Subaru Outback VS Mitsubishi ASX
- Strong value
- Great practicality
- Lots of safety tech
- No hybrid option
- No turbo engine
- Not as fun as some rivals
- Lots of space
- New nose looks better
- Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Buzzy pedals
- Lumpy ride in town
- Just about everything, actually
It never used to be like this. Families used to choose a station wagon or estate car because that body style was the smartest choice. Maybe not the most desirable choice, but wagons were, and always have been, pragmatic.
And then SUVs came on the scene. People thought they needed these stylised hatchbacks to sit higher in traffic and live out their “weekend warrior” image. Oh, those “active lifestyle” types. And in recent times, SUVs have become the go-to – accounting for half of all new vehicle sales in 2020.
But the Subaru Outback 2021 is here to stand up to those wannabe SUVs, with its own take on the up-high recipe. Admittedly it’s not like the Subaru Outback approach to the SUV formula is new – this is the sixth generation version of the venerable high-riding wagon, but this new model is apparently more SUV than ever. Subaru Australia even calls it a “true blue, mud in its blood all-wheel drive SUV”.
So does it have what it takes to stand out in the crowd? Let’s dive a little deeper and find out.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
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|
The sixth-generation, 2021 Subaru Outback has incrementally improved the large wagon-slash-SUV, with a number of important steps forward including better safety tech, a more powerful engine and smarter cabin. A turbo or hybrid powertrain would sweeten the deal even further.
I don’t know that you’d really need anything other than the base model Outback AWD, which seems like a truly great value offering. It’d be our pick of the range.
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.
It’s an all-new car. It doesn’t necessarily look like it, and in fact – to my eye – it’s not as attractive as the fifth-generation model, which was an expert in being inoffensive, where this model has a few more design-lead changes that might divide opinions.
You won’t mistake it for anything other than an Outback, as it has that typical rugged high-riding wagon look that we’ve come to expect from it. But it’s almost like this is a facelift rather than an all-new car.
Like, literally – the features have all been cinched back at the front, and the wheel-arches have been tweaked so they stand more at attention… it literally looks like an age-denying citizen’s approach at looking younger. A bit too much Botox? Tell us what you think the comments below.
But there are still smart design highlights, like the roof rails with integrated roof racks that are stowable/deployable in the base and top models, while the mid-spec model has a fixed roof rack system.
The fact all models have LED lighting all-around is nice, while the 18-inch wheels… well, none of them are to my taste. To me, they just aren’t as youthful as some of the other elements of the car are trying to elucidate.
And the rear-end treatment? Well, that’s the only spot where you’re most likely to confuse it with another car… and that doppelganger would be a Forester.
On the inside there are some really nice design changes, though. Check out the interior pictures below.
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.
Subaru has taken some pretty big steps when it comes to changing the interior of the Outback, with the most prominent change being front and centre of the cabin – that huge new 11.6-inch touchscreen media system.
It’s a really interesting looking piece of technology, and like the existing media screen in the Outback, is crisp, colourful and offers quick response times. It’s something that takes a little bit of getting used to – the fan controls are digital, for instance, but there are buttons either side of the screen for temperature control – but once you’ve spent some time with it, you’d be surprised just how intuitive it all is.
The Apple CarPlay worked a treat, connecting up without hassle. And while it isn’t wireless CarPlay, we haven’t yet tested a car with that tech that’s worked as it should… so, yay for cables!
There are two USB ports below the screen, and two additional charging ports in the back seat centre section as well. That’s good, but there’s no wireless charging pad at all, which isn’t great.
And while the big screen has done away with the multiple screen layout and the huge number of buttons in the old car, the new one still has a number of buttons on the steering wheel, which are easy to learn too. I had some trouble acclimating to the blinker stalk, with the one-touch indicator trigger seemingly being a bit too hard to activate at times. It’s a quiet “ticker”, too, so there were a few times when I was driving with my indicator on for ages without realising it.
Storage is mostly really well considered in the Outback, with bottle holders and storage sleeves in all four doors, plus a pair of cup holders between the front seats (they are a little large if you prefer a small takeaway coffee), and in the back there’s a fold-down centre armrest with cupholders, too.
The front also has a small storage section below the media screen (not quite large enough for a large-format smartphone), plus there’s a covered centre console bin, and the dashboard design may have been inspired by the RAV4, as there’s a neat little rubberised shelf in front of the passenger where you could put a phone or wallet.
In terms of space for occupants, taller people will be fine in the front or the rear. I’m 182cm or 6’0” tall, and I managed to find a comfortable driving position, and was able to sit behind it with ample knee room, toe room and head space, too. The width is great, too, with plenty of room across the cabin. Three of me could easily fit side by side, but if you have children you’ll be happy to know there are two ISOFIX and three top-tether points for baby seats.
The back seat occupants should be kept happy as there are directional vents in all grades, while the top two specs score rear outboard seat heating, too. Nice.
There are some other nice inclusions for rear seat occupants, including recline adjust for the backrests of the seats, and the seatbelts are set in such a way that they should never get in the way when you lower the back seats down (60:40 split fold, actuated by triggers in the boot area).
Speaking of the boot space, there’s plenty. The new Outback offers 522 litres (VDA) or cargo capacity, with is 10L more than before. Plus, as mentioned, the seats fold flat to allow 1267L of luggage capacity.
Equivalent mid-size SUVs priced close to the Outback can’t match it for practicality, and the cabin’s look and feel is greatly improved over the previous model. It’s a very nice place to spend time.
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.
Price and features
The Subaru Outback range remains a value-focused option for customers out there who want a lot of car for their money.
It still starts under forty grand in sixth-generation guise, though prices have gone up somewhat compared to the old model, which Subaru says is justified by additional equipment and safety technology.
All models have the same powertrain, so it’s purely gear and goodies that separates the three variants: the entry-level Outback AWD ($39,990), mid-range AWD Sport ($44,490) and top-spec AWD Touring ($47,490). Those prices are MSRP/list pricing, before on-road costs.
Now, here’s a rundown of the range.
The base model AWD comes with 18-inch alloy wheels and a full size alloy spare, roof rails with stowable roof rack cross bars, LED headlights, LED foglights, push-button start, keyless entry, electric park brake, rain-sensing wipers, heated and power-folding side mirrors, fabric seat trim, leather steering wheel, paddle-shifters, electric adjustment for the front seats, rear seats with manual recline, and a 60:40 split-fold rear seat with boot release levers.
The AWD entry-level car – and both the variants above – have a new 11.6-inch touchscreen media screen in portrait layout, which incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech. There are six speakers standard, as well as four USB ports (2x front, 2x rear).
The next model up the range is the AWD Sport, which – like the Forester Sport model – gets a number of aesthetic changes to help split it from its stablemates.
They include model-specific dark 18-inch wheels, black exterior trim changes, fixed roof rails, a power tailgate, water repellent interior trim with green stitching, heated front and outboard rear seats, sports pedals, light-sensing headlights (auto on/off) and it gets sat nav as part of the media screen, too. This grade scores a front view and side view monitor for parking/low speed driving, too.
The top-end AWD Touring has a few luxury-focused extras over the other grades, including an electric sunroof, Nappa leather interior trim, a heated steering wheel, auto dipping passenger side door mirror, memory settings for driver’s seat, satin finish door mirrors, silver highlight roof rails (with stowable crossbars), and gloss-finish wheels.
The interior also upgrades the stereo in this grade to a nine-speaker harman/kardon setup with subwoofer and single CD player. All grades have DAB+ digital radio too.
All grades have an array of safety technology, including a driver monitoring system that will warn you to keep your eyes on the road and monitor for signs of drowsiness, and in the top-spec model includes face recognition that can adjust the seat and side mirrors for you.
All models come with a reversing camera, Subaru’s EyeSight forward facing camera system that incorporates AEB, lane keeping, adaptive cruise control and more. There are full details on the safety systems and their operability in the section below.
Things missing from any grade of Outback? It would have been nice to have a wireless phone charger, and there are no traditional parking sensors, either.
Overall though, there’s a lot to like across multiple grades, here.
If you’re interested in colours (or colors if you prefer), then you might be intrigued to know there are nine colours available. Two can’t be had on the AWD Sport grade - Storm Grey Metallic and Crimson Red Pearl – but it can be had in any of the remaining colours, as can the other trim levels: Crystal White Pearl, Magnetite Grey Metallic, Ice Silver Metallic, Crystal Black Silica, Dark Blue Pearl, and the new Autumn Green Metallic and Brilliant Bronze Metallic.
The best news? None of the colour choices will cost you any extra money!
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.
Engine & trans
The engine in all Subaru Outback 2021 models is a “90 per cent new” 2.5-litre four-cylinder “boxer” horizontally opposed petrol engine.
The motor produces 138kW of power (at 5800rpm) and 245Nm of torque (from 3400-4600rpm). Those are modest increases – 7 per cent more power and 4.2 per cent more torque – compared with the old Outback.
It is only available with a “refined” Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic, but all grades come with paddle-shifters as standard, so you can take matters in to your own hands – Subaru says there’s an “eight-speed manual mode”.
Towing capacity for the Outback range is 750kg for an unbraked trailer and 2000kg for a braked trailer, with a 200kg down weight for the tow bar. You can option a towbar as a genuine accessory.
Now, the elephant – or elephants – in the Outback are that it doesn’t launch with a hybrid powertrain, which means it’s falling behind the class leaders (yes, we’re talking about the likes of the Toyota RAV4, but even the Forester has a hybrid powertrain option!).
And the old diesel engine has been axed, plus there’s no six-cylinder petrol variant as there was in the previous model.
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.
The official combined cycle fuel consumption figure – that’s the claimed fuel economy the brand reckons you should achieve across a mix of driving – is stated at 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres.
That’s pretty good, and it’s aided by the engine’s start-stop technology that even has a readout that tells you how many millilitres of fuel you’re saving when it’s active. I like that.
In our real world testing we saw a return – at the pump – of 8.8L/100km across highway, urban, back road and traffic jam testing. That’s not bad, but in similar driving in a Toyota RAV4 hybrid I’ve seen economy of about 5.5L/100km.
We assume Subaru Australia will add a hybrid version of the Outback at some point (like it has with the XV Hybrid and Forester Hybrid), but at this point in time, the petrol engine is your only choice.
Fuel tank capacity is 63 litres, and it can take 91RON regular unleaded.
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.
If you’ve driven a previous-generation Subaru Outback, you’re not going to feel like this is unfamiliar territory.
That’s because this version, well, it sticks to the formula. Even if you’ve driven the new Forester, it might feel pretty familiar.
Much of that comes down to the engine and transmission. The 2.5L four-cylinder boxer is a strong engine, but not a punchy one. It offers good response and smooth power delivery for the most part, and it will push you back in your seat if you plant your foot, but not in the same way a petrol-electric hybrid or a turbocharged four-cylinder might.
And while there is still some Subaru “boxer” rumble from under the bonnet, it’s largely a pretty hushed place to be when you’re driving it in normal circumstances. If you accelerate hard you’ll hear the engine more, and that’s down to the behaviour of the CVT automatic.
Some people will hate it because it’s a CVT, but Subaru does a pretty good job with these transmissions, and in the Outback it’s as inoffensive as they come. And yes, there is a manual mode with paddle shifters if you want to take matters into your own hands, but for the most part, you shouldn’t really need to.
The steering is direct and offers good weighting and response, pivoting pretty well in corners while also allowing you to turn the car easily when you’re parking. There’s not much feel to the steering, but that’s not what this car is about, and thankfully the trademark Subaru visibility from the driver’s seat means it is easier to park than some other SUVs out there.
The ride is mostly good, with a supple character that is more about comfort than anything else. It’s a little more softly sprung and a touch underdamped than some people might like, meaning it can be a little wobbly or jittery depending on the road, but I think it’s the right balance for the intent of the car – a family wagon / SUV that has some potential off-road chops.
It is all-wheel drive after all, and there is Subaru’s X-Mode system – with snow/dirt and deep snow/mud modes – that should be helpful if you find yourself off the beaten path. I did some light gravel track driving in the Outback, and found its 213mm ground clearance to be plentiful, while the suspension was pretty well sorted.
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.
There is no ANCAP crash test safety rating as yet for the 2021 Outback range, but it has a lot of the technology and safety goodies that customers shopping for a family SUV or wagon would expect.
As standard there is Subaru’s EyeSight stereo camera system that reads the road ahead, and it incorporates forward/front autonomous emergency braking (AEB) for vehicles that works between 10km/h and 160km/h. There's also pedestrian AEB (1km/h to 30km/h) and cyclist detection and AEB (60km/h or less), and it has lane keeping technology with emergency lane keep assist that can swerve the car to avoid impacts with cars, people or cyclists (approximately 80km/h or less). Lane departure prevention works from 60km/h to 145km/h.
All grades also get blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, a driver monitor camera that watches the driver and warns them if they’re not paying attention to the road or starting to get drowsy (the top-spec model’s version of this also includes seat and mirror adjustment memory based on your face!), plus there is speed sign recognition, too.
All grades have a reversing camera, while the top two specs have front view and side view cameras, but none have a 360-degree surround view camera. All models also have rear AEB, a system Subaru calls reverse auto braking (RAB) that can halt the car if it detects there’s something behind it when you’re backing up. It also doubles as reversing sensors for all grades, but none have front parking sensors.
And there are other elements to the safety matrix, including Lead Vehicle Start Alert (the cameras tell you when the car in front has driven off) and lane centring (to keep you in the middle of your lane), both of which operate between 0km/h and 145km/h, and there is adaptive high beam lights on all grades, too.
The airbag count for the Outback is eight, with dual front, front side, driver’s knee, passenger centre-front, and full-length curtain coverage.
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.
Explore the Mitsubishi ASX in 3D
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.
Subaru doesn’t go beyond expectations in the mainstream class, with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty now par for the course.
The brand also has shorter maintenance intervals than some, with services scheduled every 12 months or 12,500km (most are 15,000km intervals).
The costs of maintenance aren’t that low, either. After an initial free checkup at one-month, the services cost: $345 (12 months/12,500km); $595 (24 months/25,000km); $351 (36 months/37,500km); $801 (48 months/50,000km); and $358 (60 months/62,500km). That averages out at about $490 per service, which is high.
If you’re worried about budgeting for that cost every year, you can bundle a service plan into your financing – a smart move, if you ask me. There are two options available: a three-year/37,500km plan and a five-year/62,500km plan. Neither saves you money over pay-as-you-go, but these plans also include three years roadside assist and the option of a free loan car when it comes time to service your own Outback. And if you decide to sell, you can pass that service plan on to the next owner.
Just make sure you don’t smash the windscreen – the camera system integrated into the glass means a new windshield is a $3000 part!
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).