Winner takes all: First impressions on the 2022 Isuzu mu-X 3.0 4×2 LS-E

The all-new Isuzu mu-X couldn’t have come at a better time. With midsized SUVs now becoming the ride of choice for Filipino families or a status symbol (or both), there’s definitely a strong demand to satisfy. Pandemic aside, segment sales remain largely consistent. Couple that with the DTI deciding to roll back safeguard duties, and you get what’s possibly the perfect mix for market success.

It’s great news too because the previous generation mu-X has been around for about seven years. And let’s face it, it was starting to feel particularly haggard. But aged as it was, the mu-X remained a popular choice among Filipinos. Up until its retirement, Isuzu managed to move more than 50,000 of them.

This presents a unique challenge. On one hand, it has to satisfy a strong base which look to the mu-X for its enviable reputation for reliability and durability. On the other hand, it has to capture the needs and wants of a new breed of buyer—a buyer who’s likely new to the Isuzu brand. Thankfully, the 2022 mu-X does both.

Following the footsteps of the D-MAX, the mu-X gets a top-down redesign—the only one in the segment to have done so. It brings a new engine, a new platform, and even a different new product philosophy.

Starting with the way it looks, the 2022 mu-X is far removed from its angular and simplistic-looking predecessor. Moreover, designers gave it its own unique visual identity as opposed to just plopping an SUV body onto the D-MAX’s front end. With its pronounced rising shoulder line, slim headlights, large wing-like grille, and 20-inch alloy wheels, it’s made to look denser and compact visually; even if in reality, it’s larger in every dimension than the outgoing model.

Anyone who’s sat inside the D-MAX will find the mu-X’s cabin familiar. It’s a sizeable step-up from the old model, which felt really antiquated. Overall, it’s blend of easy-to-clean materials with hints of luxury like contrast stitching and a padded dash top. It’s easily one of the best pickup-based SUVs.

Design pizzazz aside, the mu-X offers a solid driver’s environment. The front seats have plenty of side bolstering and leg support. It also comes with eight-way power adjustment and together with a tilt/telescopic steering column makes it easy to find a comfortable driving position.

The second row also passes the all-important family test with good leg and headroom. They recline in a 60/40 split. The rear doors also have a wider opening allowing for easier fitment of child seats.

Onto the third row—two adults can still easily fit there. Isuzu says the third-row seats are wider by 105mm compared to the old model, and that’s believable. Plus, they do offer an adjustable recline as well.

Isuzu is proud of the all-new mu-X’s onboard tech, and they have every right to be. Starting with the infotainment system, it’s got a 10.1-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Curiously, it’s a locally sourced unit but according to the carmaker, they’ve done so to equip their SUV with offline GPS navigation—something their provincial buyers often look for.

The driver too is treated to a multi-function display that’s nestled between the traditional tach and speedo. It displays a whole gamut of information and some functionality is buried within its menu system. It looks complex, but thankfully, once you’ve dialed it in for your own tastes, you’ll probably never need to delve back in there again.

The piano key style climate control buttons work well in the mu-X too, and this layout also happens to free up a storage bin underneath it to fit stuff like phones and wallets. There’s also one 12-volt outlet and one USB port for the front passengers, while those on the second row get two more USB ports and a 220-volt inverter.

Under the hood resides a very familiar engine—the 4JJ3-TCX. First seen in the all-new D-MAX, this 3.0-liter common-rail turbodiesel makes 190hp at 3,600 rpm and 450Nm from 1,600 to 2,600 rpm.

However, the spec numbers only tell a part of the story. Like the D-MAX, the mu-X feels muscular without feeling fast. Peak torque is available low down in the rev range, and 88 percent of peak torque—around 400Nm is available between 1,400 to 3,250 rpm. From 1,000 rpm or close to idle, that figure is already a stout 300 Nm.

Although my seat time behind the mu-X was limited to quick runs around an empty lot, it doesn’t feel stressed. In that regard, the six-speed automatic is a great companion to the engine, keeping revs low most of the time. This allows the engine to flex that low-down torque as much as possible.

Moreover, with a brand-new platform that uses ultra high-tensile steel for the first time (Isuzu says it’s 10 percent stiffer than before), handling is quicker and more direct. The body feels stiff, quelling unwanted vibrations, while the suspension remains unfazed by rough pieces of pavement despite the 20-inch wheels.

Standard on the LS-E is Isuzu’s Advanced Driver Assist System or ADAS. The front two cameras mounted on the windshield provides the mu-X autonomous emergency braking as well as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, automatic high beam, and even post-collision braking. Meanwhile, sensors at the back provide blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. These are on top of seven airbags, ABS with EBD, and vehicle stability control with both hill start- and hill-descent control.

Overall, the 2022 mu-X isn’t necessarily the same quantum leap forward that the D-MAX enjoyed in comparison. However, without a doubt, Isuzu has tweaked and improved the formula to a huge degree. Not only have the design and driving experience caught up to modern SUV standards, they’ve added the right safety and technology credentials into the mix as well.

Those who already know and love the previous-generation mu-X will find this new generation fitting them like the perfect pair of jeans. It’s familiar in many respects, but also improved in a lot of areas. Meanwhile, for those who are new to the brand, they can add it to the growing list of choices in the fiercely fought mid-sized SUV category.

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