Johannesburg - To be the first and unheralded.
It’s a crushing disappointment and one GMSA knows well, as its Trailblazer continues to underperform against Toyota's Fortuner and Ford's Everest.
Though it has been the supreme bakkie-based SUV in South Africa for more than a decade, don’t err by thinking Fortuner was the first. It wasn’t. Isuzu’s Frontier originally established the five-door bakkie-evolved SUV market locally in the late 1990s.
Somehow, South Africans weren’t interested in a station wagon version of KB280 at the time, and it faded from Isuzu’s inventory, leaving a niche Toyota handsomely exploited, effectively killing-off the Japanese luxury sedan car as an option in SA too.
Is the time right, for a revival?
Considering the buoyancy of the five-door, seven-seat SUV market in 2017, would South Africans perhaps be more open to a Frontier revival? There is a thread of reasoning that supposes an Isuzu badge on a five-door bakkie-based wagon would have more cachet to South African buyers, than the Chevrolet Trailblazer currently does. And fit to purpose, such a vehicle does exist.
The Isuzu MU-X, available since 2012, and now updated with a longer nose, new grille, LEDs everywhere and 18" alloys. In principle Isuzu’s version of the Trailblazer, MU-X features two powertrains: the 3.0-litre turbodiesel we know in KB locally (130kW/430Nm) and Isuzu’s new, 1.9-litre 110/350Nm. Both engines have the option of either self-shifting or manual six-speed gearboxes, but the 1.9 Tdi will only be offered in rear-wheel drive.
With 230mm of ground clearance, a steel sump guard and slider plate for transfer case protection, MU-X is ruggedly capable, with the credentials for true Safari tyre sojourns into Botswana, Mozambique or Namibia.
Inside you can identify the GM parts bin bits, which do their best to harmonise and evolve Isuzu’s ergonomic and infotainment offering and like its rivals, there are no less than seven-seats.
Outsells Fortuner in OZ
They’re notably popular in a market very similar in application to ours (Australia) and with Isuzu’s storied history in South Africa, isn’t the timing better for an Isuzu seven-seater SUV now, than it perhaps was two decades ago? How well rated is MU-X Down Under? In 2016, it outsold Fortuner and Everest.
Isuzu, what are you waiting for?
Observers will point to a conflict of interest, having competing brands in the same market: both Trailblazer and MU-X. But in Australia, where they drive on the same side of the road, and SUV owners have a similar sense of adventure to South Africans, both vehicles are in the market and the Isuzu does a very brisk trade in MU-Xs.
Due to reach Australia by mid-year, South African Isuzu fans must be wondering why in the world GMSA’s not bothering to bring it here.
*We don’t consider the Sani as South Africa’s original bakkie-based SUV because it was a part-aftermarket, fibreglass solution.