Mitsubishi’s crosses over with ASX
Mitsubishi, best known for its big 4x4s, has brought that expertise to the crossover market, says Andy Russell.
Looking back to the pre-green motoring days when 4x4s were trendy and acceptable it wasn't difficult to see what made them so popular.
In most cases it wasn't that people wanted the sophisticated go-anywhere all-wheel drive systems – instead they like the rugged looks, lofty driving and seating positions and higher ground clearance and the feeling of space.
How times have changed – in a more environmentally-aware era when emissions and economy are king and 'gas-guzzlers' are being hammered by the Exchequer, you could be excused for thinking big 4x4s are responsible for global-warming.
But every cloud has a silver lining and the spin-off is that car-makers have rethought their models to give drivers what they want in a more acceptable way.
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The result has been a new class of cars – the crossovers – boasting sport utility vehicle looks and family hatchback practicality in a more eco-friendly package.
It's a sector that's blossoming both in terms of models and sales with a host of manufacturers not wanting to miss out and offering both two and four-wheel drive variants.
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One of the latest is Mitsubishi, the Japanese company that gave us the macho Shogun, which has just launched the ASX active sports crossover, pitched directly against the big-selling Nissan Qashqai.
It's looks the part, an attractive compact crossover with well-proportioned strong styling set off by the marque's bold 'jet fighter' grille.
Power comes from 115bhp 1.6-litre petrol and 147bhp 1.8-litre turbo diesels, both with auto stop and go to cut the engine when stationary in traffic. Attractive pricing means the petrol will account for just over half of sales but the diesel will appeal if you want more performance or towing capability, the only downside being shorter 9,000-mile service intervals.
I drove the diesel and was impressed by how well it goes and that's down to it being the first diesel passenger car with variable valve timing, giving it the performance and power of a larger engine. This torquey, flexible engine pulls willingly from low revs with strong performance in the mid range. For a diesel, it revs freely without losing its quiet refinement yet offers strong economy and most owners should get around 50mpg in mixed driving.
The car-like suspension is biased towards comfort rather than rewarding road-holding and that's no bad thing in the way it soaks up bumps and lumps but it can feel floaty over undulating roads at speed. It's not as much fun to drive as a Qashqai. Despite some body lean through bends, even the two-wheel drive model, which will take the majority of sales, holds the road well with plenty of grip.
The ASX is based on the same platform and shares the same wheelbase as the bigger Outlander and that means a spacious cabin that will seat five adults in comfort with decent legroom in the back although the rear doors are quite small so getting in and out is trickier than in a conventional hatchback. The seats are quite hard and rather upright in the back and the front ones have a small lever to adjust the backrest which is not as precise as a rotary knob.
The roomy cabin hasn't been at the expense of boot space which is well-shaped and boasts useful cubbyholes each side ideal for the likes of cans of de-icer. With no spare wheel there's also a useful 30-litre compartment under the boot floor which takes the total load volume with the rear seats up to 442 litres. For larger loads the rear seat backs split 60/40 and fold flat on to the cushions.
The interior uses a lot of black plastic but it's nicely textured and soft to the touch on top of the fascia and feels well screwed together and durable. The fascia design is not particularly eye-catching but it is efficient with a big speedometer and rev counter flanking the digital temperature and fuel gauge and driver information centre, simple push buttons for the audio system and large, clearly-marked rotary knobs for the heating and ventilation system. Storage upfront is good with a big glovebox, doorbins and lidded locker between the front seats but lacking in the back.
Equipment levels are generous – even entry-level ASX2 gets seven airbags including one for the driver's knees, air-conditioning, alloy wheels, stability and traction control, keyless entry and anti-lock brakes. ASX3, the key seller, gains automatic climate control, start button, cruise control, heated front seats, rear privacy glass, automatic lights and wipers, steering wheel audio controls and Bluetooth phone connection while ASX4 gets leather seats, upgraded audio system including iPod control, satellite navigation and a reversing camera.
Mitsubishi has a good track record in the off-road market and it has clearly taken those skills and knowledge into its new crossover which, taking into account its equipment and price, is an enticing proposition.
MITSUBISHI ASX 3 1.8 DiD 2WD
Price: �18,549 (range from �14,999)
Engine: 1,798cc, 147bhp, four-cylinder turbo diesel
Performance: 0-62mph 9.7 seconds; top speed 124mph
MPG: Urban 42.2; extra urban 58.9; combined 51.4
Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 21pc
Insurance group: 23 (out of 50)
Warranty: Three years/unlimited mileage
Will it fit in the garage? Length 4,295mm; width (excluding door mirrors) 1,770mm; height 1,625mm