Isuzu MU-7 review, test drive

Autocar India
First Published: 16:17 IST(26/4/2013)
Last Updated: 13:44 IST(29/4/2013)
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Japanese manufacturer Isuzu, present in India in the commercial space, has introduced its first product for the passenger car market with the MU-7. This new SUV, with its 3.0-litre engine, 210mm ground clearance and almost five-metre length, is gargantuan. It will compete in the crowded segment against the likes of the Toyota Fortuner, SsangYong Rexton and the Ford Endeavour.  
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Based on Isuzu’s internationally popular D-Max pickup, the MU-7 is assembled here from completely knocked-down (CKD) kits at Hindustan Motors’ plant in Chennai, with plans to shift production to Isuzu’s upcoming Rs. 1500-crore plant in Andhra Pradesh.

Unfortunately, the company has only two dealerships for now – one in Hyderabad and another in Coimbatore – which limits its customer reach.

We got behind the wheel of this Rs. 24.16 lakh (ex-showroom, Hyderabad) 4x2, manual-transmission variant of the MU-7 to find out if the chaps at Toyota, Ford and SsangYong have anything to worry about. 

The first most noticeable thing about the Isuzu is its sheer size – it’s just 5mm short of the five-metre mark, which makes it substantially longer than the Fortuner. However, it isn’t as wide and is quite a bit lower than the Toyota as well. Still, it’s got the big, butch SUV look right. The toothy front grille and the functional intake scoop for the intercooler on the bonnet give it a menacing appearance from the front. The 3050mm wheelbase is long to the extent of looking a bit disproportionate. There are of course nice bits like the flared wheel arches that smoothly flow into the hefty looking foot boards, and the chunky, 245/70 R16 tyres mounted on rather tasty looking alloy wheels. Like the Endeavour, this car has massive windows, even in the last row, and Isuzu has also added hints of chrome in some places like the door handles, the exhaust tip and around the rear number plate.

Where the front is more battering ram, the rear is both subtle and handsome at the same time. The bumper protrudes outwards and the sunken-in fog lamps look quite nice. The wraparound tail-lights flow well with the rest of the body and we especially liked the black cladding, which is neatly integrated into the bumper and gives the otherwise simple looking rear some panache.

As is par for the class, the MU-7’s chassis is a body-on-ladder frame design. The four-cylinder engine is mounted longitudinally and powers the rear wheels. Suspension is via independent double wishbones up front and a pick-up truck leaf-spring configuration at the rear, while the brakes are discs on the front wheels and drums at the rear. Isuzu also offers a four-wheel-drive version in India.  

There’s acres of space on the inside and Isuzu has worked on the cabin to make it passenger friendly and luxurious, something that was lacking in the old MU-7 (available in international markets). But overall quality is a mixed bag – there are some parts that are well finished and look upmarket, but at the same time there are bits that feel cheap to touch and are plasticky. It’s got touches of piano-black faux wood trim on the armrests, dashboard and door handles, which is nice. The leather seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and the gearlever look and feel rich, and the red stitching gives it that upmarket feel. The dash follows the standard T-shaped layout, with the AC vents on the top and a Kenwood touchscreen multimedia system in the middle (similar to the one in the Rexton), which also doubles up as the reversing camera monitor. GPS is not offered as standard but as an option. The steering wheel feels nice to hold, but could have done with steering mounted controls, and the stalks, vents and air-con dials have an air of quality about them.

In the MU-7, you sit lower than in a Fortuner, and the driving position is reminiscent of the Endeavour. However, the seats are more comfortable than the Ford’s and the extra padding they have gives you more thigh support. You get a good view out thanks to the slim pillars and the huge glass area, and the tall gearlever is an easy reach no matter what your chosen seat position is. The middle row has acres of legroom and, even here, the seats are a tad more comfy than the Endeavour’s, thanks to the generous cushioning. Still, it’s nowhere near as comfortable as a Fortuner. That said, seating three abreast isn’t a squeeze at all and there’s two separate AC vents embedded in the scooped-out roof, with the dial to control the rear air-con placed between them. Additionally, there’s a roof-mounted DVD player screen in the second row, which is a feature that should appeal to the chauffeur driven. There’s also a handy flip-down cupholder on the door that can be tucked away when not needed. The door pockets on all four doors are quite slim though. A practical feature is the sliding middle row that has generous travel and allows you to adjust kneeroom for the third row.

The third row is easily accessed by tugging a strap on the middle row seat, which causes it to flip down and slide forward. The third row is best for kids, though, as you have to sit on the low seat in a knees-up position – typical of a high-floor pick-up truck chassis. Tall people will complain of a lack of headroom here, though there’s plenty of kneeroom, even with the middle row slid all the way back. You also get two separate vents in the third row. Even with all rows up, there’s a decent amount of boot space, and with the third row folded, there’s more still.

What is missing though is some equipment. The MU-7 doesn’t have powered seats or climate control, although the touchscreen system and (very necessary) reversing camera are welcome touches. It also gets ABS with EBD, two airbags, remote locking, a trip computer, electric mirrors and projector headlamps.

The MU-7 is powered by a 2999cc, direct-injection turbocharged common-rail diesel engine. It breathes through four valves per cylinder and makes a healthy 161bhp and 36.7kgm of torque. Slot into first, get off the clutch and you’ll find an engine that pulls well from as little as 1000rpm with little turbo lag to speak of. Power delivery is also quite linear and it pulls all the way to 4000rpm with surprising vigour. In traffic, this engine works well and responds to taps on the throttle with convincing urge – a byproduct of the rather short gearing; first gear maxes out at an indicated 40kph, second at around 60kph. This short gearing helps the MU-7 overcome its 1900kg kerb weight and hit 100kph in a quick 11.7sec. Grouses come in the form of the slightly mushy gearshift quality and a clutch that’s just a wee bit heavy. Also, the engine is quite audible at all times. It’s not as refined as the Rexton and gets especially vocal when you’re revving it.

The MU-7 is powered by a 2999cc, direct-injection turbocharged common-rail diesel engine. It breathes through four valves per cylinder and makes a healthy 161bhp and 36.7kgm of torque. Slot into first, get off the clutch and you’ll find an engine that pulls well from as little as 1000rpm with little turbo lag to speak of. Power delivery is also quite linear and it pulls all the way to 4000rpm with surprising vigour. In traffic, this engine works well and responds to taps on the throttle with convincing urge – a byproduct of the rather short gearing; first gear maxes out at an indicated 40kph, second at around 60kph. This short gearing helps the MU-7 overcome its 1900kg kerb weight and hit 100kph in a quick 11.7sec. Grouses come in the form of the slightly mushy gearshift quality and a clutch that’s just a wee bit heavy. Also, the engine is quite audible at all times. It’s not as refined as the Rexton and gets especially vocal when you’re revving it.

On the move, the MU-7’s long wheelbase gives it good stability and Isuzu has done a good job of working around the limitations of the leaf-spring, live-axle combo. It rounds off most bumps well and doesn’t kick as much as an Endeavour over the sharper ones. What’s also impressive is the way you can confidently pummel it over bad patches – it feels tough enough to take the hammering.

And when you start to hustle it through corners, it behaves predictably. Sure, there’s quite a bit of body roll, but the MU-7 never feels unstable and manages to keep its composure quite well. The hydraulically assisted power steering has good weight and is direct enough too. Still, this car is not much of a handler and the Fortuner feels a lot better to drive in the way it responds to steering inputs and in its composure at speed.

Also, the MU-7’s brakes feel a bit soggy and could use some more bite; they are much better than the Rexton’s, but that’s not saying much.

As expected, the turning circle is a massive 12.2 metres, which is on par with the Endeavour, but a Fortuner will be more nimble through those three-point turns. Still, the MU-7 is rather easy to drive in traffic thanks to the raised seating position, the slim pillars and the big glass area.

Isuzu has a reputation for making hard-wearing cars with bulletproof reliability, and this car embodies exactly that. It feels tank-like in its toughness, the styling is right and it has a strong engine.

However, at its current pre-budget price, the 4x2 manual is a fair bit more expensive than its rivals and isn't as well equipped as them. Also, for anyone who doesn't live in the vicinity of Hyderabad or Coimbatore, the MU-7 is pretty much out of reach. However, for those who do, they will find a well-engineered, if old-school SUV that is actually quite desirable.   

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