The action heroes that I grew up watching - Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone - all had lots of muscles but also carried oodles of attitude. The new SUV from Isuzu called MU-7 reminds me a lot of those heroes atleast with its muscular stance. No, the MU in its name doesn't stand for muscle but could well be mistaken for it. The old-school, no-nonsense SUV looks of the MU-7, will appeal to many buyers in India. But, currently the Toyota Fortuner is still the hot favourite in this segment and so the MU-7 will need to prove that it has the attitude to be a serious player among the big boys.
This SUV doesn't grin one bit with its wide-toothed grille, sharp headlamps, and the bold intercooler intake on the bonnet only highlights the 'don't mess with me' attitude. It might not be as wide or tall as the Fortuner but the MU-7 is over 250 mm longer with a very impressive 3 metre long wheelbase. The wide foot-boards and body colored roof rails also add to the muscle sans any body lines. The rear glass panel curves in, cutting down the view of the rear seat passenger. Also the heavy doors will need the extra effort to be shut right as we found out quite a number of times on our journey. The long, heavy MU-7 gets only 16-inch alloys, while the Fortuner gets 17-inch alloys. The rear looks a little more sedate but does offer a large windscreen with neatly done taillights and reflectors on the big bumper.
Now bigger isn't always better; atleast from a driving point of view and we put out the mighty SUV to see if it had the muscle under the hood too. The kerb weight of the MU-7 is 1900 kgs when compared to slightly more than 1955 kgs of the Fotruner. But the 4-cylinder 3-litre engine is more than capable to make you smile as you drive it along the highway. The power delivery is linear and refined but you can hear the diesel engine grunting as you push for power. Over 160bhp on offer compared to the 169bhp offered on the Fortuner. But, the MU-7 offers a bit more torque at 360Nm compared to 343Nm on the Fortuner. That said the gear shifts are not the smoothest especially getting into the 3rd and 5th. Also the steering is a bit heavy, gives you that large SUV-feel but is responsive around both wide and quick turns. The braking too is precise though the clutch and brake levers feel a bit heavy initially. But the minimum turning radius of 6.2 metres isn't a joy on the big bulky SUV (Fortuner's minimum turning radius is 5.9 metres).
But what really stood out in the drive is in the way the suspension of the MU-7 handles bumpy roads, large potholes or even that extra large pothole. The MU-7 simply soaks in the bumps and glides over them without batting an eyelid. The front suspension is an independent double wishbone with torsion bar springs and the rear housing the twin-tube shock absorber. So, with that powerful engine to power it and an impressive suspension, the MU-7 puts in just about enough to match the Fortuner in its ride and handling.
The cabin of the MU-7 offers lots of space but looks a bit too simple and isn't plush except for the large leather seats.. Some of the plastics inside the cabin and the wood-finish on the dash look a bit cheap. The seats in the front are comfortable and the driving position is not so high like in the Fortuner with all the dashboard controls within reach. But the steering misses the mounted controls and the touchscreen DVD player comes really tiny buttons on it to operate. You would be better off using the remote although strangely our video on the screen worked only when the SUV was parked or stationary.
The best part of the cabin is the more than ample space in the rear seat thanks to the 3-metre long wheelbase. Additional comfort items for the rear passenger include a roof mounted DVD monitor, 2 AC vents with controls and a wobbly cup holder on the doors. The third row of this 7-seater comes with AC vents too and large seats but has a slightly lower seating position. These seats fold to give you generous cargo space in the boot. Currently the MU-7 offers only dual airbags for the driver and the passenger.
The Isuzu MU-7 might be a worthy competitor to the Fortuner with its performance, muscular looks and spacious cabin but with its late entry, the company will need to quickly build its network to push this SUV to the big league.