|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
Glistening in the morning sun, the mu-X sure looks light-years ahead of the Alterra it replaces. It’s also by far the most handsome in the current crop. It’s taut and masculine with large stamped-in fender flares. The front end is unmistakably aggressive with trapezoidal headlamps that angle downward towards the bumper line and a double horizontal chrome grille with what looks like fangs. This treatment is successfully echoed in the rear bumpers with the tapering tail lamps serving as the perfect exclamation point. Simply put, when Isuzu says the mu-X is inspired by large predatory cats, they nailed it spot on.
Calling dibs to be group’s first driver, it’s time to sample the mu-X’s interior. A short hop up into the driver’s seat reveals a sporty all-black cabin. It’s straightforward, serious, and a dramatic departure from Isuzu’s tendency to go all beige-y. Without distractions from wood paneling, the mu-X impresses with its excellent levels of fit and finish. Though largely related to another mid-sized SUV (*cough* Trailblazer *cough*), the mu-X actually betters it with an interior that feels every inch more upscale. The black leather seats on the range-topping LS-A 4x4 is icing on the cake with its finely executed double-stitched pattern.
The surprises continue with the mu-X’s wealth of creature features. Adjusting the driver’s seat is a motorized affair with six-way adjustment. And with a press of the ‘Engine Start’ button, the electroluminescent gauges come to life with a full swing before settling down to normal. The MID, sandwiched between the speedo- and tachometer, has a wealth of information including time elapsed and even an instantaneous fuel consumption meter, in both bar and numerical form. It even has an automatic illumination control that adjusts the brightness of the dials based on ambient lighting (though this can be turned off in the Settings menu). After getting comfortable in the driver’s seat, which took just a few seconds, it’s time to shift to Drive and head off.
Not knowing what to expect from the mu-X’s performance, it’s actually quite surprising how it feels lithe and responsive. People who’re quick to dismiss the mu-X because of how the power figures look on paper don’t know any better. Yes, the 4JK1-TC engine produces just a maximum of 136 horsepower, but the more important figure, torque, is produced from as low as 1,800 rpm to 2,800 rpm. And you have 320 Nm to play with. Even after 2,800 rpm, the torque curve goes down gradually with around 280 Nm still available at 3,500 rpm and 230 Nm at 4,000 rpm. There’s ample acceleration for quick and satisfying overtaking maneuvers on Puerto Princesa’s busy roads. The mu-X’s great all-around visibility certainly helps as well.
As the convoy of mu-Xs made its way out of the city’s confines and onto unpopulated roads towards the Sheridan Organic Farm in Sabang did the lack of top-end power make itself apparent. Don’t get it wrong, if you’re cruising or not pushing to the limit, the mu-X feels great (despite being five to a car with luggage). It’s only when you’re trying to keep a tight convoy at high speed will you wish for 30 or 40 more horsepower. It is fairly weak at the crucial overtaking speed between 60-80 km/h. Still, the engine is refined and smooth at any throttle application and the five-speed automatic is responsive and quick to react. Isuzu says the mu-X does about 17.35 km/L in its internal tests, but during the drive, it hovered around 13.25 km/L—not bad considering how everyone was blitzing past the Palawan landscape at high speed.
After lunch, the group proceeded inland, traversing roads that cut across rain forests. From this point on, the handling of the mu-X is put to the test as it’s full of tight, winding roads. It feels surprisingly responsive with a tight turn-in and controlled body roll. The suspension is firm, but rewards the driver with confidence to push just that extra bit. The rear tires chirp through corners at times, but the mu-X feels planted and stable enough to bite through. And when things do get hairy, the LS-A 4x4 comes with Electronic Stability Control (ESC) to keep you pointed in the right direction. The front and rear coil spring suspension (with five-links at the back), do their job of keeping everyone comfortable throughout the two-hour journey.
At the end lay Sheridan Hotel, a resort boasting a picturesque location near the Saint Paul mountain ranges, home to the Puerto Princesa Underground River National Park. After a quick break to freshen up, everyone sampled what’s recognized as one of the world’s new seven wonders of nature. Following the underground river tour, a short paddle boat ride of the surrounding mangrove forests ensued including trying out tamilok, a wood worm that grows in the rotting roots of the mangrove. It doesn’t taste like chicken, but like oyster, only chewier.
The following day, the drive from Sheridan Hotel to Honda Bay and then to the Crocodile Farm afforded some time to try the rear passenger seat of the mu-X. As expected, it’s a comfy place to be in. The legroom is great and enables you and your seatmate to cross legs with still enough space for a third person in the middle. With adjustable headrests on all rows and a second row that actually reclines, even sleeping on-the-go can be done. If you’re not in the napping mood, the mu-X has full multimedia capability through its 7-inch touchscreen system with USB/iPod capability. A 10-inch roof-mounted DVD monitor adds even more entertainment options for those in the back. There are also 12 cup holders and 19 storage compartments scattered throughout the cabin making the it a truly road-trip friendly vehicle.
Over the years, it’s always been Isuzu’s thrust to make sure no one remains a stranger in his own country. Through their vehicles, they’ve managed to sample the finest destinations that the Philippines has to offer. In choosing Palawan, they’ve nailed a location that’s not only spectacularly beautiful, but also highlights the mu-X’s cohesive combination of comfort, practicality, luxury, and convenience. It’s truly what Isuzu needs: a flagship SUV that’s truly competitive in every sense of the word. And don’t just take their word for it: there’s actually a five-month waiting list on some variants, a sign of great times ahead.