Get a good, solid 4WD and never sell it. Work on it. Improve it. If there’s a problem, get it fixed and have the mechanic fit some diff breathers and a snorkel while it’s in the workshop. The point is, as long as its underpinnings are sound and it’s given all the TLC it needs, the 4WD should improve with time.
That was my neighbour’s good advice when I brought home the Isuzu MU-X 4X4 LS-T tested here. He’s the bush-bashing, pig-hunting, roo-spotting sort, accustomed to the agricultural performance and look of his GQ Patrol. But he slipped into the MU-X and his eyes lit up as he settled into the comfortable driver’s seat. I could almost see the cogs turning in his head as he pondered taking it to his favourite hunting grounds. He reckoned that if he bolted on a few accessories – roof rack, LED light bar, winch – it’d be a sensational 4WD for his purposes.
But wouldn’t his mates, in their old Hiluxes, Discoverys and LandCruisers, recoil at the sight of the MU-X SUV at camp?
“Bugger ’em,” he said. “This thing is comfortable!”
On that, I have to agree.
Comforts aside, the MU-X is a well-above-average tow vehicle. Able to pull 3t with 300kg on the ball, it’s more than capable of towing any camper trailer on the market. Unless, that is, we’re talking a rig that’s more caravan than camper. But we know from experience that even when towing at its capacity, the intercooled four-cylinder turbodiesel engine, which puts out 380Nm of torque and a decent 130kW of power, holds its own. The torque and power outputs might not be anything to get too excited about, but the engine hunkers down and gets on with the job of hauling – it’s not overly phased by hard work.
With my Goldstream Gold Wing III hitched up, the MU-X was, in the words of Homer Simpson, as surefooted as a mountain goat. Weighing about 1550kg Tare, the Goldstream is fairly representative (in terms of weight) of the average camper trailer. With about 150kg on the towball, we didn’t use a weight distribution hitch and, frankly, the MU-X motored on with only a small amount of drooping in the rear suspension.
The independent coil front and rear multi-link coil suspension is a standard setup. You mightn’t expect a lush man-about-town ride but I was slightly surprised. While it felt somewhat soft at the front end, the suspension did a good job of controlling the ride, even with a camper trailer hitched up. The steering is direct and the vehicle corners quite well, with minimal body roll.
As for fuel efficiency, Isuzu quotes 10.3L/100km for city driving and 7.1L/100km on the open highway. Our testing showed similar figures. When hitched up, however, the MU-X drank just under 10L/100km on the open highway but conditions didn’t allow us to test fuel consumption in heavy traffic. You could safely add a few litres per 100km, though.
The MU-X is available in a number of variants, the base model LS-M, mid-range LS-U, and the top-end LS-T. Each is also available as a 4X2.
As the top of the line MU-X, the 4WD LS-T is fitted with a swag of features. Electronic stability control, anti-skid braking with electronic brakeforce distribution, traction control, hill start assist, reversing camera, six airbags, engine immobiliser… the list goes on. Underbody armour, cruise control, a touchscreen audio system, keyless entry. What else? Well, my kids loved the ceiling-mounted 10in DVD monitor, so you’ll never have to wrestle with those hopeless portable units that strap to the headrests of the front seats again.
Useful side steps and grab handles make it easier to jump aboard – being a body-on-chassis design, you might expect a bit of a climb, but there are no difficulties here.
The driver’s seat affords a clear, if not commanding, view of the road ahead, while side and rear vision is good too.
The second-row seating is quite comfortable and the rear cargo area affords a decent amount of space for family travels, particularly with the third-row seating lowered.
As tested, our Travel In-branded tested vehicle was fitted with a towbar, carpet floor mats, a full set of weather shields, snorkel, and black nudge bar.
THE WRAP UP
While the suspension is a little on the soft side, when it comes to mid-range tow vehicles, the MU-X is undeniably effective. There’s some turbo lag, yes, but it’s minimal. The engine settles into its torque band without fuss. The engine is quiet, too, and the five-speed automatic transmission is smooth.
Will it ever be accepted amongst the roo-shooting brigade? As an SUV designed for a different market, I doubt it. I think my neighbour was getting into his Christmas punch a little too early when he made those remarks. But is it an effective, affordable, well-considered and designed tow vehicle that delivers where it counts? You bet.
PRICE AS SHOWN
Price as tested $56,424 ($50,990 drive-away base price, without the options fitted to this vehicle).
HITS AND MISSES
- Heft tow capacity – can tow any camper on the market
- Comfortable interior
- Impressive fuel economy
- Slightly soft suspension
- Won’t suit the super-4WD set