“The mu-what?” asks someone intrigued by the SUV that pulled up in the next parking space.
Confused yet mesmerised by the vehicle that kind of looks like a KB bakkie but not quite, the stranger does a 360-walk around it.
In his hand, the local firm favourite for a go-to-meal, a garage pie, turns cold as he admires another local firm favourite; a firm favourite he has never seen before in South Africa, let alone in a small town in the Free State.
With the invitation to peek inside, he opens the door and let out a loud whistle.
On the other side of the car his son is on the phone.
“Jis man, we’re now standing next to the new Isuzu… what’s the name again?”
“Ja, the mu-X. You should see it! We first thought it was a bakkie but jis, it looks lekker man.”
The look of confusion accompanied by a head turn of almost disbelief have been a common sight on the road ever since the 18-inch alloy wheels of the newly launched Isuzu mu-X made first contact with South Africa’s roads.
While the mu-X has that brand new car smell in South Africa, other countries have been enjoying this comfortable ride ever since the multi-utility crossover vehicle was first introduced to the market in Thailand in 2013. And it has proved itself a fierce competitor in the SUV-market.
But it is only the sight of seeing an Isuzu in a different shape – other than a bakkie or a truck – that comes as a surprise; the mu-X is fitted with the same reliability, dependability and absolute durability as the KB bakkie, and it comes with the same promise: With you, for the long run.
The Free State admirer makes his way to the back of the SUV to see the space of the 7-seater.
“Does the mu-X have the same engine as the KB bakkie?” he asks. The name of the vehicle is now firmly embedded into his memory.
“It has a 3.0 litre turbo diesel engine and a towing capacity of 3 000 kg.”
His garage pie is now old news. In his eyes you can see he is already planning a family holiday with the mu-X; caravan in tow, kids in the back.
He closes the door, lets out another loud whistle and says, “I can easily go for this.”
X might mark the spot, but mu-X marks the future.
Tried and tested in Clarens
The Isuzu promise was put to the test; an mu-X convoy left Johannesburg’s traffic for the open roads of the Free State where a scenic off-road driving experience in Clarens showed just how well this adventure SUV can handle a few bumps in the road.
Clarens has often been described as an artist’s heaven, or South Africa’s art mecca, and if you stroll around the small town it is easy to understand why artists and art lovers flock to the Free State. More than 15 galleries are scattered throughout the streets, there are antique shops, a brewery (and a beer festival), a knife maker, a spa, foodies are spoiled for choice and of course, there is adventure. And a whole lot of it.
If adrenaline is part of your DNA you can try white water rafting, extreme quad biking, abseiling, mountain biking, a scenic game drive and hiking trail through the nearby Golden Gate Highlands National Park and horse riding. But if you want to saddle up a different kind of horse(power) and test your vehicle’s off-road capabilities, try one of the 4x4 trails of Bergwoning which is situated 15 km from town, before the National Park.
The capabilities of the Isuzu mu-X, and its drivers, were tried and tested on a 6 km self-guided trail with spectacular views and exciting challenges. Needless to say, the mu-X tackled the terrain with typical Isuzu reliability and cruised through the grade 3 trail like a champ with its ground clearance of 230 mm, a 24-degree approach angle and departure angle of 25.1-degrees. For off-road adventure seekers looking for more, there is also a guided 26km adventure trail that can take up to 7 hours to complete.
Where to stay: From a budget bed for backpackers to a luxury abode for honeymooners, there’s accommodation for everyone in Clarens. Campers can pitch their tents at Glen Reenen Rest Camp (in the National Park), there’s also a Basotho Cultural Village or stay in the centre of town and reside at the Protea Hotel by Marriott.
Where to grab a bite: Clarens has numerous quirky coffee shops and restaurants; go to Di Bus Stop for light lunches and ‘moerkoffie’ and have a fine dining experience at Clementines Restaurant.
Take another drive: You can explore beyond the town of Clarens and venture into Golden Gate National Park for a scenic easy-going day drive but if you’re looking for more off-road adventures then get into low gear on the following trails:
- Rebellie Game Farm 4x4 Trail (Grade 3-5 trails): Situated just 15 km from Clarens there are two trails, namely Mountain Trail, and the challenging Kloof trail where you’ll encounter anything and everything from rocks to river crossings. For overnight guests the cost is R200 p/vehicle and for visitors it is R200 p/vehicle p/trail (R300 if you do both trails on the same day). Guided drives are available as well.
- Moolmanshoek (Grade 2-5 trails): About 80 km from Clarens, you’ll find Moolmanshoek Private Game Reserve which boasts four different 4x4 trails; all trails are guided (R300 p/vehicle) and there’s a requirement of a minimum of 4 vehicles (except for lodge guests).
- Shumba Valley Guest Farm (Grade 2-4 trail): Less than 50 km from Clarens the mountain scenery of Fouriesberg awaits and offers overnight guests the opportunity to drive around on the farm; but you can also rough it in your 4x4 and explore the 34 km trail in Didibeng Mountain Park (there’s a deposit of R100 for the key and it can be obtained via Shumba Valley Guest Farm with prior arrangement).
Clarens is perfect for a long getaway or a weekend escape; it’s just over 300 km from Johannesburg, about 380 km from Durban, 290 km from Bloemfontein and can easily be combined with a side trip to the southernmost landlocked country in the world, Lesotho, where more 4x4 adventures await and the chance to hit the slopes at AfriSki Mountain Resort.
Quick Facts about the Isuzu mu-X
There are two models, the Isuzu mu-X 3.0 4x2 AT6 (priced at R568 000) and the Isuzu mu-X 3.0 4x4 AT6 (priced at R629 100); both are sold with a 5-year/120 000 km warranty plus a 5-year 90 000 km service plan. The mu-X boasts 130kW and 380 Nm or torque and a fuel consumption of 7.3 L/100 km for the 4x2 and 7.9 L/100 km for the 4x4. Inside you’ll find 7 comfortable seats, ample space and an infotainment system with modern software.