Mitsubishi ASX first drive review

ANOTHER grenade has been lobbed into the compact off-roader battlefield with the arrival of the Mitsubishi ASX.  The sector has boomed more than 30 per cent this year, with the likes of the Nissan Dualis and Suzuki Grand Vitara fighting for share with the recently arrived – and immediately popular – Hyundai ix35.

The Mitsubishi ASX wants a big slice of that ground, and has been armed with a sharp and pointy price of $25,990 to do battle at the base level 2WD with manual gearbox ($2500 extra for the CVT). The 4WD is $31,990 and the top-spec Aspire is $36,990 – both with either six-speed manual or CVT transmission.

Also in its arsenal are excellent quality and fit-out for that price, plus solid comfort and handling.  Mitsubishi expects to sell around 350 per month, but that number is limited by quota “The response from dealers suggests we could now do closer to 450 – if we could get them - but we’re constrained until the end of the year at least,” says Mitsubishi Australia’s sales vice-president Anthony Casey.

He admits they underestimated demand for the vehicle, but says the global financial crisis was a strong factor in the decision.  “The problem is that you do these things 18 months out, and 18 months ago the world looked like it was going to hell in a handbasket - but that didn’t quite happen in Australia, of course,” Casey says.

“But getting more than we’d originally planned for is going to be hard work.”  Casey says they’re not concerned that the ASX might poach buyers from the Outlander, but the Lancer hatch could fall victim.  If there is any cannibalisation, it will be on Lancer hatch - maybe 100 a month,” he says.

Drivetrains

The ASX has both diesel and petrol engines, with the latter being the 110kW/197Nm 2.0-litre, four-cylinder MIVEC petrol engine from the Lancer, mated to either a five-speed manual or a six-speed continuously-variable transmission (CVT) with paddle-shifters on the steering wheel.

The diesel is an all-new – and all-Mitsubishi – 1.8-litre turbo unit, with 110kW and 300Nm being delivered via a six-speed manual transmission.  The Outlander has donated its three-mode electronic four-wheel drive system, that allows you to switch between front-wheel, all-wheel and locked modes.

The diesel manual 4WD is the economy winner at 5.8L/100km, with the 2WD using 7.7L in manual and 7.9L in CVT versions, while the 4WD with CVT comes in at 8.1L.  Stop-start technology is available in Europe, with a brake regenerative system capturing energy for the battery during deceleration and braking.

But it is tied to smaller engines than the ones we’re getting, and Mitsubishi product manager Craig Maxted says there’s little fuel economy benefit.  “Over there, it’s been used mainly to improve emissions, and it doesn’t do a lot for fuel – about 0.2L/100km less is all,” Maxted says.

Body and styling

The ASX was seeded from the cX concept that was unveiled in 2007 at Frankfurt motor show, and developed on the Outlander platform – sharing that baseline with the brand’s hero performer, the Lancer Evolution.

It’s 34.5cm shorter than the Outlander and at around 1450kg is some 200kg lighter, but there are similar styling cues around the front from the Mitsubishi family face, however at the rear it has a much neater look, although it misses out on the sibling’s handy split-fold tailgate.

Fit-out and equipment

Mitsubishi has put some effort into the cabin, which punches above its price point’s weight with quality plastics and a stacked equipment list. Standard kit includes telescopic steering column, stability control, hill-start assist, anti-skid brakes with brakeforce distribution and assistance for extra help.

Mitsubishi expects to win five safety stars in crash-testing being done now, helped by a strong body with ‘crush box’ crumple zones and standard fitment of seven airbags, including a driver-knee one.   The spare is a space saver, but there’s a full-size option available - although it cuts into the floor space.

Driving

The ASX is designed for comfort rather than speed, and delivers on that promise. While they’re on the flattish side, the seats are firm but supportive. And the interior is filled with quality soft-touch finishes that lend an almost premium hint – and shame one or two of its higher-priced rivals.

The cabin is quiet and well-isolated from all but the worst bumps and vibration. There’s some air rush around the windscreen at highway speeds, but aside from that no noise intruded except over the kind of coarse-chip bitumen that no amount of noise damping can save you from.

The diesel has the better torque, but is a bit clattery from idle, although that improves as you wind it up. Our vote went to the 2.0-litre petrol, but with the CVT automatic transmission, you need to keep the revs up above 3000rpm to stir it along with any real urgency, but the steering wheel paddles make this an easy task.

The manual naturally has more luck in keeping the engine stirred up, but while it was a fairly smooth shift we couldn’t get to like the touch of notchiness – and the stretch for fingers trying to reach for the reverse ring on the shaft. Mitsubishi is confident that the female buyers (towards whom it believes the sub-compact class is skewed) will head for the automatic transmission.

Although the ride is remarkably comfortable, the ASX doesn’t feel sluggish, with good turn-in from decently-weighted steering. While the suspension is set up to aid comfort, there’s far less body roll than in some of its rivals, and the brakes pull it up neatly.  Overall, it’s a stable and confident performer, and is kitted out far better than you’d expect for the price.

Score: 74/100

Mitsubishi ASX

On sale: next week
Price: from $25,990 (2WD 5-speed man) $28,490 (2WD CVT), $31,990 (4WD), $36,990 (Aspire)
Body: 5-door, 5-seater wagon
Engines: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol; 1.8-litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel
Power: 110kW @ 6000rpm (2.0); 110kW @ 4000rpm (diesel)
Torque: 197Nm @ 4200rpm; 300Nm @ 2000rpm
Transmissions: 5-speed man (2WD), 6-speed manual (diesel 4WD & Aspire), CVT
Economy (L/100km): 7.7 (2WD man), 7.9 (2WD CVT), 8.1 (4WD & Aspire CVT), 5.8 (4WD & Aspire man)
Wheels: 16-inch alloys (17-inch Aspire), steel space-saver spare
Suspension: independent MacPherson strut (front), multi-link (rear)
Brakes: ventilated discs (front), drums (rear) Kerb weight: 1440-1620kg Dimensions (mm): 4295 (l), 1770 (w), 1615 (h), 2670 (wheelbase)
Track: 1525mm

Rivals

Nissan Dualis from $24,990 73/100
Hyundai ix35 from $26,990 78/100
Suzuki Vitara: from $30,990 (5 dr) 71/100

SPECIFICATIONS

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