Isuzu MU-7 is a desirable old-school SUV that’s backed by the power of Japanese technology. Ouseph Chacko has the details

Japan’s oldest automobile manufacturer, Isuzu, is all set to enter the Indian passenger car market for the first time. And its first product for our shores is the mammoth MU-7. With a 3.0-litre engine, 210mm ground clearance and a length of almost five-metres, this Japanese SUV is a whole lot bigger than the off-roaders seen in our streets.

The MU-7 is entering a segment where it will take on rivals such as the Toyota Fortuner, SsangYong Rexton and Ford Endeavour. So it’s got its work cut out.

Based on Isuzu’s internationally popular D-Max pickup, the MU-7 is the company’s first offering in the Indian market. It is assembled here from completely knocked-down (CKD) kits at Hindustan Motors’ plant in Chennai, with plans to shift production to Isuzu’s upcoming Rs. 1,500-crore plant in Andhra Pradesh.

For now though, there are two dealerships — one in Hyderabad and another in Coimbatore — and this limits Isuzu’s reach.

We got behind the wheel of a Rs. 24.16 lakh (ex-showroom, Hyderabad) 4x2, manual-transmission variant of the MU-7. Isuzu recently upgraded the MU-7 overseas with a few tweaks to its styling. Because it’s so ‘in your face’, you notice the sheer size of the MU-7 — it’s just 5mm short of the five-metre mark. However, it isn’t as wide and it’s quite a bit lower Still, there’s no denying that it’s got the big, butch SUV look spot on. The toothy front grille and the functional intake scoop for the intercooler on the bonnet give it a menacing appearance from the front. The 3050mm wheelbase is long enough to give a football ground a complex and does look a bit disproportionate. Then you’ll notice the nice bits such as the flared wheel arches and how they smoothly flow into the hefty looking foot boards, and you’ll like the chunky, 245/70 R16 tyres mounted on the alloy wheels. Where the front is more battering ram, the rear is both subtle and handsome at the same time. The bumper protrudes outwards and the sunken-in fog lamps look quite nice. The wraparound tail-lights flow well with the rest of the body. As is par for the class, the MU-7’s chassis is a body-on-ladder frame design. In true-blue SUV format, the four-cylinder engine is mounted longitudinally and powers the rear wheels. Suspension is via independent double wishbones up front and a pick-up truck leaf-spring configuration at the rear, while the brakes are discs on the front wheels and drums at the rear. Isuzu also offers a four-wheel-drive version in India.

There’s no doubting that this car comes with acres of space inside. It’s got touches of piano-black faux wood trim on the armrests, dashboard and door handles, which is nice. The leather seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and the gearlever look and feel rich, and the red stitching gives it that upmarket feel. The dash follows the standard T-shaped layout, with the AC vents on the top and a Kenwood touchscreen multimedia system in the middle, which also doubles up as the reversing camera monitor. GPS is not offered as standard, but you can get it as an option. The steering wheel feels nice to hold, but could have done with steering mounted controls, and the stalks, vents and air-con dials have an air of quality about them.

The seats are comfortable and you get a good view out thanks to the slim pillars and the huge glass area, and the tall gearlever is an easy reach no matter what your chosen seat position is. The middle row has acres of legroom. . Seating three abreast isn’t a squeeze at all and there’s two separate AC vents embedded in the scooped-out roof, with the dial to control the rear air-con placed between them. Additionally, there’s a roof-mounted DVD player screen in the second row, which is a feature that should appeal to the chauffeur driven. The third row is easily accessed by tugging a strap on the middle row seat, which causes it to flip down and slide forward. The third row is best for kids, though. Because the seat is on the floor, you sit in a knees-up position — typical of a high-floor pick-up truck chassis. Tall people will complain of a lack of headroom here, though they won’t mind the kneeroom, of which there is quite a bit, even with the middle row slid all the way back. You also get two separate vents in the third row. Even with all rows up, there’s a decent amount of boot space, and with the third row folded, there’s more still.

What is missing though is some equipment. The MU-7 doesn’t have powered seats or climate control, although the touchscreen system and (very necessary) reversing camera are welcome touches. It also gets ABS with EBD, two airbags, remote locking, a trip computer, electric mirrors and projector headlamps.

The MU-7 is powered by a 2999cc, direct-injection turbocharged common-rail diesel engine. It breathes through four valves per cylinder and makes a healthy 161bhp and 36.7kgm of torque. Slot into first, get off the clutch and you’ll find an engine that pulls well from as little as 1000rpm with little turbo lag to speak of. Power delivery is also quite linear and it pulls all the way to 4000rpm with surprising vigour. In traffic, this engine works well and responds to taps on the throttle with convincing urge. The MU-7’s short gearing helps it hit 100kph in a quick 11.7sec. Grouses come in the form of the slightly mushy gearshift quality and a clutch that’s just a wee bit heavy. Also, the engine is quite audible at all times. On the move, the MU-7’s long wheelbase gives it good stability. It rounds off most bumps well. Around corners, there’s quite a bit of body roll, but the MU-7 never feels unstable and stays decently composed. The hydraulically assisted power steering has good weight and is direct enough too. Still, this car is not much of a handler. Also, the MU-7’s brakes feel a bit soggy and could use some more bite.

Isuzu feels tank-like in its toughness, the styling is right and it has a strong engine. However, at its current pre-budget price, the 4x2 manual is a fair bit more expensive than its rivals and isn’t as well equipped as them. Also, for anyone who doesn’t live in the vicinity of Hyderabad or Coimbatore, the MU-7 is pretty much out of reach. However, for those who do, they will find a well-engineered, if old-school SUV that is actually quite desirable.

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The quicker QMarch 26, 2013