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Car reviews - Mitsubishi - ASX - Aspire 2.0 AWD CVT

Launch Story

Mitsubishi logo23 Jul 2010

By MARTON PETTENDY

CAR-MAKERS rarely introduce all-new, additional models and even more rarely take them from concept to reality without significant dumbing down.

But that’s exactly what Mitsubishi has done with the ASX, which remains almost entirely faithful to the Concept-cX revealed way back at the 2007 Frankfurt motor show.

Think of it as a buffed-out, jacked-up Lancer on steroids rather than a shrunken Outlander and you’re getting the gist of the newest member of Mitsubishi’s ever-expanding SUV family, because from behind the wheel the ASX feels more like the Japanese brand’s small car than its hitherto most compact SUV.

Soft-touch surfaces abound on the doors and dashboard, which takes obvious design cues from the Outlander and presents functional but classy rotary climate controls and, on top-shelf Aspire models, a large central colour touch-screen that displays audio, navigation and reversing camera functions.

Between the deeply recessed instrument dials is a classy TFT colour information display on Aspire models and, going one up on the Outlander, the nicely sculpted steering wheel is adjustable for both rake and reach.

Combined with plenty of driver’s seat adjustment (and a fully power-adjustable seat in Aspire variants), the ASX driving position is commodious and comfortable, even if the leather seats in the Aspire – and fabric seats in all other models – lack a bit of lateral support.

The manual gearshift knob is a little oddly shaped and sits on a too-long stick, but even the base model’s push-button audio controls look good, feel classy and leave an impression of quality.

Certainly, there are no obvious signs of cost-cutting inside the ASX, despite its $6000-plus lower entry price. If anything, its high quality interior design, fit and finish raises the Outlander’s bar.

Plenty of headroom all round, good visibility for all passengers and acres of rear legroom deliver plenty of practicality, aided by a reasonably large, flat rear load space that is fully carpeted and can be extended by folding the 60/40-split rear seatback, which also offers a through-loading port – but there’s no horizontally split tailgate as on the Outlander.

The ASX also has enough gadgets to keep its Gen Y audience occupied, including auxiliary and USB audio device connectivity, Bluetooth and, in the Aspire, the trick MMCS system that integrates audio, navigation and communications functions via a 40GB hard-drive and a 710-Watt amp with 20mm rear subwoofer.

Impressive refinement is a hallmark of the ASX, which in 2.0-litre petrol guise feels spirited but in 2WD guise – both manual and CVT – returns plenty of torque steer as the front wheels scramble for traction.

Combined with dead steering at low speeds and in a straight line, the 2WD is the least impressive ASX to drive, but the AWD models are entirely vice-free in both petrol and diesel form, even with the latter’s 300Nm of torque on tap.

Just as we don’t rue Mitsubishi’s decision not to import overseas markets’ 1.6-litre petrol version, which combines idle-stop technology to lower fuel consumption even further, it’s probably a good thing there’s no such thing as a 2WD diesel ASX.

Mitsubishi’s new 1.8-litre diesel engine is lusty, responsive and delivers buckets of torque right on cue every time, despite being super-economical.

With six manual ratios to choose from, we rejoiced in riding its satisfyingly wide torque spread – and the lack of diesel engine clatter that traditionally goes with most diesel engines (especially those in other Mitsubishis) – but its appeal will be even broader when the DiD mill is matched with a conventional automatic transmission late next year.

Sadly, the slipping-clutch feel of the CVT transmission clouded our judgement of the self-shifting petrol model, which along with dull steering feel in 2WD models was our only real bugbear with the ASX.

We’d really be nit-picking to say there was an unexpected level of wheelhouse noise caused by rocks being pummelled against them during a spirited drive down a rugged firetrail on the launch loop.

Because overall the ASX is a stylish, versatile and highly accomplished small wagon that happens to ride higher – and is therefore easier to enter/exit – than most small passenger cars.

Its chassis dynamics may not be quite as polished as Nissan’s well-sorted Dualis but stretch to the AWD version and we’d be surprised if you’re disappointed.

Without doubt, however, Mitsubishi’s cracking new small diesel engine is the standout feature of a sensible, efficient crossover that really does blur the line between car and SUV more than most vehicles before it.

Unless you desperately need its (occasional) third-row seats and extra cargo space, we can’t think of a single reason to pay more for an Outlander.

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