The Mitsubishi ASX packs some clever tech, but does that make it desirable?

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The Mitsubishi ASX was previewed as the Concept-cX at the Frankfurt motor show in 2007 and many of that concept’s styling details made the transition to the production car.

Although Mitsubishi has a long history of SUVs, this is the first time it has produced one that can be classed as a crossover, having smaller, hatchback-like dimensions.

The ASX pushes Mitsubishi into the lucrative crossover market

Building the ASX was a simple decision for Mitsubishi. The compact SUV sector is one of the most profitable and Mitsubishi has a decent heritage in value-led utility vehicles, so the firm would have been foolish not to capitalise on it with a car like this. The ASX represents more than an obvious business decision, though.

The front-wheel drive 1.8-litre diesel was thought to be the most popular variant in the UK although it was ultimately replaced in 2013 by a 2.2-litre diesel, while four-wheel drive and a 1.6-litre petrol are also offered. The ASX came previously in levels 2, 3 or 4 – what happened to level 1 is anybody’s guess – but now the range has been changed to ZC, ZC-M, ZC-H and 5. 

Not for the first time, Mitsubishi has brought an entirely new technology to the passenger car market. 

The 1.8 DiD engine tested here is the first turbodiesel motor outside of the commercial vehicle world to get variable valve timing. Common on modern petrol units, variable valve timing gives this new engine the performance of a 2.0-litre with the economy and emissions of a smaller unit, according to Mitsubishi.

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Whether the new tech provides the rewards Mitsubishi claims, and whether it comes in a package worthy of the highly competitive soft-roader market, is part of what we’re here to find out.

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Mitsubishi ASX rear

A quick glance at the Mitsubishi ASX’s exterior confirms that it is a predictable application of Mitsubishi’s corporate design language.

The front grille has been stretched to fit the tall SUV proportions and sits in a front end that incorporates an energy-absorbing bumper and plastic wings in order to achieve a strong EuroNCAP pedestrian rating – it achieved a creditable 60 per cent.  

The basic architecture is the same as that used for the larger Mitsubishi Outlander

The basic architecture beneath the ASX’s body is the same as that used for the larger Mitsubishi Outlander, with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link set-up at the rear. 

Using the bigger car’s platform does, of course, cut manufacturing costs but, in practice, the ASX loses nothing from having to share its underpinnings. The longer wheelbase allows for good interior space and gives the ASX some of the shortest overhangs in the class.

A pronounced crease along the side of the ASX enhances the rising windowline and is intended to make the car look like it is moving, even at a standstill.

Mitsubishi claims that the position and shape of the headlights help to express the company’s jet fighter-inspired styling theme better. We’re unsure about that, but they illuminate the road well.

The chrome surround that frames the gaping grille is more substantial than the versions that appear on other Mitsubishi models, while the bonnet has been designed with two bulges, not only to improve pedestrian impact safety but also to make it easier for the driver to judge the corners of the car.

A rear spoiler helps the ASX to achieve a relatively good drag coefficient of 0.32 and to balance the slightly awkward-looking rear end. Bulging wheel arches give the ASX a more purposeful big-car look, even though it’s actually marginally shorter and narrower than a Ford Focus

A facelifted and revised ASX is due in 2017, with it to include a tweaked exterior and interior and a 1.6-litre diesel engine.


Mitsubishi ASX interior

There is nothing drastically wrong with the Mitsubishi ASX’s interior, but it is not outstanding in the way it looks or the way it functions. 

The driver has a good range of adjustment in both the seat and the steering wheel, but a lack of lateral and lumbar support makes the seat less than comfortable over long periods of time. A bright LCD screen displays a useful amount of information between the two main dials, which also look crisp and are easy to read. 

The ASX has a functional cabin that fails to bring anything new to the class

The interior fails to offer much visual interest but it gets an impressive list of standard kit and the controls are laid out clearly, if not totally intuitively. There are some obvious signs of cost-cutting, such as the cheap plastics around the door handles.

Rear passengers have a good amount of legroom and headroom and their seat backs tilt, but there are no individual sliding seats, as found in some rivals. Still, the 60/40 split bench will seat two adults comfortably and three with some liberal elbow tucking – and when folded flat, it gives way to a boot with a volume of 1193 litres. That may be a better load-carrying capacity than the Nissan Qashqai’s maximum 860 litres, but it’s still a long way off others in the class such as the Peugeot 3008 (1604 litres) and the Hyundai ix35 (1436 litres). A seats-up capacity of 442 litres is also average. 

Visibility is fine to the rear, but the forward view is less impressive. The high-set door mirrors are useful for checking the rear three-quarters but frequently become obstructive otherwise, and they’re not helped by the raked-back, thick A-pillars. 

Overall, the ASX benefits from good passenger space and a perfectly functional cabin but it fails to bring anything new to the class in this respect.

As for the standard equipment, there are four trims to choose from - ZC, ZC-M, ZC-H and 5. The entry-level models get 16in alloys, hill-start assist, electric windows and folding mirrors, while the inside is adorned with air conditioning, CD player with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and manual rear-view mirror dimming. 

Upgrade to the ZC-M and you get bigger alloy wheels, xenon headlights, keyless entry and start, parking sensors and automatic lights and wipers, while inside there is the addition of climate control, cruise control, heated front seats and DAB radio. The mid-range ZC-H adds further luxuries including a panoramic sunroof, leather seats, 7in touchscreen infotainment with sat nav and a reversing camera, while the range-topping 5 throws in a premium leather interior, mat set and Alpine stereo system, while also including rear heated seats and twin USB ports for charging in the rear.


Mitsubishi ASX side profile

This is where the 1.8 DiD engine proves that the Mitsubishi ASX offers a significant advance. It is not the fastest car in its class – to 60mph we were 0.3sec off Mitsubishi’s claimed 9.7sec 0-62mph time – but that’s competitive with most 2.0-litre diesel cars in the class. 

In practice, in-gear flexibility matters far more than outright pace, and the ASX doesn’t disappoint here. One of the claimed benefits of variable valve timing on diesel engines is improved low-down torque. This is most apparent in the ASX’s 50-70mph time in sixth gear, which betters some of the best engines in the class by as much as 0.9sec, including those with shorter gearing. 

Refinement falls noticeably short of the latest class rivals

This makes for an engine that responds well to throttle inputs, even from low revs. It still has the non-linear power delivery that’s a characteristic of most small-capacity turbodiesels, but it’s pleasant to make rapid progress with slightly fewer downchanges than might be required in other turbodiesels. 

The low-down torque also allows for easy progress in high gears at urban speeds, which will be one of the few occasions when the cabin isn’t filled with a high-pitched turbo whine and bass diesel dirge. Mitsubishi has created a usable and arguably revolutionary motor that is easily the most impressive aspect of the ASX, but refinement falls noticeably short of the latest class rivals’, even if engine noise does subside under light load.

Stopping performance is good, with the brake pedal offering enough feel and modulation for accurate use even in hard driving.

The addition of four-wheel drive hardware does little to blunt performance of the diesel engine.

As for the 1.6, it’s a pleasantly free-revving engine although its performance is hardly scintillating.



Mitsubishi ASX cornering

Drive the Mitsubishi ASX in an unhurried fashion at normal B-road speeds and it responds in exactly the kind of predictable, unflustered way that you would want in a family SUV. In front-wheel drive guise, it has ample grip, which lets it carry good speed through corners, while the suspension allows noticeable but progressive body roll before it stabilises. 

The ASX handles being driven hard well. In dry conditions it benefits from having good grip through faster corners, which also allows it to respond to mid-corner steering adjustments with a confidence-inspiring and stable change of direction. Even with the ESP off, the ASX’s generally good balance and roadholding mean it fares well, but it can spin its wheels exiting low-speed corners in second.

Ride quality is well judged for British roads

In the wet the ASX is prone to understeer, as it should be, given the type of car it is. The ESP works well here, cutting in when required but with less of the drastic and occasionally disconcerting braking that is common in many front-wheel-drive cars. It still pulls the nose back into line if the ASX washes into understeer, but it’s more subtle and allows a safe degree of natural understeer first. 

Ride quality is well judged for British roads, absorbing most of the typical road surface scarring without unsettling the body. The only notably disconcerting element of the handling is some kickback through the steering. Otherwise, some suspension thump creeps in and there is some jarring over severely broken surfaces, when passengers will experience some head tossing, but in general the ASX is a comfortable place to be.

The steering is precise but can feel overly light and slack, which is fine at urban speeds but less welcome in high-speed manoeuvres. All of which equates to an unexceptional but perfectly acceptable experience at the wheel of the ASX. It is not the cohesive and encouraging drive that some small SUVs have managed to achieve, but it is composed, safe and not unpleasant.


Mitsubishi ASX

This will be the area most likely to tempt people into a Mitsubishi ASX.

In trim level ZC-H, which is the lowest available with the diesel engine, its long list of standard kit includes heated seats, cruise control, Bluetooth, wheel-mounted stereo controls and automatic lights and wipers. Being a soft-roader, it ought to have a spare wheel but gets only a repair kit.

This will be the area most likely to tempt people into a Mitsubishi ASX

Equipment aside, in this trim the Mitsubishi is one of the cheapest yet also one of the most economical and powerful cars in its class.

The Hyundai ix35 undercuts it slightly and is similarly well equipped but the equivalent diesel failed to achieve anywhere near the economy of the ASX. This ASX model has low CO2 emissions of 145g/km, so company car drivers will benefit, and the annual road tax won’t dent the household budget too much. 

The only unusual financial burden the ASX diesel brings with it is a 
9000-mile/12-month servicing schedule at a predicted £176 per service. That’s frustrating for owners expecting to do high mileages because most similar vehicles offer 12,000-mile intervals or higher.

On the diesel depreciation is fairly average, insurance groups are lower than those of most rivals and expenses at the fuel pump should be very manageable, as our 49.5mpg average test economy suggests. This result sits only a few mpg beneath Mitsubishi’s claimed combined figure and betters the economy achieved by any other car we’ve tested in this class. Clearly, the variable valve timing really does offer real-world rewards that could make it commonplace in the future.

However, petrol-powered ASX's suffer worse depreciation and much lower economy, making them best suited to low mileage drivers or those determined to get in an ASX on a very tight budget.

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Mitsubishi ASX rear quarter

Simply driving the Mitsubishi ASX is unlikely to reveal why it deserves the positive review it gets here. In almost every tangible way it is an unexceptional car. But analyse the reasons why you might buy one and it becomes clear that it is up there with the most sensible cars in its class. 

The ASX is not the most complete family car, given its bland interior, excessive engine noise and lack of glamour. But it’s practical, safe, easy to drive, well equipped and affordable to run. It’s comfortable, too, with a ride quality that’s well-judged for British roads.

It's the ASX’s engineering breakthroughs that really deserve acclaim

There’s a decent amount of space in the cabin, although that doesn’t translate to the boot space which is below average. The same can be said of the quality of the interior with quality in keeping with style – both are lacking.

You’ll also be seeing a little too much of your dealer. Not that you should have any reliability worries with a Mitsubishi; these cars are built to last. But servicing happens every 9000 miles in the diesel, while rivals go further.

However, it is the ASX’s engineering breakthroughs that really deserve acclaim. It may be noisy, but an engine with such usable real-world performance that returns nearly 50mpg over our test route is a very welcome addition to the class, especially with the financial savings that brings in tax terms, too.

If only the vehicle it propels were quite so noteworthy. As it is, the ASX is eminently sensible but all too forgettable, hopefully the 2017 facelifted ASX could inspire a more positive reaction.

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Mitsubishi ASX First drives