FIRST DRIVE: Mitsubishi ASX
1:50pm Saturday 22nd May 2010 in Wheels
MITSUBISHI'S visibility is phenomenal. For a manufacturer with a limited presence in the UK, its vehicles have huge presence on the road. The distinctive trait of a huge, aggressive grille means that across the range, Mitsubishi's passenger cars can be recognised from some distance.
Even its L200 pick-up truck continues to turn heads, quite a feat for an essentially commercial vehicle.
Looking good is one thing however, performing well is quite another. With the likes of the Lancer Evolution X on its books and as experts in four-wheel drive, no-one could accuse the company of building technically underperforming models. However, the Japanese manufacturer leans towards niches.
Not so with its newest venture, the ASX. As Mitsubishi puts it; ‘the ASX is the right car at the right time". Operating in the fastest growing segment in Europe, one blown wide open with the arrival of the Nissan Qashqai and that is seeing retail sales grow 30 per cent year-on-year, the ASX is by no means in a niche.
That leaves Mitsubishi with a dilemma; how to target a larger market without losing the character that adds to its model’s appeal. They answer lies partly in the styling.
The ASX - it stands for Active Sports Crossover but you’ll be forgiven for not working that out given Mitsubishi’s somewhat random naming policy - uses the ‘Jet Fighter’ grille, sloping bonnet profile and angular front light units to great effect. The flared arches and sweeping line along the profile to the rear lights also help give it a more insistent presence that contrasts with the family friendly faces of the opposition.
Of course, this being a crossover model, the opposition is hard to pin down. Clearly, Nissan’s Qashqai is the most obvious competitor; Hyundai’s ix35, the Peugeot 3008 and the Ford Kuga are similar crossover propositions. But manufacturers love crossovers because they reach across segments. Drivers of regular C-segment hatchbacks and larger SUVs can all find what they’re looking for within the segment and, Mitsubishi hopes, within the ASX.
Two and four-wheel drive plus three trim levels offers a reasonable degree of choice, but the option of a single diesel followed after the initial launch by a single petrol unit seems a little restrictive at first.
Fortunately this isn’t the case. With a stop-start system present across the range a small engine line-up can deliver both the economy and performance required.
The 1.8-litre turbocharged diesel unit offers a respectable 148bhp and 221lb/ft of torque, with CO2 emissions pegged at 145g/km for the two-wheel drive platform that the company expects to be vastly more popular than the four-wheel drive variant, with 150g/km emissions.
Performance from the 1.6-litre, 115bhp petrol is less brisk, but emissions are 135g/km - a better performance against its equivalent competitors than the diesel.
On the road, the diesel doesn’t lag behind its rivals. Part of Mitsubishi’s plan to maximise potential from its existing equipment, the ASX uses a version of the same platform employed other Mitsubishi models. If it’s good enough for the crisp handling Lancer Evolution X and rugged enough for the Outlander SUV then it ought to suffice in the smaller, considerably less sporty ASX. True to its word, the model rides very comfortably and competently, while offering more than sufficient responsiveness and roadholding for a family vehicle.
There’s more body roll than in some of the ASX’s direct rivals, but not enough to detract from the driving experience and the weighty steering is direct and rewarding. Refinement is impressive, too. There’s some wind noise, but the diesel unit remains hushed with the exception of some turbo whistle.
The driving experience is relaxed and undemanding. A good driving position and decent visibility help. Large mirrors offer an excellent rearward view, the interior dials are sharp, colourful and neatly presented and in the dark a new headlight design throws an impressively clear beam across a wide angle.
Equipment levels are competitive, with the option of a full length glass roof and the top spec model receiving sat-nav and a reversing camera. The middle trim will suffice happily however, with cruise, heated seats, Bluetooth, auto lights and wipers and an engine start button. Even the base car receives alloy wheels, air-con and ESP.
Most noticeable inside, however, is the space. The ASX feels very roomy. Front passengers will certainly not rub elbows, headroom is good and rear legroom impressive. The boot door is also wide, offering easy access to the well proportioned boot space.
The ASX comfortably retains the Mitsubishi brand identity, but it projects it to a much wider audience. As Mitsubishi says; ‘it’s the right car at the right time,’ and it deserves to do well.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model Mitsubishi ASX 3 1.8 Diesel, price £18,549