Jaco Van Der Merwe

By Jaco Van Der Merwe

Head of Motoring

Can new entry-level Isuzu MU-X dent Toyota Fortuner’s pride?

Seven-seater SUV has lost ground since the arrival of the Mahindra Scorpio-N.

The Isuzu D-Max’s continued sales success has earned it a place as permanent resident in South Africa’s top three bakkie club. The same can’t be said of its seven-seater SUV sibling, the Isuzu MU-X.

While the D-Max’s sales numbers are a dead cert to hit four digits on given month, the MU-X struggles to get out of the double digits. It is miles behind the segment leader the Toyota Fortuner and even the Ford Everest, which in itself is a distant second to the Fortuner.

Like The Citizen Motoring has said many times, the sales numbers of the Everest, the MU-X and the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport for that matter, are by no means an indication of them being inferior products to the Fortuner. A big part of it comes down to South Africa’s brand loyalty towards Toyota.

And even though the Isuzu MU-X has been winning the fight against the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, it has new problems in the form of the Mahindra Scorpio-N. Since the Indian seven-seater’s arrival in February, it has outsold the MU-X in five out of seven months.

Enter ‘baby’ Isuzu MU-X

Isuzu’s timing of introducing a new-entry level derivative last month could therefore not have been better. At R708 800, the MU-X 1.9TD LS is the new gateway to Isuzu’s SUV range. It is almost R100k more affordable than the previous base model, the Isuzu MU-X 3.0TD LS.

The Isuzu MU-X 1.9TD is only offered with automatic transmission and in 4×2 guise.

It is the first MU-X derivative to get the 1 899 cc four-cylinder turbodiesel engine that also serves on the D-Max range. The mill sends 110kW of power and 350Nm of torque to the rear wheels via six-speed automatic transmission.

ALSO READ: Facelift Isuzu MU-X keener than ever to match Toyota Fortuner and Ford Everest

Gets the job done

After spending a week in the “baby” Isuzu MU-X, we are a tad divided over its powertrain. On face value, it does not disappoint. As it says 1.9 on the box and not 3.0, it naturally felt more lethargic than its 140kW/450Nm big brother. But once you learn to live with its nature and limitations, it gets through everyday life with little hassle.

While the urge for a little extra oomph will result in the box gearing down much more than in the 3.0 litre derivative, it is something most will gladly accept as a compromise for its fuel consumption. We managed to achieve a number of 8.8 litres per 100km over the course of 593km, with a range of close to 1 000km possible on its 80 litre tank.

Isuzu MU-X 1.9TD
The Isuzu MU-X 1.9TD LS rides on 18-inch alloy wheels. Picture: Charl Bosch

What did not sit so well with us is the auto box does not do this mill justice. The 1.9-litre manual derivatives of the D-Max and Isuzu-underpinned Mazda BT-50 were a pleasure to drive. In three-pedal guise, both the second and third gears are extremely torquey. That results in the kind of acceleration you won’t normally associate with an oil-burner wearing “only” a 1.9 badge on the tailgate.

ALSO READ: All-new Toyota Fortuner could be on course for 2023 reveal

Decent spec set

Being an LS derivative, the 1.9-litre Isuzu MU-X features the same specification sheet as the 3.0-litre base model. Highlights include LED daytime running lights and foglights, automatic LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, reverse camera, front and rear parking sensors, tilt and telescopic steering column adjustment, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, partial leather seat trim and eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat, roof rails and 18 inch alloy wheels.

While missing out on the top-end safety systems, it does come standard with seven trailer sway control, hill-descent control, hill-start assist, electronic stability control, ABS with EBD and BA and cruise control.

Isuzu MU-X 1.9TD LS
The entry-level MU-X comes standard with a 7 inch infotainment system. Picture: Charl Bosch

We could live with little creature comforts the LS misses out on like a leather gear knob, remote start, tyre pressure monitor, a 9 inch infotainment system, ambient door lightning, automatic paddle shifters, heated seats and top-end safety systems like lane-keep assist and blind-spot monitor. The only feature we really missed which the LS lacks is an electric lift gate.

ALSO READ: Ford Everest takes the guesswork out of finding Angie’s G-Spot

New Isuzu MU-X deserves credit

Isuzu deserves credit for bringing in the MU-X 1.9TD LS at R708 000 because the range’s overall price point has no doubt been a factor in hindering its sales. It is only R10 200 more than the locally-built Toyota Fortuner 2.4GD-6 automatic priced at R697 800. The Pajero Sport range starts at R769 990 and the Everest at over R800k.

Only time will tell if this MU-X can give Isuzu bigger market share in the body-on-frame seven-seater segment where the Mahindra Scorpio-N starts at a very attractive R473 999. It might just be a case of too little, too late.

The Isuzu MU-X 1.9TD LS comes standard with a five-year/90 000km service plan and five-year/120 000km warranty.

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