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Australia’s key role in shaping new Isuzu MU-X

Australia in tow: The Isuzu MU-X was developed with 3.5-tonne towing capacity front of mind – as well as several other features – in order to satisfy the brand’s biggest export market.

Priorities for Isuzu MU-X based on Australian feedback – but supply bottleneck looms

30 Jul 2021

AUSTRALIAN customers played a key role in shaping the second-generation Isuzu MU-X large SUV, which contains features unique to what is the brand’s biggest export market.


But despite Australia’s influence over the MU-X and related D-Max ute, Isuzu Ute Australia (IUA) is preparing for ongoing supply constraints and high pre-launch interest for the new SUV to eventually result in waiting lists.


As well as being uniquely equipped with Isuzu’s entire catalogue of active safety and driver assistance technologies as standard range wide, the new MU-X has a couple of features that make life easier for Aussies who typically accessorise their vehicles, as well as a market-specific version of Isuzu’s 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine.


The latest MU-X was developed with a 3.5-tonne towing capacity as a priority based on Australian customer feedback, as was the fitment of a larger 80-litre fuel tank that is claimed to increase range to more than 1000km.


For towing, the Australian-delivered MU-X has a subtle arch in the middle of rear bumper to make towbar attachment easier and neater – IUA says around half of all Aussie MU-X owners use their vehicles to tow.


Similarly, many Australian buyers fit a snorkel, so a special cut-out and prefabricated pathway in the internal front fender panel is provided for this market to make installation of this accessory quicker and less expensive.


To this end, wading depth of the new MU-X has increased over the old model, from 600mm to 800mm, enabled by a new air intake design and the differential breather hoses being vented higher up.


Unlike the D-Max, prototypes of which were brought to Australia for development testing, the MU-X was tested in Thailand and Sweden, with much of the engineering work done on the D-Max following Australian evaluation carried over to the MU-X.


IUA managing director Hiroyasu Sato said the second-gen MU-X “was designed with the feedback from Australian motorists”.


“Australia is the world's largest market for the MU-X outside of Thailand, and with the significant importance of Aussie customers we've been able to specify our MU-X to better suit their exact and unique requirements,” he said.


IUA has also finally fitted a rear differential lock to the MU-X – standard on all 4x4 variants – again in response to customer feedback, which also led to a reversing camera positioned to help drivers align with their trailer coupling, a heat-reflective coating for the windscreen and, on the top-spec LS-T, inclusion of tyre pressure monitoring.


Responding to customer concern about accessories conflicting with the hi-tech safety and driver assist systems, the company has also developed a dealer-fit accessory range that is guaranteed to be compatible.


Although IUA has secured a decent supply of MU-X models to support the launch, IUA general manager of sales Ben Jaeger anticipated that demand for the MU-X would likely outstrip supply, as it has done with the D-Max that has recently risen to be the third-most-popular vehicle in Australia after the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger.


He added that high levels of early interest for the M-UX and pandemic-related overseas travel restrictions were likely to put pressure on the factory’s ability to meet demand, as well as the ongoing semiconductor supply shortage that was expected to “continue for a period of time”.


“Our initial supply levels we think are quite good, however, initial interest shown in the market has been extremely strong for this product, which makes sense at this particular time when there are more people looking to explore their backyards and that sort of thing, with our sort of vehicle,” he said.


“We’re working really, really hard to increase supply to meet the demand for our new product range; we have no doubt that what happened with D-Max in regards to demand will be very similar to MU-X.”


The Australian-specification MU-X has a 4JJ3-TCX 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine with lean nitrogen oxide trap and hydrogen sulfide catalytic converter to further reduce harmful emissions over the diesel particulate filter fitted to the previous model and therefore meets the Euro 5b tailpipe pollution standard.


However, combined-cycle fuel consumption – and therefore carbon dioxide emissions – on popular four-wheel drive variants has increased from 7.9L litres per 100km to 8.3L/100km, while two-wheel drive variants are now more efficient, improving from 8.1L/100km to 7.8L/100km.


The updated engine has a new block, head, crank, pistons, turbo and intake, resulting in peak power of 140kW at 3600rpm and maximum 450Nm of torque developed between 1600 and 2600rpm.


Representing modest 10kW and 20Nm improvements over the old engine, low-end torque response has been improved with an eye on smooth low-range off-road behaviour, with 300Nm produced from just above idle and at least 400Nm available 1400rpm through to 3250rpm. 


Further ironing out throttle response are a variable geometry turbo and front-mounted intercooler with shorter plumbing runs. Widespread use of diamond-like coatings reduce internal friction, while a steel timing chain guided by a new double scissor idle gearset reduces rattle and vibration while aiding durability.


A new transfer case on four-wheel drive variants has its own electronic control module that works with a comprehensive set of sensors enabling different driver-selectable terrain settings, monitoring driveline health, fast on-the-fly switching between two- and four-wheel drive at up to 100km/h and selection of low range in less than second when stationary – at least 1.5s quicker than previously.


The output shaft is also beefed up, being more than 15 per cent thicker than before and front wheel bearings are now maintenance-free sealed units claimed to reduce friction and rolling resistance while reducing costs come service time.


A beefier ladder chassis with extensive use of high-tensile steel and extra lateral cross-member increases longitudinal stiffness by a claimed 25 per cent and torsional rigidity by 23 per cent.


The body is said to be 10 per cent stronger than before, with greater use of ultra- and high-tensile steel with 157 additional spot welds and bracing between the B, C and D pillars.


All this helped engineers to optimise suspension tuning, the MU-X inheriting its independent front double wishbone suspension design from the D-Max and featuring a heavily modified version of its predecessor’s five-link coil-sprung rear set-up.


Stiffer springs, re-tuned dampers and a chunkier sway bar are claimed to cope better with various types of terrain while reducing bodyroll for improved dynamics, especially when laden, which IUA says was developed with the Australian market’s enthusiasm for touring and towing in mind.

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