Ever wondered what it takes to get noticed in a celebrity soiree? For a commoner, you’d have to wear a technicolour suit I suppose. It’s the same with premium seven-seater SUVs in this segment. The Toyota Fortuner is a celebrity of sorts here with the popularity to drown the best of talent in the business. It isn't an exceedingly extra ordinary SUV, but currently is the best in the lot. As they say, you don’t need to be a good actor to be a superstar. The Fortuner isn’t half as bad though so can a relatively unknown entity, that the Isuzu MU-7 is in India, hold its own in Fortuner Kingdom?
One thing both SUVs do well is intimidate the hell out of other motorists. It’s like the most basic box to tick while designing an SUV for this segment. With the Fortuner, we’ve grown to learn of it as a fairly common large SUV that more times than not is ferrying someone important. It’s an enviable position to be in, in the Indian car market as absolutely no vehicle above the Rs 15 lakh mark sells as many units as the Fortuner. But where the Fortuner does intimidation well, the MU-7 does it better with its toothed grille and rarity. It’s not too common in India and that works in its favour. What also works is the MU-7’s size. It is almost quarter of a meter longer than the Fortuner leaving you a long enough trail to gaze at.
But when it comes to pure design, the much younger Fortuner is far better executed. Firstly, it looks better proportioned as more horizontal lines with its grille and headlamps don’t make it look too tall or ungainly. Both cars get intercooler scoops and chunky plastic cladding all around, all the beef in all the right places. The rear of the Fortuner again is more pleasing to the eye. The Isuzu’s pickup derived design is evident beyond the centre row with the oddly shaped rear fixed glass almost outlining a pre-existing loading bay.
Larger 17 inch wheels in the Fortuner fill up the wheel wells neatly compared to a large awkward gap in the MU-7. Hence on the whole, the Fortuner in my books is better looking of the two beasts.
Interior and Space
The Fortuner does not have a particularly attractive interior so it isn’t much surprise that the MU-7 doesn’t feel behind the curve here. Agreed the MU-7 is plain and simple and a bit too oldschool for the modern generation’s liking, but it’s pleasant nonetheless in comparison to tacky silver inserts in the Fortuner. Some could argue that the MU-7 isn’t premium enough and we’d have to agree to that. But hard wearing it is. But that stands true for the Fortuner as well. The latter is a tad more comfortable though with extra seat cushioning than the MU-7 and the driver’s seat has electric seat adjustment. The MU-7’s seat only adjusts for reach so it will be harder for all drivers to find their correct driving position.
The sliding middle row gives better flexibility in the MU-7 to the ones in the Fortuner. It gives you that crucial little extra space in the third row that will be much appreciated, and that’s mainly got to do with the 300mm extra wheelbase, as much as a foot long scale. That said, the higher floor in the MU-7 compared to the sunken one in the Fortuner keeps your knees in a relatively more comfortable lower position in the latter, which is good for long drives. It’s still no place to sit for adults.
Features and Equipment
You just can’t skimp with equipment for a car upwards of Rs 20 lakh when those half the price offer so much more. It’s a real weakness in the MU-7. There’s no climate control, no steering mounted audio controls and although you can use your smartphone through the entertainment system, it’s a lot more cumbersome than easy switches on the steering wheel. Then there is the electrically adjustable driver’s seat that the Fortuner offers and is absent in the MU-7. The Isuzu gets a better entertainment package though with a large screen for the rear passenger and a better touchscreen system sourced from Kenwood. It functions better and is easier to navigate. Neither SUV offers parking sensors or steering wheel reach adjustment though. A rear parking camera is provided in both cars but the angle feels a bit distorted to gauge your proximity from obstacles. For cars of this size, I believe parking sensors should be a must.
Ride and ease of driving
That truckie feel in a more cosseting way is the best way to describe the MU-7. You know it is derived from a pickup truck that’s over a decade old as soon as you see the higher set rear end, mainly to accommodate the rigid suspension under the ladder frame chassis. The leaf springs aren’t too bad though – they don’t give the kind of kickback you’d expect from an unloaded car, something you’d experience in an Endeavour. It does ride better with extra weight at the back but even otherwise, it goes over bad roads with good composure.
The steering though is a tad heavy compared to the Fortuner, the latter feeling a lot more nimble on its feet at all times. Both cars get a double wishbone set up upfront but the Fortuner gets a more evolved 4-link rear setup that is ideal for constantly undulating roads. Visibility is better through the driver’s seat as the Fortuner gets six-way electrically adjustable seats compared to manual sliding only without height adjustment in the MU-7. You sit high enough though in both to get a commanding view of the road ahead.
Engine and performance
Both SUVs sport 3.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel engines under the hood sending power to the rear wheels, mated to 5-speed manual gearboxes to hurl their massive 1.9 tonne mass around. The similarities end there. The MU-7 is the louder of the two, constantly making its presence felt where the Fortuner is better damped to drown the oil burner’s rumble. The two SUVs are geared differently as well. In the MU-7, you are quicker off the line with a short first and second gear and the higher 360Nm of torque.
The Fortuner’s 343Nm is a tad lesser but its higher power output of 171PS pulls the SUV through harder and longer as you move up the gears. The MU-7 requires lesser gearshifts in the city when you aren’t driving through stop-go traffic, which is nice since the clutch is a bit heavy. The Fortuner has a lighter clutch and has shorter gear lever throws, is more refined and a bit more car like in comparison, bettering the MU-7 by a small margin in every way except getting off the line.
Handling and braking
I received some valuable advice once about negotiating a buffalo and a dog on the road. When a dog is crossing the road, you look in your mirrors and then brake hard and a dog will run across quickly to the other end. You also stick to the right lane because dogs sometimes have a tendency to turn around midway. When a Buffalo is crossing, you always take the route behind it as a buffalo never turns back. It boils down to agility and braking here and in the Fortuner you are better equipped to handle such a situation on the highway.
Better brakes and grip from the wide 265 section tyres can tame the beast rather well when you are driving quickly and this keeps you reassured behind the wheel. The MU-7’s brakes are a bit mushy and could do with stronger brakes for better stopping power. I remember way back in 2010, Toyota had to upgrade the Fortuner’s front discs as the SUV had some serious braking issues when it was launched. Isuzu could take a cue from Toyota’s book here, although they aren’t as bad as the pre-upgrade Fortuner brakes.
Price and Fuel Efficiency
Both are diesel guzzling SUVs with about 1900kg to haul, plus occupants. And so high single digit figures is what you should expect at best. The Fortuner can breach the 10kmpl mark with a light foot on the gas though. It has an ARAI certified figure of 13kmpl, while the MU-7 can do 12.08kmpl according to the ARAI. Expect around 9kmpl in the real world behind the wheel of the Isuzu. Both cars have a fantastic range of 750-800km on a full tank with massive 76 and 80 litre tanks in the MU-7 and Fortuner respectively. As far as pricing goes, at Rs 21.95 lakh, ex-showroom Delhi for the Isuzu MU-7 top spec model, it is about Rs 93,000 cheaper than the Fortuner 4x2 TRD Sportivo with manual transmission.
As our rating clearly states, the Fortuner is the clear winner here bettering the MU-7 in all aspects except space and a tad lower price tag. There’s still room for improvement in the segment and we believe the next generation Endeavour that is due sometime next year promises to set a new benchmark in this full-fat, extra cheese diet fed wrestling arena. Until then, the Fortuner is your pick. If there’s a ‘something different’ box in your SUV shopping list, the MU-7 is definitely worth the look though.
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