THE rhetorical question of the decade is why a two-model brand built in Thailand that people think is a Japanese truck company is outselling Nissan, Subaru, Volkswagen, Subaru, BMW, Audi and both car and van divisions of Mercedes-Benz.
Such is the power of the ute. And in this case, the Isuzu Ute’s D-Max seven-seat sibling, the mysteriously named MU-X.
The two models have cemented Isuzu’s name on 4×4 shopper’s must-have lists, pushing 27,155 sales in the year-to-date September 2022 figures (Nissan, by the way, found 20,989 new buyers) as Australians found utes and high-riding 4×4 wagons an inspirational ladder to adventure in their own shopping centre car park.
Truthfully, Isuzus are not generally purchased by people who prefer just to be seen rather than actually doing something. Lacing Australia’s outback are lots of Isuzu utes and wagons towing caravans or hauling loads while in the suburbs, visible commercial applications show the brand is a preferred workhorse by various trades.
Isuzu has this year sold 7911 MU-X variants, representing 29 per cent of Isuzu’s total audience. It outsells the Ford equivalent, the Everest that has sold 6805 this year to date and which represents a more modest 17.5 per cent of the combined sales of the Ranger-based ute and wagon.
I have no idea why, but go bush and there are more MU-Xs on the lonely roads than Everests.
By comparison with the previous generation MU-X, this latest edition is substantially safer, more comfortable and quieter, is more entertaining, has a bit more oomph and is subjectively prettier, even though its tall tail looks a bit like a school bus.
The MU-X is aimed at families that would like the ability to haul seven people but also for tourers who want security to store their effects.
One problem with a ute is, of course, that carting personal goods is generally left to the tray which is open to the potential of light fingers. With an MU-X all that cargo and towing ability is in a closed-roof vehicle.
Typical of its genre, the MU-X stands tall – although 35mm lower than its predecessor – to pick up all the benefits of visibility and passenger headroom.
By comparison, it is shorter and lower than the Ford Everest, and has a bigger luggage area that is 311 litres with the three rows in place (Everest is 249 litres); 1119 litres with the third row flat (876 litres for the Everest); and 2138 litres with only the front seats in situ (1796L for the Ford).
You’d appreciate the electric tailgate operation and the fact the third row is quite easy to erect and collapse. The spare wheel is under the chassis and so doesn’t interrupt the load.
Although there’s only a mere 10mm added to the wheelbase compared with the old model, legroom in the centre seat has grown from average to adult size. The third row is still best for kids but I (at 1.77m) went for a reasonably pleasant ride and didn’t find it too cramped. OK, so it was a short ride.
On safety, it leapfrogs the old model, which even on a good day had limited crash-avoidance tech.
Standard fare now includes Isuzu’s driver-assistance pack including autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane departure prevention and lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, front and rear park sensors (rear only on the base model), rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, eight airbags, and two sets of ISOFIX mounts and three top-tether anchors for child seats, plus a lot more including trailer sway control for its target market.
It sits on a ladder chassis and has a 3.0-litre inline four-cylinder turbo-diesel with six-speed automatic transmission, while externally the 2022 model-year MU-X is a fraction longer, a bit wider and lower than before.
For tradies and tourers alike, there’s a 3500kg tow rating (up from 3000kg) and a bigger 80-litre fuel tank (previously 65 litres) although Isuzu claims the newbie is a tad thirstier with an 8.3 litres per 100km average, up from 7.9 L/100km.
Oh, and it’s more expensive. The top-line LS-T tested here is now $67,400 plus on-road costs, up from the last price of the previous LS-T of $65,900 + ORC.