From the outside, the Isuzu MU and Holden’s Colorado 7 appear to be identical twins, but scratch below the surface and you find there are some important differences.
For example this pair of full-size seven-seat SUV’s, draw their respective power supplies from opposite sides of the automotive globe. The Holden is plugged into a new 2.8 litre European designed turbo diesel, while the Isuzu uses an enhanced version of an aging, but robust 3.0 litre Japanese made motor. It’s been a dependable servant in Isuzu Utes for over a decade and during that time, garnered a well-deserved reputation as a tough and tireless toiler.
The launch of an Isuzu that isn’t a truck is a rarity, with most of their SUV’s and the last of these was nearly 15 years ago, were knocked off here as rebadged Holden’s and included the Wizard and Trooper models. However, Isuzu SUV’s have turned up on our market in large numbers over the years via the Japanese used vehicle route, notable the Big Horn and to a lesser extent the Wizard. It’s an interesting call to introduce the MU to our market. One of the drivers behind this decision is to raise the profile of the brand in this country, and to demonstrate that Isuzu make more than just trucks, albeit darn good ones.
In Australia where the MU was launched at the start of this year five different models are on offer ranging from more basic models though to the top shelf variants. Only the range topping $65,995 MU-X makes the cut for our market.
The MU is being pitched to buyers here as an authentic seven-seat off-roader with a passenger car-like driver comfort, with a 4WD system mated to a real warrior of a diesel engine. This is a power plant with a “never say die” attitude, which I always re-assuring if you are slogging your MU through some mud bath in the back blocks miles civilization.
In fact this vehicles cross-country traversing credentials are better than Bear Grills. There’s a front steel plate skid/splash shield and steel plate guards protecting the sump and transfer case. Add to this a tried and tested 4X4 drivetrain managed by an intelligent Traction Control System (TCS) with Electronics Stability Control (ESC), plus an impressive 230mm of ground-clearance.
The MU-X is equipped with Isuzu’s -easy to use “Terrain command” 4WD select dial (2-high, 4-high and 4- low range) with hill ascent and descent control. With the Terrain Command dial, you can switch to 4WD Hi on the fly up to 100kph over dirt, beach or gravel. Another Ace this model has up its sleeve is a 3 tonne towing (braked) capacity, to make light work of hauling the boat, caravan, horse float or trailer.
The 3.0litre common rail turbo-diesel produces a competitive 130kw, but that’s still 17kw short of what the Colorado can muster. The Holden also has the final word on torque, generating a whopping 500nm compared to a more modest 380nm from the Isuzu. There isn’t any leap forward in refinement or reduction in noise levels that you might expect from the latest and greatest power plant from Isuzu.
Compared to the benchmarks now being set in the large SUV segment, and given its reasonably hefty asking price, you might expect a motor was a few less rough edges. While the engines coarseness disappoints, some of this dissipate at highway cruising speeds. There is a lot to admire about the relaxed way the MU carves off long distance with relative ease. Because this working class motor, that’s also used in the Isuzu D-Max Ute, raises it voice fairly frequently, it may have been prudent to surround the engine compartment with additional soundproofing, to bring more hush and decorum to proceedings.
The five-speed automatic gives little cause for complaint, or to smother it in accolades. It does what it has to with a fair degree of efficiency, although transfers between gears at times felt sluggish and devoid of energy or urgency. Generally, the engine and transmission combo in the MU-X, felt a generation behind that of the Holden Colorado, and that’s because it pretty much is!
A spacious passenger compartment comfortably fits five adults, as the third row of seats are more for children. Entering and leaving the cabin is easy via wide opening front and rear doors. Fold down the third row of seats and you have an expansive flat cargo floor area at your disposal.
The suspension is a tad crunchy below 70km/h in town driving with the MU more at ease at highway speeds. Unlike a lot of other models in its class, the suspension set up at times felt as though it was primed for hand-to-hand off road combat. Despite this, the levels of passenger comfort delivered by the suspension in both on and off road situations, turned out to be better than I expected.
Body roll is a bogey for SUV’s of this height and bulk, putting the onus of the driver to be fairly measured, about the amount of speed they apply when negotiating tight and twisty roads. If tackled with too much vigour and bravado, the suspension becomes decidedly twitchy and on edge. You soon the gauge the road holding limitation of the suspension, then its simply a matter of playing within those, if you value stress free driving. My examination of the MU’s 4WD credential wasn’t overly rigorous. It involved driving over some mucky and slippery farm tracks, with a few steep slopes thrown in for good measure. As anticipated, this wasn’t anywhere near enough to seriously test the considerable off-road mettle of a vehicle that enjoys nothing more than the challenge of pitting itself against tough abrasive terrain.
What’s the verdict? Well equipped seven-seat SUV with serious off road talents, but let down by a noisy and unrefined engine and dated five-speed auto.
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