BUYERS GUIDE - WAGONS MEDIUM
Isuzu Ute Australia released the anticipated seven-seat wagon version of its D-Max ute range in late 2013. It scored a performance boost and specification changes in 2017 and upgrades in 2018 and 2019. The third-generation MU-X was launched in July 2021 and updated in late 2022.
Isuzu Ute Australia unveiled the third-generation Isuzu MU-X, with premium features, new levels of comfort and convenience and class-leading safety and connectivity technology. The proved three-litre diesel was upgraded, as was the coil-spring, five-link rear suspension.
The highlight of the 2021 MU-X was Isuzu’s safety and driver assistance technology, in the form of of Isuzu’s Intelligent Driver Assistance System (IDAS), as standard on all models. IDAS was released on the 2021 D-MAX in late-2020.
Vital for IDAS was an Hitachi 3D binocular camera that can detect and measure distance, size, velocity and depth of vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and other potential obstacles around the MU-X. With a three-fold wider field-of-view than conventional monocular systems, this 3D camera system is said to enable IDAS to detect more subjects with a lower risk of miss-detection.
The 3D camera system integrates data from radar sensors housed in the rear bumper, allowing IDAS to monitor and react to any potential hazards around the vehicle. The radar system also operates the vehicle’s rear cross traffic alert (RCTA) system that monitors approaching vehicles when reversing from a parking space or driveway.
IDAS incorporates lane departure prevention (LDP), Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Emergency Lane Keeping (ELK) systems will either alert the driver when the MU-X is venturing out of the lane or engage systems that will actively steer the MU-X back towards the centre of the lane at speeds above 60km/h and when safe to do so.
The main IDAS 3D cameras are mounted at the top of the windshield, high-up and away from any potential hazards so not to be the subject to damage from stone and debris when driven on or off-road. Mounting the system high-up also increases the camera’s range and depth perception, allowing IDAS to process more information from varied angles to identify and determine potential hazards earlier to allow the system more time to react and alleviate the vehicle’s approach.
Another significant benefit of the IDAS is the seamless integration with accessories. With many ute owners opting to install frontal protection to their utes, Isuzu has engineered IDAS to work in conjunction with Isuzu UTE Genuine frontal protection options, such as nudge bars and bull bars—including bull bars with UHF aerials fitted.
Coinciding with the launch of the All-New Isuzu MU-X, a range of Genuine Isuzu nudge bars and bull bars in steel and alloy—with provisions to mount a UHF antenna at the dedicated mount spot—will be available. These Genuine Isuzu UTE accessories have been specifically engineered and calibrated to work in complete harmony with Isuzu’s IDAS.
IDAS has been given extensive localised testing, Isuzu Ute Australia claimed, enabling Isuzu engineers to calibrate the traffic sign recognition (TSR) to suit Australian road signage. TSR scans the road ahead for traffic and speed signs, relaying the speed zone to the driver via a 108mm multi-information display (MID). If the intelligent speed limiter (ISL) is active, it will automatically reset to that speed limit.
The MU-X range features autonomous emergency braking (AEB) combined with forward collision warning (FCW) to alert the driver, before applying the brakes to bring the vehicle to a stop.
Turn assist intervenes if it detects that the MU-X is crossing the path of another vehicle.
Adaptive cruise control (ACC) maintains a designated vehicle speed, when safe, at a pre-designated distance from the vehicle ahead. Driver attention assist (DAA) detects actions that indicate the driver is drowsy or distracted and suggests a rest break.
Studies show that the majority of multi-vehicle incidents occur during bumper to bumper traffic conditions. Mis-acceleration mitigation (MAM) is standard on all models and is designed to prevent unintentionally driving into the vehicle in front, during slow speed situations, up to 10km/h. If an incident occurs, post-collision braking (PCB), automatically applies brake force to bring the MU-X to a stop.
Automatic Bi-LED headlights are standard on all model grades.
All MU-X models come standard with a reversing camera with integrated parking lines and rear IDAS radar sensors.
With a braked towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes, all models come with trailer sway control (TSC) that is designed to intervene if trailer sway is detected. An electronic trailer brake controller is a dealer-fit option, as is a weight-distribution-hitch tow bar.
Inside the cabin, eight airbags surround the driver and passengers, including dual front, dual side, dual full-length curtain, a front knee and a centre airbag.
Constructed extensively using ultra-high and high tensile steel, the 2021 MU-X’s body and chassis are lighter, stronger and safer. Designed with large deformation zones around the cabin capable of absorbing high-energy impact forces, the engineered crumple zones distribute forces over a wider area, bypassing the occupant cell.
With wider and taller longitudinal chassis rails and additional cross members in optimal areas, the MU-X frame has longitudinal and torsional rigidity improved by 26-percent and 20-percent, respectively.
Overall, the wagon is wider; has a lower roof-line; a longer wheelbase; shorter front and rear overhangs; improved ground clearance and approach, departure and ramp-over angles.
Gross vehicle mass (GVM) has increased to 2800kg, with front and rear axle capacities increased by 100kg and 50kg, respectively. Total payload is a claimed 665kg and that includes, people, fuel, freight and towball weight imposed on the tow bar, so the optional weight-distribution-hitch kit is welcome.
Isuzu Ute engineers have overhauled the MU-X interior, with a focus on occupant comfort, higher levels of standard equipment, premium textures and finishes and the latest in connectivity, with smart phone mirroring and hands-free voice recognition integration.
The steering wheel has both reach and rake adjustment on all models.
Passengers have more space, with improvements made to hip, head, knee and toe room. Three USB ports and two 12V sockets – one the cargo area – are standard.
All models can accommodate three Isofix-compatible child seats.
Engine and Drivetrain
Standard across all models is the 4JJ3-TCX three-litre, turbo-diesel engine: a derivative of the proved 4JJ1-TC that powered the previous-generations. Power and torque outputs have been increased to 140kW at 3600rpm and 450Nm at 1600-2600rpm — 10kW and 20Nm improvements over the preceding engine. Mid-range torque has been improved, with 300Nm at just 1000rpm and 400Nm on tap from 1400rpm through to 3250rpm, resulting in improved performance, particularly when towing.
The 4JJ3-TCX has new engine block, cylinder-head, crankshaft, lightweight aluminium pistons, intake system, higher-pressure injection rail and electronically-controlled variable geometry turbocharger. The DPF is close-coupled to the turbo.
The timing is stainless-steel and is driven by a quieter, double-scissor gear set that reduces vibrations.
The engine’s emissions kit includes a Diesel Particulate Diffuser (DPD), introduced in the previous-generation MU-X, a maintenance-free Lean Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) Trap (LNT) and H2S Catalytic Converter, which significantly reduces NOx and Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) emissions. There is no need for an AdBlue SCR system.
Fuel tank capacity has been increased to 80 litres.
The proved Aisin AWE6B45 II six-speed automatic transmission is standard across all models and comes with an oil warmer and a cooler. An electric park brake is also standard.
Part-time-4WD remains, but a revised transfer case with deeper, 2.48:1 reduction and an electronic actuator are said to speed up the high-range and low-range shifts to less than second. 4×4 Terrain Command is also standard on all models.
A one-piece aluminium tailshaft connects the transmission to the rear axle, saving weight and reducing rotating mass.
A driver-actuated rear differential lock is standard on all models, but engagement cancels traction control, which just doesn’t make sense, because it allows the front wheels to ‘spin out’ on steep uphill climbs.
Front wheel hubs have maintenance-free, ‘throw-away’ sealed wheel bearings that are said to have lower rolling resistance.
The 2021 MU-X 4WD lineup
The LS-M had carpet floor coverings; cloth seat covers; power windows and mirrors; auto wipers; electric power steering; air-conditioning with rear vents; push-button engine start; 175mm (seven-inch) display with voice, DAB+ radio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay; four speakers; LED combination taillights; rear park sensors and 17-inch aluminium wheels, shod with 255/65R17 tyres.
The LS-U added: leather steering wheel and gear knob; 225mm (nine-inch) display; eight speakers; power adjustable lumbar support on driver’s seat; dual zone air conditioning with rear vents; spray wiper blades; smart entry and exit locking; powered tailgate; roof rails; 18-inch aluminium wheels with 265/60R18 tyres.
The 2021 flagship was the MU-X LS-T, featuring remote engine start; LED fog lights; walk-away auto-locking; leather-accented interior; heated front seats; tyre pressure monitoring; front and rear park sensors; auto-dimming mirror and 20-inch two-tone aluminium wheels with 265/50R20 tyres.
The 2021 MU-X range came with Isuzu UTE Australia’s ownership care package program, Service Plus 6-7-7; encompassing a six-year/150,000km warranty, up to seven years roadside assistance, when serviced by IUA dealers and seven years capped price servicing.
RRPs for 4WD MU-Xs at launch ranged from $53,900 up to $65,900, plus ORC.
All 2023MY MU-X variants remain powered by the three-litre turbo-diesel engine, with 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque. The big change for 2023 is that Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert are automatically disabled when a trailer is hitched and detected via the genuine trailer wiring harness plug.
This feedback-driven refinement comes a year after Isuzu introduced the Lane Support System Switch to the 22MY range, allowing the Driver to toggle lane keeping functions on or off, at the push of a button.
The base-model 2023MY LS-M scores new six-spoke 17-inch wheels and all-terrain rubber. In keeping with a new, dark exterior theme, the LED rear combination lights have dark grey accents instead of chrome.
The MU-X LS-U retains the same dark grey 18-inch turbine wheel design of the previous-model year, but has a new Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS).
Taking the exterior design aesthetic of the LS-M a step further, the LS-U substitutes the silver and chrome from the previous model year with Magnetite (dark grey) grille, fog light trims, sidesteps, roof rails and rear bumper. Similar touches of Magnetite can be found inside the cabin, across the dashboard and door trims.
A hands-free tailgate system on the LS-U and LS-T, allowing the key bearer to open the rear tailgate by walking towards it and taking a step back. The tailgate can then be closed via the handsfree tailgate sensor, or at the push of a button on the dash, tailgate itself, or via the smart key.
The flagship MU-X LS-T combines piano black and leather-accented interior trim with Magnetite treatment across the lower front bumper and a new set of 20-inch machined-aluminium wheels.
As Holden did with the Colorado ute, so Isuzu Ute did with the D-Max: producing a wagon derivative of its popular ute lineup.
At launch in 2013 the MU-X was available in three grades: entry-level LS-M with colour-coded mirrors and gunmetal grey grille rode on 16-inch aluminium wheels with all-terrain tyres; mid-spec LS-U features 17-inch aluminium wheels, fog lights, chrome grille and mirrors, and aluminium side-steps; and LS-T had a leather-appointed interior, climate control air conditioning, touch-screen navigation system and roof-mounted DVD entertainment system.
All Isuzu MU-X models were fitted with Rear Park Assist, but only the top-shelf model had a reverse camera.
The D-Max ute’s proved three-litre Isuzu 4JJ1-TC diesel engine powered the MU-X, delivering 130kW of power at 3600rpm and 380Nm of torque in the 1800-2800rpm band, using a common-rail fuel injection system and intercooled, variable geometry turbocharger .
LS-M and LS-U versions had a manual five-speed or electronically controlled Aisin five speed automatic transmission. The LS-T was auto only. Both main transmissions coupled to a two-speed transfer case with a low range ratio of 2.482:1.
The auto also had ‘Hill Descent’ and ‘Hill-Ascent’ modes.
Braking was done by power-assisted 300mm ventilated front discs with twin-pot calipers and 318mm rear disc brakes. An anti-skid brake system (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and emergency brake assist (EBA) was fitted to all variants.
Pricing ranged from $44,600 RRP to $53,500 RRP and every Isuzu MU-X came with a five-year/130,000km new vehicle warranty.
The 2017 MU-X picked up an Australian-market-specific Isuzu Euro V three-litre engine and six-speed manual and automatic transmissions.
Isuzu Ute made the decision to retain the reliable, proved three-litre four, even though Isuzu has developed twin-turbo 1.9-litre and 2.5-litre engines for Europe that comply with Euro V. Doubtless, it would have been far less expensive to adopt the 2.5-litre 4JK1, rather than developing a Euro V version of the three-litre.
However, Isuzu Ute Australia execs and the dealer body were determined to continue using the long-serving larger engine that has proved itself in Holden Rodeos, the first Colorado and in Isuzu Utes, MU-Xs and N Series trucks in Australia.
The Isuzu 4JJ1 diesel has by far the best pedigree in the light commercial market.
Improvements to pistons, injectors and common-rail supply pump, plus fitment of a variable geometry turbo and larger EGR cooler with bypass valve s torque increase by 50Nm, along with a widening of the torque band. Although peak torque was still produced at 2000-2200rpm, the previous 380Nm torque peak was available from 1700-3500rpm, greatly increasing engine flexibility.
The Euro 5 Isuzu 4JJ1-TC engine was fitted with a diesel particulate filter (DPF), as are all new ute diesels. However, there’s no selective catalytic reduction (SCR) converter and therefore no need for urea (AdBlue) injection and storage tank.
The DPF needs a soot-removing burn-off
approximately every 500km and this is done automatically by the engine ECU post-injecting fuel to raise the temperature of the exhaust gases. There is no manual regeneration function.
As with most DPF-equipped engines there is an upper ‘X’ mark on the dipstick to show if the sump capacity has increased through unburnt DPF-regeneration fuel draining into the sump. Stated oil change intervals are at 20,000km, but if we owned a D-Max with DPF it would get oil drains every 10,000km.
The Isuzu Ute Australia Service Plus Program includes a five-year warranty, five years roadside assistance and five- year/50,000km Capped Price Servicing.
The rear differential was strengthened to handle the increase in engine torque.
‘Pumped Up’ transmissions were a new Aisin AWR6B45 six-speed automatic with ‘adaptive learning’ function and a six-speed Isuzu manual box.
All MU-X variants offered three-tonnes towing capacity and reversing cameras on all models to aid hitching up.
Externally the 2017 MU-X scored new front mudguards and bonnet, and a new grille and headlight design. Bi-LED projector headlights, with auto-levelling, were standard and front fog lights were fitted to LS-U and LS-T variants.
Complementing the fresh exterior look were new 18-inch aluminium wheels with All-Terrain (AT) tyres for LS-U and LS-T variants. LS-M models have new design 16-inch aluminium wheels with AT tyres.
The MU-X’s interior featured a dual-tone dashboard with soft touch finishes, new chrome and black trimming, and soft-touch armrests and console coverings. Quilted leather-accented seats featured in LS-T variants.
LS-U and LS-T variants had an eight-inch touch screen display audio system with in-built SatNav and reversing camera, and LS-M variants had a seven-inch touch screen display audio system.
All 17MY MU-X cabins housed eight speakers: two roof mounted speakers, door-mounted speakers and two dash-mounted tweeters.
LS-T variants also had a fold-down, roof-mounted 10-inch DVD screen for the second and third row occupants.
There were three USB ports and three 12 Volt power outlets in all variants of the MU-X.
Further improvements to NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) were achieved in the 17MY MU-X, thanks to the addition of new sound and vibration insulation in the dash console, floor transmission tunnel, windscreen seal, firewall and floorpan.
All variants had a reversing camera, Rear Park Assist (RPA), six airbags, four-channel Anti-skid Brake System (ABS) with Electronic Brakeforce
Distribution (EBD), Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Traction Control System (TCS) and Emergency Brake Assist (EBA), as well as Hill Start Assist
(HSA) and Hill Decent Control (HDC).
There were height-adjustable head restraints for all occupants and dual pre-tensioners with load limiters for the front seatbelts, along with ISO-FIX child restraint points in the second row.
All 4×4 variants of the MU-X had a steel front skid plate, steel sump and transfer case guards plus protection for the leading edge of the fuel tank.
The Isuzu Ute Australia Service Plus Program included a five-year warranty, five years roadside assistance and five-year/50,000km Capped Price Servicing.
In April 2018 all MU-X wagons received Trailer Sway Control, 2.1-amp USB outlets and a rear-seat DVD player on top shelf models.
RRP pricing at launch ranged from $43,636 to $56,100.
The 19MY MU-X scored a new grille, finished in grey and black on LS-M models and in chrome and gloss black on LS-U and LS-T models, plus 18-inch machined-faced gloss black aluminium wheels shod with road-biased 255/60R18 Bridgestone Dueler Highway Terrain tyres, for a balance between durability, passenger comfort, all-weather grip and lower road noise.
The interior was enhanced by piano black trim touches on the doors and ambient interior lighting directly from the doors on LS-T models.
Isuzu recalibrated the hydraulic steering rack on all 19MY MU-X variants for smoother and lighter effort at low speeds than the majority of the competition, while retaining steering feedback at medium to high speeds
Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM) and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) were optional fitments and could be retro-fitted to all 17MY, 18MY and 19MY MU-X models.
Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM) uses sensors embedded in the rear bumper to monitor the proximity of objects that may be in the driver’s blind spot, warning the driver before changing lanes or manoeuvring.
Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) utilises the same BSM sensors in the rear bumper, monitoring the distance and proximity of oncoming vehicles when reversing from a carpark or backwards around a blind corner.
BSM with RCTA was available as an optional accessory for $955 RRP.
Front Park Assist (FPA) was available as an option on all MU-X models. Utilising a three-stage radar sensor system across the front overhang points of the vehicle, FPA audibly warns the driver of any obstacles while manoeuvring in tight spaces, mitigating the chance of an accident.
FPA was available an optional accessory for $545 RRP and could be retro-fitted to all 17MY-onwards MU-X models.
2020 limited edition
Isuzu UTE Australia (IUA) introduced a special edition model, based on the top-of-the-range MU-X 4×4 LS-T, the MU-X ONYX Edition. Limited to an initial availability of only 420 units, the MU-X ONYX Edition was available in October 2020, for $56,990 drive away, in two premium finishes; Silky White Pearl and Obsidian Grey Mica.
Inside the MU-X ONYX Edition was quilted-leather accented trim, a six-way electric driver’s seat and a high-definition infotainment system featuring DAB+ Radio, Sat-Nav, Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay.
However, there was still no indication of when the MU-X range would receive the upgraded powerplant that powers the 2021 D-MAX ute lineup.
2021 model released
Isuzu UTE’s 2021 MU-X has been launched in Thailand and is expected here in mid-2021. Isuzu UTE Australia wouldn’t make any comment on the likely launch date or the final specifications and pricing.
What’s obvious is three-row seating – at least as an option – and a dash layout that indicates a similar electronic infotainment and driving-aid package as the 2021 Isuzu UTE D-MAX. The centre console controls also indicate retention of the existing MU-X/D-MAX part-time 4WD system.
Also obvious is retention of a live rear axle with five-link location system and coil rear springs.
The same frontal design cues as on the latest D-MAX are apparent, but the grille is lower-profile.
We suspect the engine offering will be the same 4JJ3 three-litre diesel as fitted to the D-MAX, along with the same choice of manual and automatic six-speed boxes.
On and off road in the 2019 MU-X
The Euro V engine was very pleasant to operate, having a smooth power and torque delivery from around 1400rpm. There was no noticeable turbo lag, no surging and no flat spot.
Matched to new six-speed manual and automatic transmissions the 4JJ1 delivered like a turbine.
Engine noise was subdued by additional sound deadening materials and probably by the DPF. However, it was still obviously a light truck engine, not a car diesel.
New overdrive gearing saw the engine spinning at a relatively low 1900rpm at 110km/h, but response to accelerator pedal pressure was instant, with no stumbling or power delivery delay.
Triple-cone synchros on 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears in the manual box made the shift action somewhat heavy, but the gate gave much better gear selection than the six-speeds fitted to the Ford Everest, BT-50 and Amarok, if not as slick as the HiLux’s new manual.
The Aisin auto was a beauty, with almost seamless up and down shifts.
On road the latest MU-X handled predictably and the rear end behaved well on bumps. Steering was still hydraulic, not electric, and feel was excellent.
Off road the ute climbed very steep grades with little accelerator pressure and engine braking – even in the auto models – was quite strong.
Hill descent control was standard and descent speed was regulated by the brake pedal: push on the brake at the desired speed setting and the HDC system maintained that figure, except in loose or slippery conditions where the tyres may slip a little.
If HDC speed was too slow, a push on the accelerator gave a speed increase: effective and intuitive.
The MU-X relied on its traction control electronics to limit wheelspin and there was no limited slip diff or diff lock option available.
The interior was little changed and ergonomics are good. However, the steering column was still tilt-only, not telescopic.
On and off road in the 2013 model
Isuzu Ute did great job converting its
light commercial vehicle into a wagon. Ride was, if anything, too soft and the dampers could certainly have done with upgrading for spirited driving.
There was some slight ‘booming’ on rough surfaces, but, generally the MU-X’s cabin was very quiet.
Getting comfortable behind the tilt-only wheel was easy in the case of the LS-T test vehicle that had a power-adjustable driver’s seat.
Leather seat coverings were also a feature of this model and we liked the suede-finish surface on the seat cushion and back rest that held us in place when cornering.
The MU-X didn’t lead the medium wagon pack in terms of power and torque, but performance was excellent and fuel economy on our on and off road test was under 9L/100km.
Shift quality from the five-speed auto box was excellent and powerful engine braking was enhanced by downshifting. The all-disc service brakes were well up to the loaded-vehicle task and should be adequate for towing.
Ergonomics were very good and the navigation system had better than average bush mapping.
The MU-X had a supple ride on corrugated gravel roads and tracks, but the weak dampers saw the vehicle pitching over undulations. A set of firmer dampers could cure that issue. We also feel that firmer springs would be necessary for heavy towing and for fully-loaded operation on long bush trips.
As with the D-Max ute range the MU-X was well geared for rock climbing and descending and ground clearance was adequate for most people’s needs. On beach sand we dropped pressures to 16psi and the MU-X drove effortlessly.
Many seven-seaters have difficult third-row seating access, but the MU-X was one of the best we’ve tested. Both second-row seats tumbled forward completely – once the headrests were easily pushed down – leaving ample room for adults to clamber into the third row. However, as with most seven-seaters, the back seats were best reserved for kids.
The cargo area had some floor-height compromise from its ute heritage, but the payoff was a high-set, under-floor spare wheel that didn’t intrude into the departure angle envelope. The third-row seats didn’t fold into a floor recess, but a false floor section at the rear of the cargo area helped form a flat floor.
For additional fuel tankage it should be easy enough to fit a swing-away spare wheel carrier and slot a second tank in the spare wheel well.
With some damper tweaking and maybe a set of stiffer springs we’d take a loaded MU-X just about anywhere Outback, we reckon.