Mitsubishi ASX VS Mazda CX-3
- Lots of space
- New nose looks better
- Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Buzzy pedals
- Lumpy ride in town
- Just about everything, actually
- Design, inside and out
- Sharp handling
- Fun steering
- Small boot
- CarPlay still not fixed (it's coming)
- Engine can sound like it's working hard
The world is chock-a-block with enduring mysteries. The Loch Ness Monster, people who consider Taylor Swift's anodyne pop 'classic' material and the eternal descent of global politics.
To that I will add (perhaps unkindly), the Mitsubishi ASX. It's old - very old - and competes in a market full of interesting, stylish and gadget-stacked offerings from other makers. Including, oddly enough, Mitsubishi's own Eclipse Cross.
Being the newest member of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, there's a massive toy box of stuff to pick from before hitting the go button on an ASX replacement. Or, as it turns out, another one.
Thing is, in Australia at least, the ASX doesn't need a replacement, it's walloping everything in its class. For 2020, the evergreen, ever-daggy ASX gets a(nother) facelift, a few spec tweaks and, one expects - nay, hopes - renewed vigour.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Some cars are just so desirable, so delectably tempting to look at, that they cause people to abandon all logical and practical concerns and buy them anyway. Fortunately, most vehicles in this category of dangerous desirability are stupidly expensive, but when you combine the cuter-than-a-puppy looks of a car like Mazda's CX-3 with a price range that starts in the low $20,000 range, anything can happen.
Throw in the fact that this diminutive darling of a thing is a small SUV - one of the most desirable categories in the Australian market, with sales in the segment doubling in the past five years - and Mazda may need to reinforce the doors in its showrooms with the launch of this new one.
I speak from experience here because my wife loves the look of the CX-3 so much she wanted to buy one. So I explained that it is built on the Mazda2 platform, which means its boot is too small for a family of four, and that the rest of it probably wasn't suitable for us either. But she was still keen.
I know of a young family who bought one because they were so taken with its prettiness, but when they got it home they remembered they had a small child and realised that their pram would never, ever fit in the back. Oh dear.
If you are a young single or a childless couple, of course you can enjoy its alluring looks all you like, and the tight rear seats and small boot volume probably won't bother you at all.
Mazda happily admits the way this car looks is the main reason people buy it, which is no doubt why the new one looks so much like the highly successful old one (more than 58,000 CX-3s have been sold in Australia since its launch in 2015).
So, what actually is new about this incorrigibly cute crossover? We went to the local launch drive to find out.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
If I seem like I've been too hard on the manual ASX, you may well be right. It's really not my kind of car, but I know Mitsubishi can do better. What winds me up about it is that the company knows it doesn't have to, because the automatic ASX continues to fly off the forecourts.
Of course it doesn't in manual form and it's fairly easy to see why. It's not particularly cheap, doesn't have a lot of stuff (apart from a tonne of space) and I'd be surprised if dealers even mention its existence to shoppers.
If your heart is set on an ASX, skip the manual and use the saved energy to talk a dealer down the extra to get a CVT version. And there's a new mystery to add to the collection - I just recommended a CVT over a manual.
If you liked the previous Mazda CX-3 - and just about everyone did - then you're going to love this one even more. It's got a tiny bit more presence, a less busy and more classy interior and marginally better engines with slightly improved fuel economy. Basically, it's a little bit more of the same for this little gem of a compact SUV.
Would you have a Mazda CX-3 over a Mitsubishi ASX, on looks alone? Tell us in the comments section.
The first ASX was a style-free zone. It had virtually no adornments. The styling was detectable only with a device with the sort of sensitivity that can detect an alien burping on a planet circling Alpha Centauri.
Did the job for a few years before another going-over made it look almost contemporary, but it stuck with the gawky profile.
This latest update puts a whole new, ill-fitting front end on the ASX but it looks a heck of a lot better. The 'Dynamic Shield' face from elsewhere in the range makes the car look fresh out of the box from the front, with Triton-esque slim headlights and a properly chunky look.
The new clamshell-style bonnet is nifty, or would be if the panel gaps weren't all over the place.
Then you see the side and rear and realise it's just the same old ASX with a bit of makeup on and new LED tail-lights that, to be completely fair, would look pretty good on any other car.
Amusingly, Mitsubishi has also slapped the Dynamic Shield on the Mirage - it really works on the ASX, it really doesn't on the tiddly hatch.
The cabin is the same old thing, with a natty new pattern on the seats that looks quite fetching, and a couple of new bits of trim here and there.
Ahead of the shifter is a piece of trim with an unexplained circular cut-out that is filled with the same patterned plastic. It really irrirates me and has been there for years, but at least the weird cupholder with a little sign that told you not to use as a cupholder is gone.
In the right light, in the right colour, (obviously the hugely popular red), the CX-3 can move beyond being just small and sweet looking and reach the point of genuinely striking. There's a lovely, criss-crossing line that swinges down the sides, crossing over at its mid point. It's what Mazda calls pure Kodo design - simple, sleek and slightly sexy.
The angle most people fall in love from, though, is front on, with the CX-3's toothy grin only slightly changed for this new version with a new "more assertive" grille, with a solid, detailed design featuring horizontal bars of different thicknesses.
The goal here, as CX-3 program manager Takata Minoru explained, was to make "no unnecessary changes" and only to "refine the beauty and enhance the quality feel".
The new grille is supposed to give the car a sharper look and a greater feeling of depth, but to us it just looked like a new grille. Mazda says the new car is defined by being "exquisite" and "edgy", but it's not clear what that means in terms of new-ness.
The sTouring and Akari grades get a new line of chrome along the front bumper and sides, which is pleasant enough, while there are also new fog light bezels in gloss black on Maxx Sport variants and above.
Oh, and the rear lights, in the top two grades, have adopted a cylindrical shape for the facelift version, because round things are classier than square ones. Apparently.
Colours, of course, in a car so pretty and feminine, are a big deal, and there are now eight to choose from - 'Soul Red Crystal Metallic' (as opposed to just Soul Red Metallic) and 'Machine Grey Metallic' are new and join 'Dynamic Blue Mica', 'Titanium Flash Mica', 'Jet Black Mica', 'Snow Flake White Pearl Mica', 'Ceramic Metallic' and 'Eternal Blue Mica'. Brown is not an option, happily.
In short, it's a good looking car, much like the old one, and it's hard to imagine a vehicle of this size and shape being any more attractive. It's surprising, then, to learn that the CX-3 is only the second-best seller in its segment, behind the Mitsubishi ASX.
Ground clearance for the CX-3 is 160mm unladen. So, no rock hopping then.
The one thing right about the Mitsubishi is the space (cue reverb effect).
For a compact SUV, it's huge inside. Front and rear passengers luxuriate in reasonably comfortable seats with plenty of head and legroom. Front and rear rows each have a pair of cupholders but only the front doors will hold a bottle.
Boot space is very generous, starting at 393 litres and with the rear seats out of the way, 1193 litres. If you end up choosing another ASX, be aware that the Exceed's fully-hectic sub-woofer is so fully hectic it swallows up 50 litres to deliver sick beats.
Considering the external dimensions of the car, the CX-3 does quite well. Allow me to illuminate you with my own example, which is that I recently spent 10 days driving one of these around Italy, with my wife and two young children on board, plus a significant amount of luggage.
I had sleepless nights before picking up the car, because I was sure we'd never get it all in, or be able to breathe if we did, but not only did we fit, we were quite comfortable and happy with the luggage capacity.
Rear leg room is just bearable for an adult, but no problem at all for small kids (although it wouldn't suit teens). The boot space, at 264 litres, is very small, and even calling it adequate seems generous. What it will not fit, though, due to its narrow dimensions, is a pram of any sort, so young families should look elsewhere. Although if they don't, there are two ISOFIX points and two top-tether points for child seats.
The biggest change for the new model in cabin terms is the inclusion of an electronic park brake, which has allowed Mazda to include a new centre console/armrest, with two handy cup holders of different sizes, there are also bottle holders in all four doors, and (for Maxx Sport spec and above) a rear armrest with two more cupholders).
Indeed, Mazda says the cupholders have had their depth and diameter revised so they can now fit giant, American-sized cups if required.
That centre console also offers useful, deep storage and there are two USB points handily located in front of the shift lever. The control buttons for the MZD media system are also more ergonomically positioned thanks to the electronic park brake.
The rear seat armrest, with built in storage box, is said to "embody the human-centred philosophy by increasing comfort and reducing fatigue". I know I always find that armrests make me less tired, but then I wouldn't volunteer to sit in the back of a CX-3 anyway.
The overall goal with the new interior was to make it more minimalist and Japanese, and when you compare it with photos of the old one it does look less busy and less cluttered, with classy touches here and there. That is only slightly offset by the cheaper, harder feeling plastics around the doors on their armrests.
Top-shelf Akari models come with genuine leather seats in black or white, sTouring gets grey with black leatherette and everything beneath that gets a black interior with black cloth seats.
A sunroof is available on the Akari models.
Price and features
One of the weirdest things about the ASX is that it's not very cheap, with one exception - the entry-level ES with the manual transmission, landing at $23,990. Or, more accurately, $24,990 drive-away at the time of writing.
I hold a deep suspicion that it won't take much arm-twisting to reduce the price considerably. In fact, a slightly stern look should do it.
The ES spec includes 18-inch alloys (where competitors will sling you steel wheels with hubcaps), a four-speaker stereo, climate control, reversing camera, remote central locking, cruise control, LED headlights, leather wheel and shifter, power folding rear vision mirrors and a space-saver spare. Slim, but useful pickings.
A new 8.0-inch screen sits proudly in a new-looking centre stack with DAB+, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The sound is pretty ordinary and the Mitsubishi software has a very 1980s Stranger Things feel about it, but the hardware is okay and works well with smart phones.
You get the distinct impression Mitsubishi has learnt what 'just enough' means for its buyers. That attitude permeates the whole car.
There are seven colours, one free (white), five for a puzzling $740 and one for a scandalous $940. For comparison, Mazda's (beautiful) premium colours are $300 and there are just two of them.
Comparing the differences between the CX-3 range, there really is a variant for all budgets, with an entry price of $23,990 drive-away for the Neo Sport with a six-speed manual, cloth seats and steel wheels, rising all the way to $37,490 for the leather-filled, sunroof-topped Akari LE, which gets some impressive tech previously only seen in German cars, like a driver-attention monitor and radar cruise control with full stop and go functionality.
Prices have risen over the previous model, but Mazda says this pricing reflects the fact that you're getting more equipment in the new version.
You are also, undeniably, getting a less busy and more classy interior, although the changes to the exterior design are so small you wouldn't want to be paying for them. Nor would you want to change a look that is this pretty, and successful.
Standard kit for your $23,990 drive-away Neo Sport (that's manual, auto adds another $2000) includes 16-inch steel wheels, body-coloured powered mirrors, black cloth front seats with height adjustment, electric parking brake, Bluetooth functionality, a 7.0-inch full-colour 'MZD Connect' touchscreen to control your infotainment and sound system with DAB and six speakers (but no CD player and no GPS), and a multi-function 'Command Control', plus keyless start, rear parking sensors, a reversing carer and 'Smart City Brake Support', which works in both forward and reverse. It's a (very) good-looking package at a tempting price. Apple CarPlay, which would helpfully allow you to run navigation from your iPhone in the base model, is not yet available, but it's coming soon, and a kit to retrofit it will be available at Mazda dealers in the near future.
The Maxx Sport adds 16-inch alloys, auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers, a fold down armrest with two cupholders for the rear passengers, leather-wrapped gear shift knob and steering wheel, climate-control air con, sat nav, 'Blind Spot Monitoring' and 'Rear Cross Traffic Alert'.
Step up to the sTouring and win 18-inch alloy wheels, LED lights all round, slightly nicer black 'Maztek' and cloth seats, a handy head-up display, keyless entry and start, 'Driver Attention Alert', from parking sensors and 'Traffic Sign Recognition'.
The Akari does feel noticeably nicer inside with its softer dash material and leather seats in white or black, plus 'Mazda Radar Cruise Control' with start-stop function, a 360-degree view monitor and adaptive LED headlights and lane-departure warning.
Personally, I'd be quite happy with my value at $25,490 for a manual Maxx Sport. Indeed, it's a bit of a bargain.
The prices we've listed here are drive-away (no more to pay!), which is something new for Mazda and does provide wonderful clarity.
Engine & trans
The dowdy 2.0-litre four-cylinder is unchanged (again) for 2020, with 110kW/197Nm. Those figures are class-competitive because as I always say, there appears to be legislation governing naturally aspirated compact SUV power outputs.
The basest of base specs has a five-speed manual gearbox (they're more common than you think, so I don't have a joke or exclamation of surprise here) driving the front wheels only.
No more all-wheel drive in the ASX, you have to go to the Eclipse Cross for that. Which is a pity, because the AWD ASX was almost compelling.
Mazda is offering a new SKYACTIV-D turbo-diesel engine with the CX-3 - which has increased in capacity from 1.5 to 1.8 litres, which takes power from 77kW up to 85kW, while torque stays at 270Nm - but you have to wonder why. Mazda Australia predicts the diesel will make up a measly one per cent of sales, which probably explains why they didn't bring one along to the launch for us to drive.
Almost everyone, then, will be choosing the revised SKYACTIV-G 2.0-litre direct-injection petrol engine, which makes 110kW at 6000rpm and 195Nm of torque at 2800rpm, an increase of exactly one kilowatt and three newton metres from the previous model.
Changes to the engine have focused on improving fuel consumption, and variations in that consumption caused by seasonal changes and usage patterns. Apparently the new version offers improved combustion efficiency when under heavy load - climbing hills for example - and thermal-management tech to reduce excess fuel consumption when it's cold outside.
New high-pressure injectors also help to improve torque delivery, with the amount of torque on offer throughout the rev range increased by "one to two per cent". Fuel economy is also improved by the same percentages. Not huge improvements, then.
You can also choose between a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic transmission, and between front-wheel or all-wheel drive (not on the base Neo Sport, though). Not surprisingly, for a city crossover like this, 92 per cent of CX-3s sold will be FWD, and 90 per cent will be automatics.
Having driven the manual version myself on holiday, I would highly recommend it, because it allows you to get the most out of the engine. With a weight of 1266kg it's useful to be able to get involved in shifting.
The CX-3's engine uses a timing chain rather than a belt and you should check our problems pages to see if there are any reports of problems with automatic transmissions.
Mitsubishi's official fuel figure weighs in at 7.7L/100km which, as I have discovered in the past, is a long way off reality.
A week in the manual delivered an even worse figure than the CVT I last drove, getting through 12.4L/100km (11.5 for the CVT) in the week I had it.
Granted, it was just me driving it, the usual softening influence of my wife was not available to the ASX.
One of the aims of upgrading the CX-3's engine was better fuel economy, and yet the Mazda engineers admit they managed an improvement of just "one to two per cent" on the 2.0-litre petrol engine and 3 per cent with the diesel, which has grown from 1.5 to 1.8 litres and still manages to use slightly less fuel, at an impressive 4.7L/100km.
The 2.0 petrol has claimed figures of 6.6L/100km for the FWD manual, 6.3L/100km for the FWD auto and 6.7L/100km for the AWD automatic. People who are chasing better economy would go for the diesel, but customers for this car obviously aren't that bothered, or are happy with mid-sixes, because Mazda tips just one per cent of sales will be the diesel.
For some reason I was hoping the manual ASX would be a better car to drive than its CVT siblings. That proves two things. The first, is I have a short memory, and the second... I have a short memory.
I last drove a manual ASX five or so years ago. It was not my favourite car then owing to the engine buzz, the long, light clutch and the gear lever stolen from a pole vaulter's kit bag.
And for all the same reasons, some half a decade later, the manual ASX is still not very good.
Adding to the ASX's issues is the fact that having better access to the power and torque means a propensity to spin the inside wheel with moderate steering lock and throttle applied together.
The tyres screech away with entertaining abandon and the traction control light comes on like that flickering, distant lightning 20 minutes after a storm has blown through.
The CVT's torque steer is one of the aforementioned great mysteries - despite not having a huge amount of torque, the auto model still manages to pull the steering wheel under power.
That's all manageable, though. What isn't is the buzzing you get from the pedals. Once you're moving you realise that you don't have your feet planted on the shopping channel vibrating foot thing.
The accelerator, brake and clutch all have a hotline to a beehive. I got out more than once shaking my right leg because it felt like it was asleep.
Once you're over all that, you find that the ASX is a bit lumpy and bumpy around town, despite a multi-link rear end.
It's weird to ask extra then deliver a ride that isn't demonstrably better than a cheaper torsion beam set-up (sharp speed bumps being the only exception).
The steering is also slow, so you're constantly twirling the wheel when you're moving around the city and the burbs. And the electric assistance is all over the place, making you wonder what you're actually doing.
And after all of that, the manual shifter is so long that if your grip is anything other than completely orthodox, you can actually trap your hand between the dashboard and the gear knob when you go for third.
I think you've probably got the point. This is not the pick of the ASX range, not by a long way. And the manual makes it worse in the city, not better.
In a world of constant downsizing, a 2.0-litre engine might sound brutish and bold in a car of this size, but 110 is certainly not an overpowering number of kilowatts. As a result, the petrol-powered CX-3 feels spry and sprightly, but certainly never sporty.
There is a Sport button you can press, but all it seems to do is hold the gear you're in for longer, causing the engine to drone on like a Peter Dutton speech, and not really making much happen in excitement terms.
A sports car this is not, obviously, so perhaps the words "more than adequate" are best for describing the car's performance. You're not going to fly up any hills, but you can zip off traffic lights with reasonable aplomb, and you're never genuinely found wanting for power. More torque would be nice for overtaking, but you could choose the diesel for that (if you're a ‘one percenter').
One of Mazda's goals with the new CX-3 was improving NVH and they've done a stellar job with that. While the old car was bit of a buzz box at times, the new one is far quieter and more refined in terms of road-noise intrusion, but if you are tempted to push on, the noise from the engine remains strident, and at times strained.
In most driving conditions, however, it's a pleasant cabin to be in, with negligible road noise (although it's more noticeable with the optional 18-inch wheels). And if you do enjoy a slightly lower driving position, you have the ability to drop your chair to a point where you feel more like you are sitting in the car rather on it.
The newly fettled electronic power steering is sharp and fun to use, falling at that point just before it becomes too light and wafty to give proper feedback. The engineers concentrated on "rolling plushness", which is the feel you get through the wheel, basically, and produced an 18 per cent reduction in buzziness through the steering wheel.
Ride control is good over most surfaces - and with ground clearance of 155mm you won't be going too far off road - but there's still a bit clatter over really sharp impacts. Overall, it's a very comfortable cruiser, even on our more brutal country roads. Mazda says it worked on "reducing choppiness", or vertical body movement, and it seems to have succeeded.
Cornering is something you can actually enjoy, if you care for that kind of thing, and this CX-3 benefits from Mazda's 'G-Vectoring Control' (GVC), which is meant to provide "neutral cornering" by minutely reducing torque output to the appropriate wheel to cancel out understeer, or oversteer moments.
It's all about giving the driver that sense of "oneness" with their vehicle that Mazda likes to call "Jinba-ittai" - horse and rider as one. In terms of horsepower and performance figures, they're not something CX-3 buyers are going to worry too much about, clearly, as Mazda makes no mention of the car's 0-100km/h time. A bit of research uncovered the fact that it ranges from 9.0sec for the manual to 9.5 for the auto. Not terrible, then.
Overall, much like the Mazda2 this vehicle is based on, the CX-3 is one of those cars that is genuinely as much fun as it looks, and slightly more fun than you expect it to be.
Throw in its good looks, economical engines and reasonably affordable pricing and it's a complete package. Up until the point where you have kids, and you're forced to upgrade to something that can actually carry a pram.
For a very solid $2500, you can add lane departure warning, auto high beam, reverse sensors, blind spot warning, lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert. There's a catch, though - you can't have it on the manual.
The model featured below is the 2020 Mitsubishi ASX GSR
The Mazda CX-3 is full of safety gear without ticking boxes.
The maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating stretches back to 2014 when the rules were quite different. I won't speculate on what it might achieve in 2020 as-is, but five stars might be tricky.
Mazda says its new CX-3 is part of its "aim for a safe and accident-free automotive society", which means the company is living slightly in dream land, but at least you know it's thinking about safety.
The 360-degree view monitor is very handy, but you can only have it on the Akari, where you'll also get eight parking sensors, while the base model makes do with rear ones only.
Indeed, the base model goes without most of the safety goodies that are sprinkled across the more expensive variants - blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane-departure warning, traffic-sign recognition, adaptive LED headlamps, driver-attention alert (with a coffee cup popping up to remind you that you might be tired) and the very handy, almost autonomous radar cruise control with full stop and go function.
What you do get on the entry Neo Sport is 'Smart City Brake Support', which works when moving forwards or backwards and is basically Mazda's name for AEB. The system works with both cars and pedestrians at speeds of up to 80km/h. The previous CX-3 received a maximum five-star ANCAP rating.
The three-year capped price servicing regime is not bad and every service you get at the dealer extends the roadside cover for another 12 months.
A small bit of good news for you - where previously a service was $240, they're now $199 for all three during the program, with the initial 1000km service remaining free (and annoying).
Surprisingly, Mazda claims its customers are completely unconcerned by the fact that it doesn't offer free roadside assistance as part of its new and improved five-year warranty, although it does occasionally offer it as a promotional thing. I'd be negotiating hard to have it included in the price.
The five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, from Mazda Motor Corporation itself, is a real selling point, however.
Servicing is due every 10,000km or 12 months and the first one will cost you $289, the second $317, third $289, fourth $317 and fifth $289. Seems to be a pattern there.