Long-term test: 2019 Isuzu mu-X 3.0 AWD

The perfect flaw

Anonymity can be a wonderful thing. As 2019 was drawing to a close, I reflected on some of the colourful cars we tested and decided to book something mundane for the holidays. You know, some large bakkie-based SUV with seven seats and a clattering diesel engine. Have you met the Isuzu mu-X yet?

Regular NamWheels readers should have at least three encounters under the belt while, to me, it feels like at least double that. Although the Japanese bakkie builders only sell two models (3.0 Auto or this 3.0 AWD Auto), the press fleet guardians kept sending us one Mucks after the other. I think one of them may have even been silver.

Then there was the one with the optional Eaton diff lock which we took to the Cederberg region. So why on earth would I want to drive one for the seventh time? I’ll give you two simple reasons. One, the car is big and comfy and roomy enough for my growing family… and two, I needed some extra time to explore a couple of chinks in its armor.

What chinks?

For starters, the bakkie base and antiquated turbo-diesel engine are not the most sophisticated fellas on the planet but after three weeks in their company I realized that their combined efforts are no worse than some of the mu-X’s more established rivals. Everything jiggles, drones, vibrates and oscillates a lot. 

An upside of that is a spongy suspension which gobbles up speed bumps and is fairly apt at smoothing out rough roads, while its counterpart is hard-core lean in fast corners… and hair-raising antics during spirited driving. It also nose-dives severely under full braking; although the stopping distance of 43m is par for this segment.

Another thing I wanted to investigate was the long-term effect of those handsome 18-inch alloys. Where other rustic SUV’s still rely on 17-inch rims, the Isuzu sacrifices half an inch of sidewall between you and the road surface. This translates into a slightly choppy slow-speed ride but never became an annoyance during our 35-day test.

All of the countless Muxes we’ve had underfoot were shod with Bridgestone Dueler H/T rubber of the dimension 255/65R18 on all corners. It was their road-biased construction which woke the skeptic in me but he already piped down after some rocky adventures in the Cederberg last year.

I also wanted to check the continued function of Isuzu’s big touch-screen media system which suffered a few hick-ups in earlier tests. Unfortunately this is a flaw every driver confirmed numerous times… the system is far from intuitive, sometimes takes 10 minutes to boot up, randomly forgets Bluetooth buddies, and its row of physical buttons became inoperative a few times.

Thankfully the unit can still be worked via the touch-screen or steering wheel buttons but it’s a frustration that would send me straight to my nearest Isuzu dealer. Where I would also get a bit huffy about the bizarre menu layout (e.g. audio folders), poor sound quality (despite speakers in the ceiling), and that obscured dash-top binnacle.

Of course it could also be seen in a positive light because it’s a great place to hide valuables from people who don’t expect a storage bin behind that large screen. This includes anyone who’s a bit shy on patience (like children or burglars) and won’t have the resilience to fidget with both hands until the lid button obeys.

Speaking of which, accessing the two rear seats can also be a faff if you’re not practiced in the exercise. Space back there is suitable for kids or small adults while the rear bench will house three more pax of the same description. Two adults at the front (or on the middle bench) can enjoy superb head- and leg-room.

“This is a gigantic family mover for 685k.”

I’d really like to swing back to the positive aspects of this vehicle but quickly need to warn any potential buyers of the following. Its overtaking performance is ponderous; adjust your driving style accordingly. The doors and interior plastics feel cheap and hardy because they are. This is a gigantic family mover for 685k.

Fuel consumption isn’t spectacular and our overall consumption for roughly 2,500km was just under 10L/100km. This included a leisurely return trip to and around Knysna. Other noteworthy notes are a 65L fuel tank, full-size spare wheel, decent dipped-beam headlights but only average main beam (brights) range.

At this point in my review I wanted to ask for my wife’s valued input but it’s completely superfluous because she LOVED the big Isuzu. Iffy brights? No problem. The stupid audio system doesn’t want to pair with a phone? Didn’t care. It’s noisy and wonky and slow and… Whatever. My better half is a complete mu-X disciple.

So, like, a Muxiple?

I presented my best arguments, highlighted all its irritating flaws and spoke of its competitors in an animated fashion but Mommy wasn’t having any of it. The mu-X is a great car in her eyes and that’s all that matters. It rides well so the toddler doesn’t wake up. It’s got ground clearance for the farm roads. And it swallowed anything and everything we could throw at it.

That led me to a slightly bizarre but satisfying conclusion. In my humble opinion, the Isuzu mu-X is not a great car. It’s an O.K.-ish SUV, reasonably capable long-distance hauler and fairly comfy seven-seater. It isn’t even good value but it’s got the potential to fit perfectly into someone’s busy life.

Oh, and it grants you a high degree of anonymity.

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