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The wagon derivative of the D-Max ute range got a performance boost - February 2017
Isuzu Ute Australia released the anticipated seven-seat wagon version of its D-Max ute range in late 2013, with third-row seating, coil-spring rear suspension and rear axle disc brakes. It scored a performance boost in early 2017.
As Holden did with the Colorado ute, so Isuzu Ute did done with the D-Max: producing a wagon derivative of its popular ute lineup.
At launch in 2013 the MU-X was available in three grades: entry-level LS-M with colour-coded mirrors and gunmetal grey grille rode on 16-inch aluminium wheels with all-terrain tyres; mid-spec LS-U features 17-inch aluminium wheels, fog lights, chrome grille and mirrors, and aluminium side-steps; and LS-T had a leather-appointed interior, climate control air conditioning, touch-screen navigation system and roof-mounted DVD entertainment system.
All Isuzu MU-X models were fitted with Rear Park Assist, but only the top-shelf model had a reverse camera.
The D-Max ute's proved three-litre Isuzu 4JJ1-TC diesel engine powered the MU-X, delivering 130kW of power at 3600rpm and 380Nm of torque in the 1800-2800rpm band, using a common-rail fuel injection system and intercooled, variable geometry turbocharger .
LS-M and LS-U versions had a manual five-speed or electronically controlled Aisin five-speed automatic transmission. The LS-T was auto only. Both main transmissions coupled to a two-speed transfer case with a low range ratio of 2.482:1.
The auto also had ‘Hill Descent’ and ‘Hill-Ascent’ modes.
Braking was done by power-assisted 300mm ventilated front discs with twin-pot calipers and 318mm rear disc brakes. An anti-skid brake system (ABS) with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and emergency brake assist (EBA) was fitted to all variants.
Pricing ranged from $44,600 RRP to $53,500 RRP and every Isuzu MU-X came with a five-year/130,000km new vehicle warranty.
The 2017 MU-X picked up the latest Isuzu Euro 5 three-litre engine and six-speed manual and automatic transmissions. Other improvements were the addition of hill descent control (HDC), a seven-inch display and three USB ports.
However, it didn’t get the revised grille and bonnet shapes that the D-Max received. LS-M models scored a reverse camera and eight speakers.
All MU-X variants received full body length underfloor insulation to reduce noise, vibration and harshness (NVH).
Isuzu Ute’s ‘Triple 5” after-sales offering is for five years or 130,000km warranty; five years’ roadside assistance and five years’ capped price servicing. Service intervals are extended to 10,000km or 12 months and fixed price servicing extended to five years or 50,000km.
For 2017 Isuzu Ute introduced a Euro 5 compliant variant of the proved three-litre 4JJ1 engine and fitted six-speed manual and automatic transmissions across the range.
Isuzu Ute made the decision to retain the reliable, proved three-litre four, even though Isuzu has developed twin-turbo 1.9-litre and 2.5-litre engines for Europe that comply with Euro 5. Doubtless, it would have been far less expensive to adopt the 2.5-litre 4JK1, rather than developing a Euro 5 version of the three-litre.
However, Isuzu Ute Australia execs and the dealer body were determined to continue using the long-serving larger engine that has proved itself in Holden Rodeos, the first Colorado and in Isuzu Utes, MU-Xs and N Series trucks in Australia.
The Isuzu 4JJ1 diesel has by far the best pedigree in the ute market.
Improvements to pistons, injectors and common-rail supply pump, plus fitment of a variable geometry turbo and larger EGR cooler with bypass valve have seen torque increase by 50Nm, along with a widening of the torque band. Although peak torque is still produced at 2000-2200rpm, the previous 380Nm torque peak is available from 1700-3500rpm, greatly increasing engine flexibility.
The Euro 5 Isuzu 4JJ1-TC engine is fitted with a diesel particulate filter (DPF), as are all new ute diesels. However, there's no selective catalytic reduction (SCR) converter and therefore no need for urea (AdBlue) injection and storage tank.
The DPF needs a soot-removing burn-off approximately every 500km and this is done automatically by the engine ECU post-injecting fuel to raise the temperature of the exhaust gases. There is no manual regeneration function.
As with most DPF-equipped engines there is an upper ‘X’ mark on the dipstick to show if the sump capacity has increased through unburnt DPF-regeneration fuel draining into the sump. Stated oil change intervals are at 20,000km, but if we owned a D-Max with DPF it would get oil drains every 10,000km.
On and off road in the 2107 D-Max
The Euro 5 engine was very pleasant to operate, having a smooth power and torque delivery from around 1400rpm. There was no noticeable turbo lag, no surging and no flat spot.
Matched to new six-speed manual and automatic transmissions the 4JJ delivered like a turbine.
Engine noise was subdued by additional sound deadening materials and probably by the DPF. However, it was still obviously a light truck engine, not a car diesel.
New overdrive gearing saw the engine spinning at a relatively low 1900rpm at 110km/h, but response to accelerator pedal pressure was instant, with no stumbling or power delivery delay.
Triple-cone synchros on 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears in the manual box made the shift action somewhat heavy, but the gate gave much better gear selection than the six-speeds fitted to the Ford Everest, BT-50 and Amarok, if not as slick as the HiLux's new manual.
The D-Max's Aisin auto is a beauty, with almost seamless up and down shifts.
On road the latest MU-X handled predictably and the rear end behaved well on bumps. Steering is still hydraulic, not electric, and feel was excellent.
Off road the ute climbed very steep grades with little accelerator pressure and engine braking - even in the auto models - was quite strong. Hill descent control is standard and descent speed is regulated by the brake pedal: push on the brake at the desired speed setting and the HDC system maintains that figure, except in loose or slippery conditions where the tyres may slip a little.
The MU-X relies on its traction control electronics to limit wheelspin and there is no limited slip diff or diff lock options available. Hopefully there’ll be a Harrop E-Locker for the new back end soon.
The interior is little changed and ergonomics are good. However, the steering column is still tilt-only, not telescopic.
On and off road in the 2013 model
Isuzu Ute did great job converting its light commercial vehicle into a wagon. Ride was, if anything, too soft and the dampers could certainly have done with upgrading for spirited driving. There was some slight 'booming' on rough surfaces, but, generally the MU-X's cabin was very quiet.
Getting comfortable behind the tilt-only wheel was easy in the case of the LS-T test vehicle that had a power-adjustable driver's seat. Leather seat coverwaing s also a feature of this model and we liked the suede-finish surface on the seat cushion and back rest that held us in place when cornering.
The MU-X didn't lead the medium wagon pack in terms of power and torque, but performance was excellent and fuel economy on our on and off road test was under 9L/100km.
Shift quality from the five-speed auto box was excellent and powerful engine braking was enhanced by downshifting. The all-disc service brakes were well up to the loaded-vehicle task and should be adequate for towing.
Ergonomics were very good and the navigation system had better than average bush mapping.
The MU-X had a supple ride on corrugated gravel roads and tracks, but the weak dampers saw the vehicle pitching over undulations. A set of firmer dampers could cure that issue. We also feel that firmer springs would be necessary for heavy towing and for fully-loaded operation on long bush trips.
As with the D-Max ute range the MU-X was well geared for rock climbing and descending and ground clearance was adequate for most people's needs. On beach sand we dropped pressures to 16psi and the MU-X drove effortlessly.
Many seven-seaters have difficult third-row seating access, but the MU-X was one of the best we've tested. Both second-row seats tumbled forward completely - once the headrests were easily pushed down - leaving ample room for adults to clamber into the third row. However, as with most seven-seaters, the back seats were best reserved for kids.
The cargo area had some floor-height compromise from its ute heritage, but the payoff was a high-set, under-floor spare wheel that didn't intrude into the departure angle envelope. The third-row seats didn't fold into a floor recess, but a false floor section at the rear of the cargo area helped form a flat floor.
For additional fuel tankage it should be easy enough to fit a swing-away spare wheel carrier and slot a second tank in the spare wheel well.
With some damper tweaking and maybe a set of stiffer springs we'd take a loaded MU-X just about anywhere Outback, we reckon.
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