BUYERS GUIDE - WAGONS MEDIUM
Isuzu Ute Australia released the anticipated seven-seat wagon version of its D-Max ute range in late 2013, with third-row seating, coil-spring rear suspension and rear axle disc brakes. It scored a performance boost and specification changes in 2017 and upgrades in 2018 and 2019.
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.
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.