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Car reviews - Mitsubishi - ASX - XLS petrol 2WD

Our Opinion

We like
Interior space, big boot, some killer discount deals out there, nimble and engaging to drive
Room for improvement
Hard ride, cabin is cheaply made and poorly put together, noisy engine let down by CVT automatic

Mitsubishi logo11 Aug 2017

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Overview

ALMOST eight years after its Australian launch, the Mitsubishi ASX still punches above its weight in the sales charts, playing a close second fiddle to the long-term small SUV segment leader that is the Mazda CX-3 and comfortably outsells well-regarded models such as Nissan’s Qashqai and the Honda HR-V.

Compared with its younger rivals, the ASX is a pretty unsophisticated thing but nothing can really touch it in terms of sheer practicality from such a small footprint on the road. A five-year warranty helps, as do Mitsubishi’s revolving driveaway deals.

And if you have rented a car at the airport recently, you probably noticed the sea of Titanium Grey ASX base variants in the vehicle pick-up compound.

Yes you can buy better, but the ASX remains a cheap, honest and practical small SUV.

Price and equipment

Mitsubishi opens the ASX range at $25,000 plus on-road costs for the petrol LS, whereas the auto-only XLS petrol tested here is $31,500 plus on-roads.

Customers requiring all-wheel-drive must opt for a diesel engine and all but the price leader come standard with an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT).

The November 2016 facelift injected a bit of extra appeal – and cleaner Euro 5 compliant engines – into this ageing model and word is that another update will help keep the ASX relevant before it is retired in 2019 or 2020 after around 10 years on the market.

Updates included extra rear seat bolstering, upgraded fabric seat trim contrast stitching for the low-spec LS variants also gained a new key fob design, more conveniently located seat-heater switches on the leather-upholstered top-spec XLS, an upgraded touchscreen system and cosmetic updates including a new bumper, grille, standard-fit front foglights and a shark fin antenna.

In base LS trim, the ASX is reasonably well-equipped. Think climate control with rear air vents and a 6.1-inch touchscreen with DAB+ digital radio, AM/FM receiver, CD player, MP3 and iPod compatibility and Bluetooth hand-free phone with audio streaming.

There is also a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, illuminated vanity mirrors, cruise control, 18-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, roof rails, leather-trim on the gear selector and multi-function steering wheel, electrically folding door mirrors, a multi-function trip computer, security alarm and engine immobiliser.

In XLS form as tested, the stereo system is upgraded from four to six speakers and controlled through a larger 7.0-inch touchscreen that provides satellite navigation. Upholstery is leather, with matching leather-look door trims and there is keyless entry with push-button start, automatic headlights and wipers and a panoramic roof with electric sunshade and LED mood lighting.

As well as the aforementioned heated front seats, the XLS has power driver’s seat adjustment and a self-dimming interior mirror.

Safety equipment includes seven airbags, electronic stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, emergency brake assist and emergency stop signal, and hill-start assist.

Apart from a raft of dealer-fit accessories, the only option is metallic or pearlescent paint at $590. Of the seven available colours, the only non-premium choice is white.

Interior

The word that came immediately to mind regarding the ASX cabin quality was ‘disposable’.

Interior fit, finish and choice of plastics would have embarrassed a South Korean brand 10 years ago, the gear selector has a gritty, notchy action through its old-fashioned staggered gate and the glovebox lid of our test vehicle was so ill-fitting and warped that it looked as though someone had tried forcing it open with a crowbar.

Rough roads revealed a lot of cabin squeaks, creaks and rattles. This, in addition to the aforementioned fit and finish issues, this did not provide a sense of confidence in the ASX interior’s longevity.

Uncomfortable front seats have a strange and non-adjustable lumbar support, thigh support from the short cushions is lacking and this is even worse on the rear bench.

The cruise control does not clearly indicate on the dashboard when it is operating to a set speed and it is one of those annoying systems that allows the car to freely accelerate down hills or lose heaps of speed on ascents before realising what happened and accelerating madly to make up for it.

We also found the trip computer infuriating for its lack of clarity over which point of reference it was using for the average fuel consumption and speed figures. There is also no digital speed readout.

The ASX cabin is also plagued by annoying beeps, sometimes for seemingly no reason. One that annoyed us most was that turning on the ignition before we had put on our seatbelt would result in a loud and shrill warning chime.

Rounding out our list of gripes is the illogical and counter-intuitive adjustment for the climate control system that never provided a comfortable temperature even once we had figured out how to use it.

On the upside, there is a feeling of spaciousness backed up by impressive rear legroom and a huge, highly usable boot.

But rather illogically, rear headroom is severely lacking. We suspect this is due to the XLS variant’s panoramic glass roof. We do like the rows of festive-looking LED lights lining the glass area, though.

Visibility is excellent in all directions. Because the ASX is so compact and has an elevated driving position, judging its extremities and their distance from obstacles is easy. A decently tight turning circle ices the cake of excellent urban manoeuvrability.

The glovebox is massive and door bins are also reasonably spacious, with the ability to hold drinks bottles of up to 600ml.

A pair of cupholders in the centre console is supplemented by a weird recess that looks just like another cupholder but has a warning icon on it that advises against using it for this purpose. There is also another odd slot that looks as though it might serve as a clip for some form of accessory.

In front of the gear selector is a tray that can hold a smartphone and has a 12V power outlet beside it, while tucked up above this space almost hidden from view are the seat heater controls. Mitsubishi mentions their relocation for this update as a positive in the press release, but we are not so sure.

A deep if slightly narrow bin is located beneath the central armrest and contains another 12V power outlet and one USB port.

Rear passengers are left out in the storage stakes with no door bins and just one map pocket. But there is a pair of cupholders in the fold-down central armrest.

Further back, the ASX’s piece de resistance is a big 393-litre boot that has a flat floor is of a sensible shape, with deep plastic bins behind the wheel arches providing useful space for wet, dirty items or shoes.

It opens out to 1143L with the 60:40 split rear seats easily folded to create a long and flat space, with the load lip almost flush with the floor and the tailgate aperture wide and tall enough for easy loading.

Handy hooks for hanging shopping bags help avoid apples and oranges from spilling out and rolling everywhere and there are some useful tie-down points in there too.

Isofix child seat anchorages are present in the outboard rear bench positions, although the top tether points are narrow, in oddly shaped indents on the rear of the backrests that made them difficult to use – and even harder to disengage the clips from.

There is not enough room for a tall passenger to sit in front of some of the bulkier rear-facing infant capsules out there, but it was possible for the same-height person to drive in front of a model that protrudes less, so bear this in mind if your offspring are not of an age at which they can use a forward-facing child seat and take your kid-transporting equipment with you on the test-drive.

An updated infotainment system is not a patch on the units fitted on the larger Outlander and Pajero Sport, but not the worst we have experienced either. At least it no longer feels like the aftermarket accessory fitted to previous ASX iterations, although like the systems of old, its screen raises up to reveal the CD player slot and SD card for the navigation mapping data.

The system is a pretty generic thing to use, quite sluggish in its responses and seems to lack an obvious home screen. Shortcut buttons for destination and map view are handy, but the shrill beep response to every input adds to the irritating electronic noises this car makes. The voice control is fully featured, but good luck getting it to understand you.

Bluetooth Audio streaming track selection is not easy and connecting a device via USB makes things no easier. We found ourselves having to initiate our listening via our phone before setting off, or making adjustments while the vehicle was stationary. But we appreciated the inclusion of DAB+ digital radio reception.

The cabin is never quiet, but apart from engine noise that we will cover later, road and wind noise levels were never objectionably intrusive and if anything they helped drown out the drivetrain’s machinations.

Between 60 and 80km/h the sound of coarse-chip bitumen roads was most noticeable, but it faded away at higher speeds.

Engine and transmission

The 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine develops 110kW of power at 6000rpm and 197Nm of torque at 4200rpm in a car weighing a modest 1365kg (about 50kg more than a Toyota Corolla hatch).

With a manual or even torque-converter automatic transmission, these figures would provide sprightly performance but the automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) fitted to our test vehicle seemed to work against it rather than the theoretical advantage of always being in the optimum ratio at the optimum time this transmission type is designed for.

If you live in a hilly, urban area the petrol ASX just doesn’t work. The driveline struggles in this environment, where momentum is lacking, with the CVT apparently never finding the right one of its infinite ratios to make the ascent without either lugging the engine or having it scream blue murder at high revs.

Taking matters into our own hands, manual selection between the virtual stepped ratios are reasonably convincing, but revs flare disconcertingly following each shift before settling down. It is like changing gears on a manual car with a clutch that is about to expire.

Also, in manual mode the transmission automatically up-changes well before the 6500rpm redline, or even the 6000rpm power peak, which seems daft.

So despite the output stats, the ASX petrol engine appears to lack torque and its struggles resulted in it being unacceptably noisy and inefficient during our test.

Although we achieved close to the official highway figure of 6.4 litres per 100 kilometres on the motorway, (we got 6.7L/100km), we saw in excess of 12L/100km after a week of suburban, urban and dynamic country road driving. That’s terrible for such a small car.

Throttle response is best described as doughy, particularly at higher speeds where the first three or four centimetres of accelerator pedal travel do nothing. After this, the CVT decides it is time to react and the revs start to rise in a leisurely fashion before additional propulsion is provided.

Above 5000rpm the engine does start to come alive – if you can keep it there against the transmission’s will – and throttle response becomes more assertive.

But you have to put up with the already noisy engine making unpleasant sounds that range from hairdryer to leaf blower to washing machine on spin cycle.

Petrol ASX variants are front-drive only, with diesels driving all four wheels.

But the hefty price premium erodes most of these advantages and we feel the ASX is best in cheapest-possible configuration. Otherwise, you might as well go for one of its many superior competitors.

Ride and handling

At all times the ASX ride is on the uncomfortable side of firm, slamming unceremoniously over sharper hits while larger dips and bumps can result in the suspension feeling floaty. It is not a good combination and we blame the oversized – if attractive –18-inch alloy wheels.

Despite the firm ride, bodyroll is noticeable. Poor corner surfaces generate a lot of kick-back and rattle through the steering, too.

But being an old-school vehicle, the ASX provides plenty of old-school connection between the driver and what is going on underneath.

The steering is responsive, the handling is predictable and stable but adjustable and confidence inspiring for whipping through town or along a twisty road quickly. It also pulls itself through fast corners on the throttle very nicely.

Adding to the entertainment value are strong brakes with a decent amount of pedal feel, along with a stability and traction control calibration that is more like a gently guiding hand keeping everything shiny side up than fun-sapping and obtrusive.

Rough corner surfaces seemed to throw the electronics out though, sending them into a panic of intervention when none was really required.

This terrain also caused the whole car to shake and bob about, but without deviating from our chosen line.

Overall the ASX is pretty nimble and entertaining once you work around the drivetrain’s foibles, but we would sacrifice much of this for improved real-world ride comfort.

Safety and servicing

ANCAP awarded the Mitsubishi ASX a maximum five-star rating, scoring it 34.13 out of a maximum 37 points based on 14.13 out of 16 in the frontal offset test, a perfect 16 in the side impact test and the full two points in the pole test.

Whiplash and pedestrian protection were respectively considered ‘good’ and ‘acceptable’.

Safety equipment includes seven airbags, electronic stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, emergency brake assist and emergency stop signal, and hill-start assist. No autonomous emergency braking is available.

Mitsubishi supplies the ASX with a five-year, 100,000km warranty and one year of roadside assistance.

Service intervals are a sensible 15,000km or 12 months, with a three-year capped-price servicing program for petrol ASX variants priced at $230 for the first three maintenance visits, while diesels cost $350 for the first, $500 for the second and $630 for the third (correct at time of writing).

As such, unless all-wheel drive is a must-have, it’s worth offsetting the extra cost of the diesel drivetrain and servicing it against the fuel consumption benefits in such a small car.

Verdict

The ASX is outclassed in many ways by rivals, which is understandable given it is almost eight years into its model lifecycle and based on a vehicle – the Lancer – that is even older. But there is no denying its strengths in terms of outright practicality.

As is often the case in this profession, a family friend who was thinking of buying an ASX asked us for an opinion. We recommended a number of alternatives but were then shown a quote they had been given by the Mitsubishi dealership.

It was enough to change our mind, confirmed by a couple of hours’ research.

If simply getting a spacious SUV for small car coin is your objective, then bypass the XLS tested here and just go for the base variant. You won’t have to wait long for Mitsubishi to come up with a discount offer that is too good to pass up.

The ASX variant mix is a bit all-or-nothing, with the top-spec XLS failing to make financial sense as it is on the expensive side compared with some vigorous competition from newer and superior rivals.

And if you are taking the plunge, go over the cabin with a fine-toothed comb and insist that any fit and finish issues are addressed immediately.

Rivals

Mazda CX-3 sTouring 2WD from $28,990 plus on-road costs
The Mazda scores well on safety tech along with its tidy handling, crisp driveline and decent equipment list. Only the small boot and tight rear quarters really count against it – and are the CX-3 feature most likely to send shoppers over to Mitsubishi.

Toyota C-HR 2WD from $28,990 plus on-road costs
If you can live with the looks and slight practicality penalty over the ASX then take a good look at this unusually funky Toyota. The standard equipment list is surprisingly generous and it is great to drive.

Honda HR-V VTi-S from $27,990 plus on-road costs
Still looks striking and a bit of a value champ as well. Being based on the Jazz, the HR-V offers class-leading practicality along with a strong engine, impressive handling, and a polished interior.

Nissan Qashqai ST from $28,490 plus on-road costs
Officially occupies the small SUV segment but could realistically play in the next size up – and probably would were it not for the bigger X-Trail. Takes everything we liked about its excellent Dualis predecessor and addresses almost everything we didn’t.

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