Johannesburg - it's a little more than a year now that Isuzu has been making moves for itself on local soil, since the departure of General Motors from South Africa. With Japan in charge of both the light commercial side, as well as the truck side of things, there’s a renewed vigour when one talks Isuzu.

Last year, the company launched its Fortuner- and Everest-rivalling mu-X sports utility vehicle in South Africa, a large and capable off-roader that’s aimed at those with large families and adventurous spirits.

The mu-X was the first vehicle to be launched under the newly established Isuzu Motors South Africa, followed by the re-alignment of KB bakkies to become known as the D-MAX.

It's been around

Although the Isuzu mu-X is new to South Africa, it is already a popular model in several international markets, having been launched in Thailand in 2013. It is also sold in Australia as well as the Philippines, where it is the market leader.

Known diesel mill

The mu-X is powered by Isuzu’s proven 3.0-litre four-cylinder intercooled turbodiesel diesel engine that produces 130kW of power and 380Nm of torque. It is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission which has a sequential sport mode. If you have a boat or caravan, you’ll be pleased to know that the mu-X can pull up to three-tonnes behind it with ease.

Choice of two

Two models are available at your local Isuzu dealer with the choice of 4x2 or 4x4 drivelines. I drove the four-wheel drive version that offers an easy-to-use Terrain Command 4x4 system with electronically selected two and four-wheel drive high-range modes, or 4x4 low-range for more challenging off-road driving. It’s as good as any of its rivals in the dirt and will easily take you, your family, and loads of gear off the beaten track come holiday time.

Like the high-end D-Max we tested a few months ago, the mu-X stands out for its offroad ride comfort. It soaks up gravel surfaces and maintains its steering composure over ‘washboard’ dirt surfaces.

The mu-X is, however, equipped with a fully independent suspension package all round, encompassing a five-link set-up at the rear that delivers this balance of ride comfort, handling and off-road capability.

Distinctive look

The mu-X is easily recognisable as an Isuzu product when viewed from the front, featuring LED daytime running lights and Bi-LED projector headlamps with auto-levelling functionality. You also get stylish aluminium side-steps, 18-inch alloy wheels, tinted rear privacy glass and LED rear combination lamps.

Practical by nature

On the inside, its seven-seat setup will appeal to both families and adventure-oriented buyers thanks to the folding centre and rear rows of seats. It’ll easily swallow mountain bikes or camping gear.

An electronic climate control system also caters for front and rear occupants - the latter having access to their own cooling vents for added comfort when touring the local Lion Park or Kruger National Park, for example.

Feature packed

In terms of tech, a multi-function infotainment unit is the stand-out feature of the mu-X, boasting a 23cm colour touchscreen display with built-in satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality.

You also get front and rear USB slots in conjunction with an auxiliary iPod input and an HDMI port if you’d like to take a Playstation or Xbox along.

You also get leather trim for the seats, with the driver’s seat offering electric adjustment. A leather-trimmed steering wheel is also standard, and its appointed with convenient fingertip controls for the audio and phone functions, as well as the vehicle’s cruise control.

And, should you always find yourself with your hands full, added convenience is provided by a keyless entry and start system, along with ‘touch’ opening and locking functions on the door handles.

Safety honed

The Isuzu mu-X is packed with an extensive range of safety features, including ABS brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and an Emergency Brake Assist (EBA) system.

This is complemented by Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Traction Control System (TCS), Hill Start Assist (HSA) and Hill Descent Control (HDC) which can be engaged in low-range 4x4 mode.

Added safety equipment includes dual front, side and full-length curtain airbags, while a rear-facing camera aids reversing and parking via the colour screen. A factory-fitted immobiliser and alarm system is also included.

Bespoke possibilities

Customers have access to a wide range of accessories to personalise their mu-X.

This includes functional items such as audible parking sensors, a storage box located beneath the luggage compartment, a tow bar, bonnet guard, weather guard kit for the windows, front spoiler set and rear bumper scuff plate as well as side steps. Cosmetic enhancements are also available, such as chrome trim pieces for the tailgate and front fog lamps.

PRICES

Isuzu mu-X 3.0 - R576 600

Isuzu mu-X 3.0 4WD - R638 600

VERDICT

Compared to the best-selling Toyota Fortuner, the Isuzu mu-X makes a solid play for comfort and features at its price level.

But, there’s no arguing that at this price level you could also jump into many other SUVs, such as the Ford Everest or the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport.

So why would I buy an mu-X? Well, it drives as well as the Fortuner you’re considering and although it’s dated inside, it comes with a comprehensive warranty and an extensive dealer network to rely on.

You won’t want for features in the vehicle, and you won’t feel like you’re short on space when going on holiday, so it’s the ideal kind of car that can be paid off and kept for years.

Perhaps resale values won’t be as strong as the Fortuner (or Everest for that matter), but I do think it’s a ‘keeper’ and that it will provide you and your family with many hassle-free adventures for years to come thanks to its solid feel.

The Isuzu mu-X comes standard with a five-year/120 000km warranty and roadside assistance. It also has a five-year/unlimited km anti-corrosion warranty and a five-year/90 000km Service Plan.

Service intervals are every 15 000km or every 12 months.

Drive360