of them are somewhat exaggerated.
Impressive engine, 4×4 system
The variant Fast Times tested was the mu-X LS AT 3.0 4×4 and had the following features: 10-inch DVD monitor; 4WD Terrain Command Select Dial; five-link rear coil spring suspension system; and electronic stability control.
Strangely, it is the LS AT 3.0 4×2 that had cruise control.
Although the 5-speed automatic transmission coupled with the 4WD Terrain Command Select Dial does not look or sound very high-tech compared to the 6- or 8-speed speed AT with a more electronic 4×4 system, IPC proved that the 4×4 system of the mu-X (and its pick-up D-MAX counterpart) has can take treacherous steeps almost without a sweat.
Powering the 4WD variant of the mu-X test driven by Fast Times is a 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine that produces 163 PS (about 160 horsepower) at 3,200 rpm and 380 Newton-meters of torque at 1,800-2,000 rpm. With a variable geometry turbo, the 3.0-liter engine can deliver its power in a more linear manner; so there is hardly any lag, surges or dips when power is demanded.
Acceleration and highway driving
Beware of nailing the accelerator pedal of the mu-X – it gets the SUV running like a projectile. Attribute that to its 380 Nm of torque being available at a very low 1,800-2,000 rpm.
In the city streets, the availability of that much torque at a relatively low engine speed allows for quick maneuvers to change lanes and to take those tight turns. The steering feel is light but not really immediate, but the mu-X is not the vehicle you would throw into a corner fast.
Fast Times tried to throw the mu-X into a corner at 60 kph and the rear would still behave, thanks to the electronic stability control. However, there is still a little slide from rear tires. Now, put the 4×4 system into 4H and the rear behaves remarkably well during high-speed cornering.
It is along the highways and expressways, however, that the mu-X proved to be a joy to drive. With a very torquey engine, it is easy to transition from 60-100 kph and 80-120 kph. And there’s a lot of power to push it to 160 kph.
The mu-X also proved stable during those highway and expressway drives, thanks to its very firm suspension setting that is expected from SUVs. A firm suspension setting has one drawback – the ride can be punishing over major road imperfections.
However, the mu-X had a very good isolation or harshness absorption system that major road imperfections don’t unsettle its driver and passengers. Even along unpaved roads, the mu-X still kept its composure, not bothering its driver and passengers.
At suggested retail price nearing P1.6 million, LS AT 3.0 4×4 is actually the most affordable among the top-of-the-line mid-sized SUVs in the Philippine market. And it makes no pretensions that it does not offer some of the additional features or luxuriousness of its competitors. So there also lies the virtue of the mu-X; it may be the most rugged among the mid-sized SUVs, and perhaps the most practical.
Besides, the Trooper and the Alterra were never known to offer a high level of luxury or even features, because Isuzu wants to stay true to offering practical and reliable vehicles. But the mu-X definitely has much more flair than the Trooper and the Alterra; no wonder IPC still sells large volumes of it.