ISUZU is the Australian car market's specialisation wunderkind.
Walk into an Isuzu Ute dealership, of which there are more than 130 today, and you're met with just two models: the D-Max ute and MU-X seven-seat SUV.
Sales figures have surprised both Isuzu and the competition alike. The mighty MU-X SUV was Australia's best-selling ute-based SUV of 2016, ahead of the likes of Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Toyota Fortuner, Ford Everest and Holden Colorado7/Trailblazer.
We bought more than 7000 of these Thailand-built Isuzu seven-seaters last year.
With Australia now Isuzu's biggest export market for D-Max and MU-X, revisions to the 17MY MU-X have specifically addressed Aussie customer and car reviewer feedback. Namely, less of the harsh plastics in the cabin and a reduction in noise from its 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine. In short, we want it less truck-like but still with the truck-tough engine and chassis.
These facelifted MU-X cabins now have classier dual-tone dashboards, new chrome and piano-black trimming and soft armrest and console coverings where before they were utilitarian hard.
Exterior design has been freshened too with brighter Bi-LED projection headlights, new design grille, fog lights and alloy wheel design: 16-inch for the base LS-M model and 18-inch the mid-spec LS-U and range-topping LS-T. Prices are up about $1000 for the three grades, with RRPs from $42,800, $45,100 and $48,800 respectively, before on-roads, for 4x2 variants. All-wheel-drives with auto gearbox (unpopular manuals are $2100 cheaper) are from $50,100, $52,400 and $56,100.
Getting expensive? Good news is you'll never pay these prices. Isuzu does permanent drive away deals, and its adverts show the range-topping new 17MY MU-X LS-T 4x4 is $52,990 drive away. It's confusing, but these on-the-road deals are markedly more appealing than those steep-looking list prices.
A five-year/130,000km warranty and five-year capped price servicing plan also trumps most of the competition. Carried over is the 3.0-litre diesel "Euro5 compliant" engine introduced specifically for the Australian MU-X range just a few months ago. With 130kW and 430Nm (up fro 380Nm) it's not the most powerful or torquiest in the segment, but it is the most economical by returning 7.9l/100km when mated to Isuzu's new six-speed automatic transmission.
Judging by the MU-X's popularity with those favouring old-school larger displacement engines, reliability and towing grunt (3000kg is your limit here), the diesel's power and peak torque available from a low 1700rpm is ample.
Standard gear on all MU-X variants include seven seats, touchscreen audio system (7-inch for LS-M, 8-inch the top two), reverse camera with rear parking sensors and LED daytime running lights.
LS-U grades bring sat nav, chrome exterior styling, side steps, climate control air con and rear cabin cooling vents. Halo LS-T adds leather accented seats, passive entry and start, electric driver's seat, roof rails, spoiler and a 10-inch rear DVD monitor.
The 5 star crash-tested MU-X lacks the increasingly commonplace active safety and driver assistance systems of some rivals, but such inclusions (unwanted by some buyers) would push prices up.
On the road
The MU-X is a giant inside. Those demanding a true seven-seater won't be disappointed, as the third row can accommodate six-foot adults in respectable comfort. It's still a clamber to get into those two rear chairs though, and while boot space is excellent as a five seater, with seven seats up you've only space for a couple of sports bags.
We wanted a plusher cabin and we've got it here, but the Isuzu still doesn't feel on a par with a lot of the competition. Yes there are softer touch surfaces and a less truck-like dash which are good improvements, but slightly flimsy door trim, switchgear and dash-top storage bin remain.
Leather accents for the top grade MU-X boosts the luxe, and combined with the rear DVD monitor, it's the one to aim for as the family favourite. not least with the LS-T's reduced drive away price.
Isuzu's claiming a 5% reduction in noise, vibration and harshness over the 2016 model thanks to better insulation and indeed the MU-X does hum along with little cabin noise intrusion. Stomp on the accelerator - there's a bit of a delay - and the higher revs do reveal truckie roots, but when cruising it's a quiet, lazy treat.
The 3.0-litre feels very unstressed, the ride comfortable and less wallowy that some ute-based seven-seaters. Yes the steering is vague and the body leans in the turns, but that's hardly unusual for the segment. The big Isuzu has no sporty intentions; no bad thing in the eyes of its core buying market.
Such buyers want the proven towing ability and off-road nous. There's no locking rear differential on offer unlike in, say, a Toyota Fortuner or Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, but our muddy, rocky off-road test with steep enough descents didn't trouble the MU-X, and few owners would push harder terrain than this.
Verdict: 3.5 Stars
Sales leader among its ute-based seven-seat rivals, Isuzu is doing plenty right with the MU-X and has smartly addressed owners' few grumbles with this 17MY model.
A better if not class-leading cabin and quieter ride improves the breed, and with Isuzu's bulletproof 3.0-litre turbo diesel and reluctance to add in-vogue but costly driver assistance systems the MU-X should remain a rugged, value proposition.
Just make sure you ask for the drive away price.
AT A GLANCE
17MY Isuzu MU-X
PRICE $42,800 - $56,100 ($52,990 drive away deal for range topper)
WARRANTY 5 years/130,000km
CAPPED SERVICING $860 over 3 years
SERVICE INTERVAL 12 months/10,000km
SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags
ENGINE 3.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 130kW/430Nm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual or 6-speed auto, AWD or RWD
THIRST 7.9l/100km - 8.1l/100km.
DIMENSIONS 4825mm(L), 1860mm(W), 1860mm(H), 2845(WB)
WEIGHT 1992kg - 2157kg T
OWING 3000kg (braked)
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