If you listen to the marketing rhetoric of most modern 4WD manufacturers, you’d almost be convinced that it’s not a real 4WD if it can’t tow 3500kg and doesn’t produce the sort of power and torque that was restricted to all but the most powerful V8 petrol guzzlers only a few years ago. That’s clearly not the case, as every single person towing their van around the country in a Mitsubishi Pajero, or 3.0-litre diesel Nissan Patrol, or even an old 80 Series Toyota LandCruiser with 1HZ diesel engine, can attest too. None of these are overly powerful, can tow 3500kg, yet all make excellent tow tugs.
I’d put the latest (or any, actually) Isuzu MU-X in that category – a great 4WD and tow vehicle that’s great not because it’s all powerful and can tow a massive caravan, but great because it realises it doesn’t need to do either of those things.
The Isuzu MU-X has been on sale in Australia since 2013, back in a time when GM Holden and Isuzu were still on speaking terms and co-developed the D-Max/Colorado platform together. Back then is was an unassuming 4WD that was very capable without blowing the socks off anyone who drove it. On paper it fell short of many perceived benchmarks, but made up for it on value and customer satisfaction. Despite it’s short comings, it’s had the second most satisfied customers, usually only losing to Lexus.
It’s been updated since, and now has more torque and more modern features but hasn’t lost its overall modesty, or the capability to tow a van or head off-road. Isuzu has also added a capped price servicing plan.
With a 3.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel engine that can produce 130kW and 430Nm of torque, the seven seat SUV has more than enough grunt to tow a medium to large caravan. Updates in 2017 have also seen the vehicle lose some of the harsh commercial grumble that is a hangover of it’s base as a ute, which has made it a much more comfortable driving experience.
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Fuel economy has always been a strong point for the model and official figures have improved for 2017. In real life, the difference is hard to quantify, although I do record a figure of 8.2L/100km without towing. With a heaving van, it’s closer to 18L/100km, although that involves some off-road towing and quite a bit of climbing through the New England Tablelands. Fuel range is the MU-X’s biggest downfall – the small 65 litre tank is only really good for 300km of towing. In fact, I actually ran out of fuel while towing with it, but fortunately I was pulling up to the bowsers at a small country service station at the time, and they had long hoses (I didn’t quite make it…).
Isuzu MU-X towing
The MU-X can tow up to 3000kg with 300kg allowed on the ball. Once you get close to that limit, though, you have to pay close attention to the car’s GVM and GCM. The GVM of 2750kg and GCM of 3000kg technically allow the full towing capacity to be used in most scenarios – although, included in car’s total weight will be the caravan’s tow-ball download, which while not adding to the GCM, does impinge on the MU-X’s overall load capacity. Most will find that the safest course of action is to restrict the MU-X’s towing duties to around 2500kg.
Still, with 2500kg on the back, the MU-X does a great job. The additional torque (an increase of 20Nm over the 2016 models) is just enough to keep it breathing easily up most hills, where before it was often slowed on accents. Heavier tow ball weights do cause a noticeable imbalance in the vehicle’s weight distribution, too, so consider a weight distribution hitch where practical.
Isuzu MU-X off road
Taking the MU-X off road should be a given, and it’s a pretty strong performer, even though it doesn’t have the suite of modern off-road aids that many new 4WDs have. It’s a great 4WD for the sand, and has good enough approach and departure angles to do some reasonable off-road tracks – I wouldn’t hesitate to do something like the Old Telegraph Track in Cape York, for example, although I would expect to have to replace the plastic shroud under the bumper, at the end of it. 4WD is activated from a dial on the centre console, and high-range can be engaged on-the-fly.
The MU-X is well equipped through the model range, although some features lack the ease of use that I’d expect from a modern SUV. The media system in the upper-spec LS-U and LS-T variants isn’t as intuitive as SUV’s with better phone integration and I struggled with the in-built sat nav.
Safety is quite good in the MU-X – it has been awarded a 5-star safety rating by ANCAP – although it falls behind in many of the active systems that are creeping into today’s vehicles – don’t expect any lane keeping features, or an emergency brake override, anytime soon. The MU-X also misses out on any form of trailer sway control, which is a feature of the look-a-like Holden Trailblazer.
It’s hard to say the MU-X is the best tow car or 4WD on the market, but that’s not what it’s set out to be. It is the best 4WD or tow car for people who just want simple features and quiet confidence at a good price. What the Isuzu MU-X lacks in pizazz, it more than makes up for in modest capability, and that’s an exceptionally good thing when you’re hauling a caravan thousands of kilometres from home.
Isuzu MU-X 4×4 specs and price
Engine – 3.0 litre turbo diesel
Power – 130kW
Torque – 430Nm
Fuel economy – 7.9 – 8.1L/100km
Fuel tank – 65L
Kerb Weight – 1992 – 2062kg
GVM – 2750kg
Payload – 588 – 658kg
GCM – 5750kg
Max Towing Braked – 3000kg
Max Tow Ball – 300kg
Price From $48,000 (LS-M manual) to $56,100 (LS-T auto).
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