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Driven: MY20 Mitsubishi ASX seeks ‘spirit of Lancer’

Facelifted small SUV ushers in sportier MR and GSR variants for broader appeal

11 Nov 2019

MITSUBISHI Motors Australia Limited (MMAL) is pitching the new MR and GSR sports variants of the facelifted ASX range for 2020 as spiritual successors to the discontinued Lancer small car, as the company attempts to capitalise on the ongoing and extraordinarily enduring popularity of the ageing small SUV.


On sale now from $28,240 driveaway for the 2.0-litre powered MR and $4000 more for the better-specified GSR with the new-to-ASX 2.4-litre engine that also debuts in the Exceed range-topper, the aim of both is to lure a broader (and younger) male demographic.


“Traditionally there have been three key demographics for ASX – young females, young couples with maybe one child, and older empty nesters,” MMAL product strategy manager Owen Thompson told the press at the launch of the XD series ASX in Byron Bay last week.


“But with the 2020 model year, we are trying to pitch it more to younger males who might have bought the (Lancer) GSR… getting that demographic is what we want to do.”


According to MMAL CEO John Signoriello, the MR and GSR are the result of an Australian initiative that came about after the success of the limited-edition ASX Black Line earlier in 2019 – and it’s a strategy that may spread further up the brand’s SUV tree.


“The Black Line did very well for us,” he said. “The 2000 or so cars we brought in moved quickly. It was something we took the lead on, and so when it came to the facelift, we took the opportunity to expand the Black Line theme with the MR and GSR.


“Now we have the Black Line on the Eclipse Cross and we’ll see how that goes before we make a decision on more sporty models for that.”


The ASX’s status as Australia’s best-selling small SUV despite going on to its 10th birthday with only relatively minor updates has helped MMAL have a stronger voice within Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) in Japan.


“We do have an influence with MMC,” Mr Signoriello said. “We instigated the MR and GSR and they are very happy to support them. We get listened to more often nowadays.”


Part of that included the engineering of the 2.4-litre engine for right-hand-drive, as it was previously only available in left-hand-drive for the ASX’s largest global consumers, the North American market.


“The big thing for us with this ASX was about putting the 2.4 in,” Mr Thompson revealed. “The States already had the 2.4 in their market, and we were able to persuade them to do the same for our car.


“After that, the re-engineering to do that was relatively easy to do.”


However, MMAL will not go all the way with the USA by also reintroducing all-wheel drive availability on ASX, as that would mean it would step on the toes of the newer but only slightly larger Eclipse Cross range, which was recently expanded with a more affordable AWD variant.


To accommodate the latter when it launched in early 2018, up-spec ASXs switched to FWD-only and dropped all diesel options.


“They’re similarly sized but they’re differently pitched into the market,” Mr Thompson added. “The Eclipse Cross is the more premium offering, with a turbo-charged engine and AWD separating them.”


Based on the base ES, the MR brings no additional performance or mechanical advances, instead offering blacked-out alloys and mirrors, fog lights, red stitched leather for the wheel rim, shift knob and park brake handle, keyless entry and start, aluminium pedals and privacy glass.


The mid-range LS-derived GSR, however, gains that larger engine, along with a rear roof spoiler, micro suede seat material, black headlining and an improved audio system.


Note that while both are automatic propositions, only the latter includes paddle shifters. The six-speed manual is reserved for the ES.


Built at MMC’s Mizushima Plant in Japan, the latest ASX remains dimensionally identical to its predecessor despite brandishing (as outlined last month) all-new sheet metal from the base of the A-pillar forward, taking in the bonnet, mudguards, (now all-LED) headlights, grille and bumpers.


Blockier in style, the nose is meant to emulate the Eclipse Cross’ with what is dubbed the ‘Dynamic Shield’ grille. Prices rise by at least $500.


To help offset that, the central touchscreen grows an inch to 8.0 inches, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity arrives, fresh seat material is fitted to the ES and LS and the Exceed scores imbedded TomTom sat-nav, premium audio and trim upgrades, while on the safety front autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and an electro-chromatic mirror are now standard across the range.


AEB was previously part of a safety pack on ES, which now includes lane departure warning, lane change assist, blind-spot warning, reverse sensors, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, auto high beam, front fog lights and auto on/off headlights and wipers, as part of a $2500 ADAS option.


The GSR and Exceed’s 2.4-litre twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder petrol engine is a development of the long-lived Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance 4B12 2360cc unit as found in a string of Mitsubishis, Hyundais, Kias, Chryslers, Dodges and Jeeps since 2005.


For the XD ASX it produces 123kW of power and 222Nm of torque – 13kW and 25Nm more than the 110kW/197Nm 2.0-litre unit.


Fuel consumption is rated at 0.3L/100km worse than its smaller CVT-spec equivalent, at 7.9L/100km.


Rare in today’s small SUV, the ASX’s front MacPherson-style strut set-up is complemented by a multi-link rear end (showing its mid-2000s GS-platform roots that also spawned the last Lancer, two generations of Outlanders and Eclipse Cross in the company’s line-up), sitting on a 2670mm wheelbase as the latter two, and retains a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating.


MMAL is counting on the LS taking the best-seller mantle from the fleet-focused ES, due to its higher specification.


“The ES has traditionally been the volume seller,” according to Mr Thompson. “But we’re trying to make the LS much more appealing with a more attractive price point.”


Unveiled globally in December 2009 and released in Australia as the XA series in July 2010, the ASX started life as a sales sleeper, languishing behind larger rivals such as the Nissan Dualis/Qashqai and Hyundai ix35 for its first five years, before the XC facelift of 2015 brought improved styling and specification.


Sales soared towards nearly 20,000 units annually from then on, with the ASX reeling in the leading Mazda CX-3 in 2017 to rule the small SUV segment since.


2019 Mitsubishi ASX driveaway pricing

ES $24,990
ES (a) $26,740
MR (a) $28,240
LS (a) $30,240
GSR (a) $32,240
Exceed (a) $35,740

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