Isuzu tries to flex its muscles in India with the new MU-X, but can it really take on the brute force of the competition?
In my younger days, I would go the gym on a daily basis. My traps and biceps would bulge out of my tight shirt and my thighs would make my shorts looks smaller than they actually were. Unfortunately, at present, my beer belly is my biggest muscle! I guess, at some point, I let myself go. But, let’s not talk about that. Let’s talk about big, muscular, powerful SUV’s.
Let’s imagine – just for the fun of it – that we are in the past. I’m young, fit, and I work very hard to stay in shape. Then, one day, I decide to get serious about bodybuilding and compete professionally. In my very first show, I have to compete against the most decorated bodybuilder of all time – Arnold Schwarzenegger. Who do you suppose is going to win? I’m not going to answer that because this is fantasy after all – but it’s obvious.
A similar scenario has just played out within the SUV space here in India, as Isuzu has launched a ‘roided out’ version of the MU7, called the MU-X, which will compete against the ‘Arnold of SUV’s’ – the Toyota Fortuner. The Fortuner is the undisputed king of heavyweight (full-size) SUV’s in India, and with an average of 1,500 units currently being sold every month, nothing comes close. At a distant second is the herculean American – the Ford Endeavour. The Endeavour currently sells anywhere between 400-600 units a month, which is less than half of the Fortuner’s figures.
All three SUV’s (Fortuner, Endeavour, and MU-X) have made sure to stay in shape and are spoiling for a fight – and so we compared the new Isuzu against the two best-selling premium SUVs on the market. Spoiler alert, the results are as obvious as the results of me competing against the ‘Austrian Oak.’
What really stands out, and to my eyes looks the best, is the Ford Endeavour. It’s definitely got the most road presence, thanks to its staunch and bulky design. It’s proportionate in the right places and it looks not only muscular, but the most athletic as well. Its aesthetic appeal is one of the main reasons many people would choose to buy the Endeavour over the Fortuner. The Toyota Fortuner looks a bit smaller and more aerodynamic, but it certainly doesn’t have the beautiful proportionate body of the Endeavour. The Fortuner still looks powerful and muscular though, and it still has lots of road presence – but the detailing just isn’t very impressive. What many people like about the new Fortuner, however, is that it looks more premium and polished than ever before. The Isuzu MU-X, on the other hand, is definitely the least muscular in terms of its overall look and appeal. It looks lean and toned, but it has that classic SUV design – almost like a bodybuilder in the pre-supplement era. It certainly doesn’t look as modern as the others, but its design does look more functional and practical.
When it comes to the interiors, the Ford Endeavour once again is the most well designed and thought out. The ergonomics are nice, and the dashboard – including the instrument cluster and steering wheel – are quite modern. The use of high quality components are clearly evident, and the seats are also comfortable. The Fortuner doesn’t have this flair. Ergonomically, it’s still good though – and, of course, it does feel like a premium SUV with high quality touches. The Isuzu MU-X continues to be the most conservative, even in terms of its interior design. It does look modern, but it doesn’t really have an inspiring cabin. The overall quality of the dash isn’t the best, but the instrument cluster and steering wheel do add a contemporary touch to the overall package. When it comes to cabin space, all three SUVs seem to offer an adequate amount of space – but I still feel that all of them could have had more space for rear seat passengers. There really isn’t all that much legroom, and it certainly doesn’t feel that airy in any of them. The best rear seats are found in the Fortuner, but, even here, you don’t really get that feeling of immense spaciousness. The Endeavour, on the other hand, is helped by its large panoramic sunroof.
On paper, the most powerful of all these SUVs is the Endeavour. We had the 3.2-litre variant, and it packs in 197bhp and has a massive 470Nm of torque. That certainly is a lot of muscle power, which backs up the overall muscular design of the car – and you can certainly feel it when you drive the car. While the Isuzu MU-X has a bigger engine than the Fortuner, it has nearly the same power output – but much less torque. The Isuzu gets a rather large 3.0-litre unit, but it produces just 175bhp and 380Nm of torque. As a result, the Isuzu does feel like its lacking that little bit of grunt from behind the wheel. The Fortuner, meanwhile, comes with a 2.8-litre unit that’s good for 172bhp and 420Nm of torque. This motor certainly does feel like its got more power than the MU-X, but it’s the Ford Endeavour that’s the clear winner here.
When it comes to overall performance, the results are a bit tricky. Let’s start with the Endeavour since it seems to be winning in every other department thus far. Thanks to its all-powerful 3.2-litre unit, it was definitely the most powerful with the best acceleration. The engine clearly puts the true meaning of ‘Sports’ back into SUV. But, besides the massive power, the engine also seems to be very refined. The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that seems more than up for the job, as it should since it’s the same transmission that’s found in America’s best-selling car – the Ford F-150 pick-up. The steering is well weighted and the car feels well balanced too. The suspension setup is also very good, especially in urban areas, and the car comfortably absorbs everything. The overall ride quality is excellent, and the car feels planted when cruising at high speeds.
The motor in the Toyota Fortuner, on the other hand, doesn’t feel quite as refined. The vibrations are more pronounced, and it’s noisy to boot. There are two driving modes though, which is a nice touch for urban driving. You can select ‘Eco’ mode to keep the power down and conserve fuel when driving in traffic, and then if you want to summon all the power from under the hood you simply select ‘Power’ mode. Meanwhile, the suspension on the Fortuner – which has always been its Achilles heel – could still use some additional refinement, as the ride continues to be more bumpy than it ought to be. To aid comfort though, the steering is very light – overtly light if you ask me, since there’s simply no feel whatsoever and it has a lazy response to boot. Toyota clearly seems to have focussed on comfort with the new Fortuner. All the shortcomings aside though, the Fortuner still feels like a premium SUV. More importantly, it feels as indestructible as ever!
The Isuzu MU-X, meanwhile, has an extremely smooth powertrain. Isuzu is known for making some of the best diesel engines in the world, and the diesel unit in the MU-X is extremely refined. Even the five-speed automatic transmission worked seamlessly with shifts on point. The overall ride quality too was top notch, and the car felt very comfortable and quite planted at the same time. It was only when you got hard on the brakes that you felt just how soft the ride really is – as the Isuzu tends to pitch forward quite aggressively on the brakes. On top of that, it was certainly the least exciting to drive. Not only is it quite soft, but the motor doesn’t seem to have the outright grunt its 3.0-litre engine capacity suggests. Where the Isuzu really shines, however, is in terms of ride comfort and isolating the passengers from the irregularities in the road surface. That being said, the Isuzu doesn’t have quite what it takes to battle it out with the big boys in this segment. In terms of interior quality and driving dynamics, it has to defer to the mighty Toyota and Ford.
When you take these behemoths off-road, each of them can conquer virtually any terrain. They all come with 4WD, and they all come with suspension articulation that allows them to tackle the roughest trails. Here, again, it’s the Ford that takes the lead with its Terrain Management system that has a Land-Rover-like knob to select between different types of terrain.
So far the Ford Endeavour seems to be winning this competition of muscle. It looks the best, it drives the best, and it’s got a great cabin. However, the Fortuner has something that sets it apart – the Toyota badge! Thanks to its Toyota badge, the Fortuner has become a brand in-and-of-itself. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that it will literally run trouble free till the end of days. Not only that, but the after sales service of Toyota is unmatched.
So, while Arnold Schwarzenegger may not have been the biggest and most powerful bodybuilder around, he certainly was the most popular – and that was because of the Arnold brand. The same goes for the Fortuner, because everyone knows what they can expect from a Toyota – a hassle free, high quality and highly capable SUV. The MU-X might be priced much lower than these two titans, but it certainly doesn’t feel or look premium enough. It lacks the power and the looks to keep up with the Endeavour, while it lacks the badge to take the fight to the undisputed leader of the full-size SUV segment in India – the Toyota Fortuner.
- Ford Endeavour 3.2 AT Titanium
- Toyota Fortuner 2.8 MT 4×4
- Isuzu MU-X
Transmission: 6-Speed Automatic / Four-Wheel Drive
Power: 197bhp @ 3,000rpm
Torque: 470Nm @ 1,750-2,500rpm
Price: Rs.31.5 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
X-Factor: Buy one if you want to dominate the road the American way – by brute force! Plus, this is the most refined and capable machine here.
Transmission: 6-Speed Manual / Four-Wheel Drive
Power: 175bhp @3,400rpm
Torque: 420Nm @ 1,600 – 2,400rpm
Price: Rs.30.79 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
X-Factor: The best-selling SUV for a reason – it’s powerful, it’s premium, and it’s a Toyota, which means that it’ll run forever.
Transmission: 5-Speed Automatic / Four-Wheel Drive
Power: 175bhp @ 3,600rpm
Torque: 380Nm @ 1,800-2,800rpm
Price: Rs. 25.99 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
X-Factor: A very refined, comfortable and practical full-size SUV.