It’s funny how people can be such bandwagoners. Or at least suckers for a pretty face. Yes, the Fortuner is one slick-looking SUV (and one with that precious Toyota nameplate). And the Ford Everest has that ruggedly handsome demeanor that macho image-craving Filipino buyers want. Meanwhile, the avant garde looking Montero Sport, with its love-it-or-hate-it styling, has its fair share of buyers who “love it.”

Which leaves the Isuzu mu-X being preferred mainly for its vaunted Isuzu reliability and fuel economy—not exactly the coolest or most prestigious attributes, but ones that Isuzu is happy to take. After all, reliability and fuel efficiency are two of the three main attributes that made Toyota a gold standard among buyers. (The third is its high resale value.)

Understated styling

The Isuzu mu-X’s styling won’t make heads turn or set hearts fluttering. But it also won’t leave people saying, “If only the designers didn’t do this or didn’t do that.” Having said that, the mu-X’s styling seems to be holding up quite well. Having a gimmick-free design is often the best way to make a particular look stay fresh even after several years. And we know that Isuzu doesn’t change or even heavily facelift its models as often as other Japanese brands—the upside of which (at least for the owners) is that their vehicles won’t look outdated every four or so years.

Nonetheless, the mu-X has its share of the de rigueur rugged SUV styling cues like the “angry” headlamps, a bold chrome grille, thick wheel arches on the fenders, and a tall ride height (thanks in part to generously sized 225/60R18 all-terrain rubber). Upmarket exterior cues come from the LED headlamps and taillamps, big 18-inch alloy wheels, LED turn signal lights on the chrome-trimmed side mirrors, chrome door handles, and low-profile roof rails (the latter three features on the LS-A variant only).

Cutting-edge drivetrain

People who lament the growing trend for big SUVs becoming powered by small-displacement turbo-diesel engines should really be checking under the hoods of the bestselling SUVs and crossovers from Audi,

BMW, and Range Rover. They’ve all got overachieving 2.0-liter turbo-diesel engines mated to six- to eight-speed automatic transmissions. I’ve driven all three brands with this drivetrain combination and the last words I would use to describe them would be “slow” and “underpowered.” In fact, they’re quite fast.

The mu-X’s Euro 4-compliant 1.9-liter RZ4E Blue Power common-rail direct-injection turbo-diesel motor (which replaces the old 2.5-liter motor) pumps out 150hp at 3,600rpm and 350Nm of torque from 1,800-2,600rpm. To put that in perspective, BMW’s 2.0-liter diesel pumps out around 180hp and 400Nm—which means that Isuzu’s new baby engine isn’t too shabby in making power from its seemingly tidy size.

Fuel economy? An impressive 8-10 kilometers per liter in city driving (in my experience) and up to a stunning 35km/li. in highway cruising in independent tests verified by the Automobile Association of the Philippines (AAP) and the Department of Energy (DOE).

High technological features include a well-design combustion system composed of Diamond Like Coated (DLC) pistons pins coupled with a clothoid-curve combustion chamber, new fracture-split-design connecting rod, and DLC fuel-injector needles—which are all put together to decrease engine friction to improve fuel economy and reduce exhaust emissions.

Aside from the combustion system, the RZ4E also has a new water-cooled Variable Geometry Turbo that ensures excellent throttle response even at low rpm. The turbo’s turbine is made from high-temperature-resistant material while the central body is water-cooled for longevity.

For ease of maintenance, the new engine has a Hydraulic Valve Lash Adjuster (HVLA) which keeps the correct valve clearance, a single engine accessory drive belt for the alternator and AC compressor, and a cartridge-type oil filter (which is another one of its ecological features) that eliminates discarding of the metal canister by replacing only the paper element of the filter.

Yet another modern component of the drivetrain is the responsive and smooth-shifting six-speed automatic (there’s an available six-speed manual). It may not have paddle shifters, but it does have a manumatic shift function.

Basic safety and security features

The mu-X 1.9 boasts dual front airbags, three-point ELR seatbelts for all seven occupants, ABS with EBD and Brake Assist, anti-theft system with engine immobilizer, as well as reversing sensors and camera. You won’t find a traction or stability control system or side/curtain airbags in the mu-X 1.9.

Best-in-class smooth ride

What you’ll get, however, is what I discovered to be perhaps the smoothest and most comfortable ride in its class. Isuzu didn’t mention anything they did differently for the mu-X 1.9’s chassis or suspension (compared to its bigger-engined siblings), but I can attest that it proved best at soaking up the many potholes and broken pavement that inevitably litter Metro Manila’s streets after repeated heavy rains. I place heavy emphasis on riding comfort (in any vehicle I drive) and the mu-X didn’t make me cringe the way I would when I drop a wheel in a pothole in a Fortuner.

Functional cabin

The mu-X’s interior doesn’t set new standards in space, elegance, or luxury, but it does have a very versatile cabin. There is automatic climate control with independent rear AC controls, speed-sensing auto door locks, smart entry with push-button start/stop, three 12V accessory sockets, electroluminescent gauges with multi-info display, an 8-inch 6-speaker touchscreen infotainment system with CD/DVD/Aux/USB/Bluetooth connectivity plus navigation, steering wheel audio controls, a 10-inch ceiling-mounted LCD screen with remote control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 60:40 split-folding second-row seats, and 50:50 split-folding third-row seats. Adding even more convenience and functionality are the—count ‘em—19 storage compartments and 12 cupholders.

There is no leather seat option but it does come with high-quality and reasonably plush fabric upholstery. Adding a touch of elegance to the cabin at night is a blue ambient light that emits a warm, relaxing glow as well as soft-touch surfaces and piano-black trim.


VERDICT

If you want a solid, reliable, spacious, versatile, fuel-efficient, decently equipped, and reasonably priced seven-seat SUV, you can do much worse than the Isuzu mu-X—especially if you place a high

importance on riding comfort. You really owe it to yourself to test drive one.


SPECIFICATIONS

Engine: 150ps/350Nm 1.9-liter common-rail direct-injection Euro 4 diesel turbocharged inline-4

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Drive: Rear-wheel

Suspension: Double wishbone, coil springs, stabilizer bar/Rigid rear axle with 5 link, coil springs, stabilizer bar

Tires: 255/60R-18

Brakes: Vented discs/Discs with ABS and EBD

L x W x H: 4,825 x 1,860 x 1,840mm

Wheelbase: 2,845mm

Other features: Automatic climate control with independent rear AC controls, speed-sensing auto door locks, smart entry with push-button start/stop, 3 x 12V accessory sockets, 3 x (F&R) tow hooks, side step boards, electroluminescent gauges with multi-info display, 8” 6-speaker touchscreen infotainment system with CD/DVD/Aux/USB/Bluetooth connectivity plus navigation, steering wheel audio controls, 10” ceiling-mounted LCD screen with remote control, leather steering wheel, 60:40 split-folding second-row seats, 50:50 split-folding third-row seats

Price: P1,595,00

Test: Isuzu mu-X 1.9 RZ4E A/T
DESIGN8.8
BUILD QUALITY8.8
DRIVEABILITY9.3
PERFORMANCE9
VALUE FOR MONEY8.8
8.9Overall Score

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