Isuzu is not a newcomer to the sport utility vehicle (SUV) segment as some may recall the Isuzu Trooper Bighorn and Citation models that were sold locally till 2007.
When Isuzu Japan entered the market in 2008, it decided to focus on the D-Max pick-up truck to establish a strong foothold along with the commercial truck range.
Back then, production of the Trooper had already ceased and the distributor ACM was selling what was left in its vehicle stock.
At the same time, Isuzu had already introduced in Thailand an all-new SUV model called the MU-7 that was based on the D-Max floorpan.
However, Isuzu Malaysia decided the time was not right for the MU-7 to enter the domestic market. It was only after the new model MU-X was introduced that it expanded its model portfolio with a seven-seater SUV.
The MU-X was introduced shortly after the turbodiesel engine with VGS (variable geometry system) was launched, delivering more power and torque.
If you are wondering what MU stands for, it means ‘multi-utility’ and the numeral ‘7’ indicates that it is a seven-seater vehicle.
The new model nameplate - MU-X - generally means the same for the first two letters while the third letter ‘X’ refers to the word ‘extreme’.
In Thailand, the name is pronounced as ‘Moo-7’ or ‘Moo-X’ but Isuzu Malaysia feels that Malaysians would be more comfortable with ‘MU-X’ as the name.
Although the MU-X may share a similar ladder frame platform as the D-Max, including the family nose styling, there are no common parts between them other than the engine.
In its second generation, the MU-X has been given softer lines befitting its role as a family multi-purpose vehicle, without losing much of its macho outline. And based on the 3,050mm wheelbase of the D-Max, there is definitely more interior room inside to fulfil its family transporter role with the flexible seven-seat arrangement.
A member of our media team occupied the third row seat on the return drive from Cameron Highlands to Kuala Lumpur, where we travelled mainly on the highway from the Simpang Pulai rest stop to Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. He appreciated the good legroom provided, which was an asset, as the third row is usually meant for children.
Getting into the third row (which has a 50:50 split foldable configuration) is easy by pulling a catch on the shoulder of the second row seat rest. The second row seats are split 60:40 and each section can collapse and fold away to provide hassle free entry and exit.
Using the same mechanism, we could also choose to recline the seat rest for the second row at preset angles to catch 40 winks on the highway stretch. With all seats fully occupied, luggage room would be limited.
But with some seats folded away, the interior space could be freed up significantly to transport even a refrigerator, along with other things.
Even at illegal speeds, we could travel comfortably on the highway as wind noise, though noticeable around the roof area, was not intrusive.
We could carry on a conversation inside without raising our voices.
The 2.5-litre turbodiesel engine with common rail direct injection pushes out 136PS but it is the 320Nm torque that gives the MU-X plenty of muscle to move along. It took little accelerator work to get the MU-X going at a comfortable speed and even at a quick trot on the highway, the engine was rarely stressed working from 3,000 to 3,500rpm.
At that engine speed range, we were barrelling along at heady speeds above 120kph; to drive at the legal highway speed, the engine would be purring at about 2,200rpm.
It would mosey along from 1,500rpm with lots of engine grunt developing early when caught in traffic crawls along the sinuous highland roads, betraying little of its two-tonne-plus vehicle weight.
From Raub to Cameron Highlands, where the flowing winding roads are not so tight through the corners, we could carry quite a lot of speed through.
For the tighter sections, we would engage the manual mode by pushing the gearshift to the right and selecting the gear sequentially that we were comfortable with for taking the respective corner.
The MU-X comes with Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and Traction Control System (TCS) as standard and we could feel the vehicle ‘adjusting’ to the cornering forces that were acting on the tyres as we pushed it through the curves.
As a tall vehicle built on a ladder frame chassis, we were not surprised with the noticeable body roll when taking hard corners. At sober speeds, the MU-X was more level-headed and ride was better enjoyed by all on board, especially with the five-link rear suspension that was more comfortable in ride than the leaf springs of the D-Max.
If there was a need to go off-road, selecting four-wheel (high speed) and (low speed) modes was easy, using a rotary knob on the centre console; selecting 2H and 4H can be done on the move up to 100kph.
Equipment-wise, the MU-X 4X4 comes with ample cupholders, a fairly large audio display on the centre dashboard, a foldable screen on the roof for the rear folks to watch movies and practical circular air vents on the roof.
The second and third row occupants can also adjust the climate system through separate controls.
Isuzu Malaysia is making available two variants, one being the part-time 4X4 and the other is the 4X2 (rear-wheel drive) version; both come with a five-speed automatic transmission.
For this year, the company is looking at a sales target of 700 vehicles, of which 80% would be for the 4X4; the full year target in 2016 is double of that volume.
The MU-X will be launched on June 4 and the MU-X 4X4 has an introductory price of RM160,210 on-the-road without insurance but with GST and the MU-X 4X2 comes priced at RM147,543.