MITSUBISHI ASX REVIEW
If first impressions count, then Mitsubishi won’t have too much trouble finding friends for its new compact SUV crossover, the 2010 ASX.
But there is more personality in the snub-nosed terrier looks and ‘docked’ tail of the ASX (or Active Smart Crossover).
We like its lines: it has got a bit of funky charm about it. And that won’t do it any harm among ‘lifestyle’ buyers looking for a versatile small wagon.
Available in both two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive configurations – the four-wheel-drive system also lifted straight from the Outlander - the ASX is lined up squarely against the likes of Nissan’s category-bending Dualis.
Unlike the Dualis, it offers a diesel as well as a petrol engine. While the 2.0 litre petrol is well known to us from its duties powering the Lancer, the diesel, mated to a six-speed manual, is an all-new all-Mitsubishi unit.
Just 1.8 litres, it’s a cracker: smooth, strong and with class-leading economy of just 5.8 l/100km, it will win a lot of converts to diesel motoring. Of course it would win a lot more if the diesel could be had with the auto option, but, according to Mitsubishi, that’s not coming until sometime next year.
The direct injection turbo diesel is an all-aluminium DOHC 16-valve four cylinder producing a very strong 110kW @ 4000rpm and peak torque of 300Nm @ 2000rpm. It is a ‘state of the art’ unit utilising Mitsubishi’s MIVEC variable valve timing system with a low, low (for a diesel) compression ratio of 14.9:1.
So, let’s take you over the ASX.
We drove the base model $28,490 2WD petrol CVT auto (driving through the front wheels), the mid-spec $31,990 4WD diesel manual, and – this one on the highway only – the top-spec leather kitted $36,990 Aspire.
Cheapest of the range, but not covered with this review, is the $25,990 2.0 litre petrol five-speed.
For all models, open the door and the first impression is a very good one. This is a nicely designed and executed interior.
The soft-touch surfaces to the door cards and handles feel right. So too the quality look and feel of the dash.
The multi-function wheel (fitted to mid-spec and Aspire models and another lift from the Outlander), is adjustable for both reach and rake, and, while a little ‘wooden’ at the dead-ahead, provides good feel for the road.
The Lancer-style seat fabrics in the base and mid-spec models looks both hard-wearing and appealing – a notch above the Dualis and X-Trail - and the black leather fit-out and panoramic roof (just an $800 option) in the Aspire adds quite an upmarket feel to things.
While black is the predominant theme throughout the interior, it is broken across all models by subtle brushed metal trim highlights in the dash and doors.
The design of the deep dash, the layout of the controls and smart conventional ‘two-dial’ instrument binnacle is clear and cleanly-styled. In the base-spec models in particular, the interior feels a cut above what we were expecting at that mid-twenty price point.
All models come with Bluetooth compatibility, USB and aux-in interface, CD (MP3 compatible) and a quite reasonable sound system. The Aspire also comes with a reversing camera (optional for other models).
Also, with a space-saver tyre as standard (a full size spare can be optioned) the deep boot is capable of swallowing 416 litres with the rear seats in place, expanding to 1193 litres with the rear seats folded.
Mitsubishi set out to create a passenger car ambience and interior feel with the ASX; it’s expecting nearly 30 percent of its buyers to be coming out of the light and small car sectors. It got this pretty right.
Except for the higher stance of the ASX, and the 4WD rotary selector nestled below the gear-shift, the ASX otherwise feels and drives like a small wagon.
And this will be another reason why the ASX will win hearts.
It feels compliant on the road, softly-sprung even, with a ‘long-travel’ suspension feel providing an unexpectedly comfortable ride. Certainly better than some conventional small wagons and hatches.
This will appeal to its target buyers of young families and ‘empty nesters’. They will also like the added security and sure-footedness of the switchable electronically controlled four-wheel-drive system.
For really rough or slippery off-road conditions, the system provides a 4WD Lock mode that transfers around 1.5 times the torque to the rear wheels to improve traction.
The performance of the versatile ASX is more akin to the X-Trail and even Suzuki Vitara here.
Having put the Outlander over some quite challenging tracks, we can attest to the system’s ability. It’s not for heavy duty work, but it’s not half bad – certainly, in diesel configuration in the ASX, capable of getting the family to some out-of-the-way fishing or camping spots.
Not so good, if you’re trying to find your way there, is the sat-nav. We managed to sort it out after a bit of fiddling, but it isn’t especially intuitive.
Once underway in the manual, you will notice that the shift action of the six-speed box is precise and well-weighted.
The gate also ‘centres’ nicely at fourth and third. This makes rowing through the box in a hurry, or running up and down through the gears on a mountain road, that much more enjoyable.
Though the diesel manual is expected to only make up 10 percent of sales in Australia (whereas in Europe, that sales break-down will be reversed), it is the pick of the range.
The great strength of the diesel is... well... its strength. With 300Nm under the toe, it is effortless in the hills and when overtaking.
It also won’t have any trouble coping with the kind of load a family on holiday will throw at it.
The 2.0 litre petrol mated to the stepless CVT is not quite so happy. Although the ASX is not especially heavy at 1345kg to 1440kg (petrol models), there is still a lot of car for those 2.0 litres to lug around. And it feels it.
With 110kW and 197Nm on the job, the CVT gets a bit of a workout keeping the show up to speed through the hills; loading it up will also blunt performance.
Of course, putting it in ‘stepped manual’ mode (six ‘virtual ratios’) improves things – you can hold the revs higher and longer for a bit more urgency – but it is a long way short of the diesel.
Fuel consumption for the petrol model is pretty good notwithstanding its heavier workload. It can manage a respectable 7.7 l/100km (manual) and 7.9 l/100km (CVT).
Another downside, but one that affects both petrol and diesel models, is that tyre roar at highway speeds is a little more intrusive than we’d like when on secondary roads. There is also a vibration through the steering column – it’s minor, but you will notice it – that becomes apparent as revs rise.
And, on broken bitumen and gravel roads, the front end, while remaining well-controlled, thumps and thuds a bit if you’re pushing things along.
But these are minor debits to the ledger.
Top to bottom, from base model to the Aspire, the ASX is very well-configured.
It comes as standard with automatic climate control air-conditioning, cruise control, front and rear electric windows and exterior mirrors, electric tailgate opener, AM/FM radio/CD/MP3 player with auxiliary and USB inputs, and variable intermittent windscreen wipers.
Plus, as mentioned, tilt and telescopic steering and 16-inch alloy wheels (with 17-inch on the Aspire).
Safety features fitted standard across the range include ASTC (Active Stability Control with Traction Control), Hill Start Control system, ABS, Electronic Brake Distribution, Brake Assist, and seven airbags, including driver and passenger front, side and curtain, and driver knee airbag.
And, lastly but importantly, it comes with Mitsubishi’s five year/130,000km “whole vehicle warranty”, with 10 year/160,000 km powertrain warranty and a five year/130,000 kilometre roadside assistance package.
So, that’s the ASX. It’s Mitsubishi’s first-ever diesel engined passenger vehicle to enter the Australian market.
There is little to be critical of. Sure, the 2.0 litre petrol could do with a few more horses, but for normal driving, few will find it wanting.
For Mitsubishi, it provides an entry into the fast-growing two-wheel drive compact SUV market segment. The trend to 2WD SUV-style vehicles is gathering momentum. Could it be the next big shift in buyer preference? It’s possible.
On this first impression, we like the ASX. Our choice would be the mid-spec diesel manual, but, whichever you choose, you get a lot of car for the money.
It’s versatile, economical, well-finished and comfortable. And its cheeky well-balanced lines are full of personality. As a package, it makes the VW Tiguan, for instance, look pretty overpriced.
It’s certainly one we’d have on the list.
Recommended Manufacturer List Price (excluding statutory and dealer costs)
ASX 2WD 2.0-litre petrol 5-speed manual: $25,990
ASX 2WD 2.0-litre petrol CVT automatic: $28,490
ASX4WD 1.8-litre turbodiesel 6-speed manual: $31,990
ASX 4WD 2.0-litre petrol CVT automatic: $31,990
ASX Aspire 1.8-litre turbodiesel 6-speed manual: $36,990
ASX Aspire 2.0-litre petrol CVT automatic: $36,990