I was standing at the pay-desk about to buy a pair of trendy orange-coloured jeans to propel me into 2013 when a shadow of reality told me I wasn't a trendy person. I left the jeans behind. Mistakes like this are very common and generally people come to their senses before pretending to be something they are clearly not.

Car makers bear no such guilt. They may present an SUV which has all the outward image of a rugged adventure machine to take you and the girl, the family, your mates or your dog, into the outdoor paradise that exists beyond suburbia.

In fact, that SUV is more likely a sedan with a boxy body and the off-road acumen of a Tour de France racing bike. It's pleasing to see that Mitsubishi offers a purposeful SUV that is as comfortable in the city as it is roaming forest trail. No pretence.

Value

The ASX 4WD Aspire 2.2 is the most expensive of the smallest Mitsubishi SUV range and though its $36,490 price tag is certainly not cheap, it is fair value given its versatility and low running costs. A base version saves $4500 but the Aspire is better value. A 1.8-litre diesel version is $34,990 and is almost as good.

The Aspire features include a big 7-inch colour touch screen with sat-nav, voice-activated audio and Bluetooth link, leather seats, smart-key operation, heated front seats with electric adjustment, 17-inch alloys and a full-length glass roof. There's a four-year capped-price service program that will cost $1245 for three years and the SUV has a strong 54 per cent resale value.

Design

Mitsubishi's best-looking SUV is so good that Peugeot 4008 and Citroen Aircross use it as the basis for their own models. Cabin design is restrained but shows good build quality. Soft-touch dash and upmarket trim lift this model and the glass roof is a real bonus. There's good rear-seat room for two adults - three at a pinch - and the split-fold seats fold almost flat, taking luggage space from 416 to 1109-litres. The cargo floor is quite high and hides a space-saver spare.

Technology 

Despite its compact exterior dimensions, the ASX uses the Outlander platform and drivetrain. Basically, the difference comes down to body shape and the Outlander's extra 350mm length allowing for seven seats.

The shared 110kW/360Nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel is naturally perkier in the 80kg lighter ASX and the six-speed auto (not CVT as in petrol models) meld to become a fun package. It claims 5.8L/100km, the same as the Outlander and only 0.1L/100km more than the ASX's alternative 1.8-litre diesel. The ASX is basically an on-demand 4WD though uniquely in compact SUVs, can be locked into 4WD at speeds up to around 100km/h. Steering is electric-assist and brakes are four-wheel discs.

Safety

No change from its competitors here. It gets a five-star crash rating, has seven airbags and the full complement of electronic chassis and brake aids. There's Isofix points on the two rear seats, a hill-holder, space-saver spare and the ability to change to constant AWD at virtually any speed if the road becomes slippery. There's also automatic headlights and wipers, a reverse camera and rear park sensors.

Driving

The seating position is high which gives the driver some confidence, especially when parking and picking a line through traffic. Typical of a diesel, there is some start-up lag and when accelerating quickly from a low speed.

It's not as bad as some rivals but remains annoying. Once awoken, the engine shows its best performance only around 2000-3000rpm and is at odds with the claim that a meaty 360Nm of torque is available from 1500rpm.

Paddle shifters are a nice touch but rarely used. Ride comfort is very good - same applies to the Outlander - though some occupants claimed the seats were too firm. In the dirt it requires momentum and low-tyre pressures to clear sandy traps. A better torque spread lower in the rev range would help here.