Isuzu mu-X. Picture: SUPPLIED
Isuzu mu-X. Picture: SUPPLIED

I really must join the 21st century. The last thing I threw into the Isuzu mu-X before leaving Joburg on a two-week journey through the Karoo, Western Cape and Eastern Cape was a box of CDs. What better way to kill time on long, lonely stretches than to belt out favourite songs with no-one to complain about the noise?

But 200km into the 4,500km trip, already bored by inane radio DJ chatter, my plans were in ruins. I discovered the mu-X has no CD player, only a USB port, for which I was not prepared.

A couple of days later, in Cape Town, when I challenged an Isuzu marketer about this, he retorted: "CDs are out of date. They’re going the way of VHS."

The mu-X is Isuzu’s answer to the Toyota Fortuner and Ford Everest — a luxury SUV built on a bakkie chassis. While the Toyota and Ford products have been in SA for years, the mu-X was launched mid-2018. There have been Isuzu SUVs in SA before; some readers may remember the Trooper and Frontier. In the brand’s early days in SA, there was even a car, the Isuzu Piazza.

In recent years, however, General Motors (GM), which represented Isuzu in SA, wasn’t keen to promote rivals to its own Chevrolet products. Now that Isuzu has bought out GM here, there is no such obstacle.

The first thing you notice about the mu-X — besides its silly name — is the appearance. There are fewer of the soft lines that have made so many SUVs indistinguishable from one another. The vehicle has presence.

Room to manoeuvre

It also has space. Isuzu SA is a sponsor of Rally To Read, the rural schools programme in which the FM is an organising partner, and it loaned me a 4x4 automatic mu-X to carry educational materials to underresourced primary schools, many of them far from tar roads.

Like its Toyota and Ford rivals, the mu-X is billed as a seven-seater, though no adult would want to spend more than a few minutes in the third row with its restricted legroom. The second row, by contrast, offers plenty of room for anyone but giants. However, with only one passenger on each rally, I was more concerned with packing space. No problem. The mu-X had more than enough for the portable classroom libraries, easels, sports equipment, educational toys and other school paraphernalia.

Then there was the drive. Last year, when I was trying out various 4x4s before buying one, my wife refused to consider the Isuzu KB, on which the mu-X is based. "It sounds and feels like a tractor," she said. "We’re not having that in our garage."

And the mu-X, after she drove it on Rally To Read? The coil springs and five-link rear suspension, replacing the KB’s more basic metalwork, met her standards, even off-road, where potential obstacles were swatted aside. "It’s quiet, it handles well, it’s like driving a car."

Well, almost. Cornering, even on long bends, there’s still that slight sway associated with bakkie-based SUVs. And wind noise through the mu-X driver door when driving at highway speeds is intrusive. The 3l turbodiesel is powerful but lacks the underlying oomph of its rivals. A couple of times, on long uphill stretches, I could feel power from the six-speed automatic transmission starting to wane. None of these niggles, however, was serious enough to be a deal-breaker.

The 4x4 mu-X sells for R629,000 and its 4x2 cousin for R568,000. Five-year warranties and service plans are part of the package, along with a full house of safety features such as six airbags, emergency brake assist, electronic stability control, traction control, hill-start assist and hill-descent control.

Overall verdict? Had the mu-X been available last year when I was SUV hunting, it might be in my garage today.