I am a purist at heart when it comes to cars and bikes. That, and having been behind the wheel of several hatchbacks being sold as ‘compact SUVs’ has made me cringe often times. I do not think that giving a hatchback 200 mm ground clearance makes it an SUV, compact or not. For me, an SUV has to have a body on ladder frame, a trusty old 4×4 system with a big diesel burning motor thrusting its wheels even at idling low revs. Indian car market has quite a few machines beloging to this variety as well, with the Fortuner and Endeavour ruling the roost in the INR 20-35 lakh segment. Isuzu, a specialty SUV maker, relatively new to India, doesn’t want to miss the boat and after having received some success with their pickup truck namely the D-Max V-Cross, has decided to take on the big guns with the launch of the MU-X – its big fat premium SUV.
We drove their previous offering in this segment – the MU-7 a while back. We did take it off roading a bit but due to the model being a 4×2, we couldn’t test its limits off the tar. However, this time with the 4×4 MU-X, we decided to take it off roading and check its prowess when the roads end. We went out with Terrain Tigers, a group of some very capable and enthusiastic off roaders who take their beasts to some of the most arduous terrains surrounding NCR on Sunday mornings. I joined them with a bone stock Isuzu MU-X.
Now, one of the better ways to figure if someone is really passionate about something is to ask them to get up for their favourite activity on a Sunday morning. Those who really love what they say they love wouldn’t have any issues, while the pretenders would be heard making excuses the next day. I, for one, was up at 5 AM, got dressed, picked up our photographer and a friend and met up with the off-roading group in Gurgaon. We soon left for the off-roading spot which was discovered rather ecently by the group and some tracks were duly laid out thereafter for some tasty Sunday fun.
MU-X Off Road
To be frank, I was a little skeptical about doing tough sections on a media car, especially since it was a stock unit, not lifted and without any special arrangements for higher approach and departure angles. However, I checked the default approach angle, ground clearance and with a capable 4×4 available, felt fairly confident about doing moderate off roading with the new SUV. I decided to use discretion and participate in the more difficult circuits only if I was totally sure of the MU-X’s mud-plugging capabilities.
After driving through some beautiful green pastures, we reached a climb. We watched several modded Maruti Suzuki Gypsies climb up the hill. Very few could do it in the first attempt. The run up before the climb was limited and there was a huge depression a little before the top – this was the spot where they were getting stuck. Encouraged by the more experienced members of the group, I lined up the MU-X for ascent. The rear camera helped in reaching the very edge of the hill to get a good upstart. I switched the 4×4 into the 4L mode, took the foot off the brakes and gave it the beans. The MU-X showed terrific poise and climbed up the first section like a mountain goat until the rear wheel went into the troublesome ditch I mentioned before and I let go of the throttle by mistake. It did get stuck the first time. The trick was to not let the go of the accelerator. I reversed, realigned and gave it the beans again. This time I was cautious, kept the right foot down and as a result saw the MU-X come out so effortlessly, I wondered how I managed to get it stuck the previous time.
Once on top, it seemed it was a piece of cake. Quite a feat, I thought, because some raised and much smaller gypsies struggled. I think some of the credit goes to 380 Nm of torque coming in at a low 1,800 rpm and those wide tyres offering great traction, not to mention the capable 4×4 under the running board. From the hill-top, I had to find a way back down and I chose a steep slope for my descent. There’s no hill descent control button and I didn’t feel the need for one. I actually shifted to the 2H mode just to check how well it operates off road in 2WD mode. Just to let you know, the MU-X comes with a simple rotary dial to let you select from 2H, 4H and 4L modes. Of these, you can switch between 2H and 4H modes at up to 100 km/h. Having driven several high end SUV’s including the rival Endeavour which has more modes to select than on my laundry machine – the simplicity of the controls somewhat massaged my old-worldly sentiments. Here, if the going gets tough, just shift to the 4L mode and maybe turn the traction control off. I like taking control with the throttle and the brakes rather than let the computers do the work. Not that I don’t like computers, but prefer them help me edit images, share them, do complex calculations – not while trying to wrangle my way through a challenging terrain in a 4×4, no.
Having done with one section, we started off for the next route where we were welcomed with a section of large cracks offering a good opportunity for checking out the wheel articulation and tilt angles on either side. We tried disposing the terrain in the 2H mode, and we did taste reasonable success, but beyond a point, we had to switch to the 4L, after which we were out of the ditch we got stuck in, in a blink. The low-end torque from the massive 3.0 litre diesel powering this beast definitely comes handy as things get tricky.
On open expanses with loose gravel, dust and mud thrown in, we sped along with the car in 4H mode. There’s plenty of shove available from the motor, and ample grip on all four wheels even as you hustle this beast. The behemoth gathers speed quickly, while still feeling firmly planted while skimming over loose surfaces. Needless to say, being an off road twisty trail, we were not going very fast, but getting to cruising speed on this trail was a breeze. Even on the rough surface the big SUV handled pretty well for its size, while the abosrbent suspension ensured that the rear passenger was smiling all through. Comfort level at the second and third row seats was pretty good.
Despite the SUVs structure and the size, steering was precise and I knew what the wheels were doing as we went about business. We undetook a couple of other hill descent and climbs. Even when the trails were narrow, positioning the front wheels was not an issue as I could easily judge where they were and the extent of their turn.
The Isuzu MU-X has an appreciable approach and departure angle as even after having undertaken several climbs and descents, the front and rear numpers stayed clear of any impact. The large wheels, high profile tyres and good ground clearance made sure we were not scrapping the underbelly anywhere. We got a section where we could do some mud splashing and needless to say, we indulged ourselves. The MU-X comes equipped with snorkelled diff breathers to increase the SUVs fording ability even through deep water and ensure that there’s no mud blockage while wading through muddy water.
All through this, we had the AC on full blast, sometimes had all three people in the car and were playing my favorite playlist on the Multimedia system through my phone. Soon, it was time to go back and we treaded through some thick vegetation to get back on the road to drive for a hearty breakfast at iHOP in Cyberhub, Gurgaon.
In the end, I came back impressed. I frankly had lower expectations as with the MU-X, but it simply excelled off the road while also showing appreciable poise on it (detailed road test review coming soon). The Isuzu MU-X is comfortable on the road, has an impressive road presence and can go off road without breaking a sweat. While it might not have Multi Terrain modes like the Endeavour to select but it does the job pretty well. If we compare the 4×4 AT variants of the two, there is a price difference of INR 6 Lakh in the MU-X’s favour. So if you are in the market for a SUV, which has good road presence, good engine, interior space, comfort and can go off the road, you should consider the Isuzu MU-X 4×4. It might surprise you. Isuzu is a maker of solid, sturdy cars, so the reliability of this machine is a given.
We would like to thank Terrain Tigers for letting us ride with them. Off Road enthusiasts in Delhi should get in touch with the group. Join their FB group and you will have all the 4×4 information you need.
Images: Samar Narayan