In New Zealand, there are two types of vehicles that have dominated sales charts for years. You’ve got the SUVs in one corner, and high-riding double-cab utes in the other. So what if you combined the two, and put an SUV body on a ute chassis?
Luckily, someone a lot smarter than myself had this idea quite a long time ago, and Isuzu’s new MU-X is the latest, and could be the greatest execution of this idea.
Like the last MU-X, this new one shares a lot with the current Isuzu D-Max, but ups the comfort and luxury to an impressive SUV standard. Set to compete with the likes of the Toyota Fortuner and Ford Everest in this rather niche ‘Utes with Boots’ category, this MU-X starts at $80,990, which makes it the most expensive of the lot. So is it worth this premium?
Starting with the things that carry over from the D-Max, you’ve got the new front end, the turbo diesel 3.0-litre engine, and a six-speed automatic transmission. Power and torque figures are exactly the same as the D-Max here, with the MU-X making 140kW and 450Nm. Towing is rated at the same maximum weight of 3.5-tonnes, and it gets a locking rear differential, but that seems to be where the similarities stop.
In the MU-X, Isuzu swapped out the D-Max’s leaf suspension system for a multi-link setup, which makes its 3.5-tonne towing capacity even more impressive. On the inside, it gets a similar interior to the ute, but the generous use of leather and soft-touch materials has it feeling more like the D-Max-based Mazda BT-50.
Speaking of this interior, drivers will be able to enjoy Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity integrated into the large touchscreen display. Interestingly, the gauge cluster has remained analogue, with old-fashioned dials measuring speed and rpms – but I wouldn’t class this as a bad thing. With seven seats available, the cabin is generous in size, in every configuration. With the third row folded down, there’s more than enough space for a family holiday’s worth of stuff, but folding the second row down opens up a massive 2,138 litres of space.
Despite this multi-link rear, I’d still argue that the MU-X feels like a ute on the road, mainly thanks to its size, and the diesel engine’s power delivery. Torque is plentiful low in the rev range, but don’t expected to be rewarded with a lot of power when revving it out. To the suspension’s credit, it’s a lot more forgiving than a typical ute, and body roll seems to be better managed.
A big talking point of this new MU-X at the local (virtual) launch was surrounding all the new safety technology. It now comes standard with adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, and a raft of others. Lane keep assist is something else that comes as standard, but can become somewhat of a nuisance on a back road. It feels overly controlling most of the time, and turning it off only works until the SUV is turned on again, when it will reengage as normal.
Given how rugged the D-Max is, it only makes sense to see the MU-X thrive off the beaten track, and thrive it does. Lockdown restrictions meant I wasn’t able to go fully into the wops this SUV, but gravel and dirt roads were handled with ease. When things start to get slippery, the new ‘Rough Terrain’ mode will lock up the rear differential and adjust the traction control system for a less-than-ideal surface. Despite this, the MU-X feels at home on the tarmac, and despite the rugged aesthetic and impressive clearances, it’d make for a perfect daily family hauler, and that seems to be what the ‘Utes with Boots’ segment is about.
If a ute-based SUV is tickling your fancy, there are a few options right now. Both the Toyota Hilux and the Ford Everest are cheaper than this Isuzu, but the luxury isn’t the same, and their underpinnings are more ute-like. Cheaper options include the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, and the LDV SD90, but at $53,990, it almost feels like a different segment.
As a whole, this new MU-X is super safe, incredibly rugged, and has a heap of room for all the children/belongings you want to throw in it. With the highest towing capacity in its segment, you’d struggle to find a boat that weighs too much, but at that point, the trailer is probably too big, anyway.