Driven: Mitsubishi ASX

My first experience of the Mitsubishi ASX was on a private circuit. Hurling it around while knowing there was nothing coming the other way was great fun, leaving me with a huge grin. Proof, if ever it were needed, that driving a slow car fast is far more entertaining than driving a fast car slowly.

It’s certainly wasn’t the sharpest handling car, but that’s not something you would expect from a Nissan Qashqai sized four wheel drive crossover. The fact that it responded well to the rather aggressive steering, throttle and brake inputs being made was encouraging. It moved around a lot, but was never unpredictable, never unsafe.

So how would this translate to the public roads? I borrowed a 1.8 diesel version from Mitsubishi for a week to find out.

It’s certainly an imposing car from some angles. Up front there’s a massive gaping grille inspired by the bonkers Evo X which, combined with the extra height being a crossover gives it, generates a lot of road presence. Head further back and it starts to get a little anonymous, the aggressive front giving way to an altogether softer look. It won’t disappear in to the background like the Qashqai, but then it’s no Skoda Yeti…

Inside is almost depressing in its darkness. Hard, shiny plastics dominate the dashboard, with none of the soft-touch coverings you’d expect, and even the odd sharp edge on the door pockets. That said, it’s all attractive enough and laid out well, while the occasional bit of silver plastic highlighting brightens the mood ever so slightly.

One black mark against this test car, which was absolutely brand new, was that the centre console simply wasn’t attached properly. It moved around alarmingly and could be lifted off single handed. I stopped at a Mitsubishi dealer to check against another ASX and that one was bolted in properly so, given the manufacturers reputation for reliability, I’ll assume this was just an isolated incident.

A Kenwood sound system sits in the centre stack which also works as a sat-nav device (with Garmin mapping) but the hard buttons are so tiny and fiddly it’s tough to use. There’s so much going on on-screen that the touch screen buttons are also unclear, and the whole system becomes tricky to operate. Deep down it’s good, with a lot of facilities and options, but getting there takes time.

Elsewhere, equipment levels are generous. The top-spec ‘4’ version we had came fitted with Bluetooth connectivity, iPod dock, leather seats, climate control and a reversing camera, while all models get air conditioning, electric windows and keyless entry and start.

There’s also a lot of space in the cabin, with plenty of adjustments up front to get a commanding view of the road. A six footer will fit in the back without any problems, and there’s a large boot with a hard, flat floor. The rear seats also fold down flat without having to shift the seat base, making it an ideal car for those journeys to the landfill. Hidden under floor storage keeps valuables out of sight of prying eyes.

Based on the larger Outlander, you’re protected well enough in the ASXfor it to have received a five star EuroNCAP rating, with seven airbags and anti-whiplash head restraints aiding survival. Stability control, traction control, emergency brake assist and an emergency stop signal system all combine to help you avoid the accident in the first place.

Out on the road there’s good and bad news, with the engine being the focal point; at low revs there’s so little power available that pulling out of side roads can best be described as nerve wracking if you’re sitting there at idle before moving off. Foot down, wait, wait a bit more, have a cup of coffee, wait some more and… then you get some power. You also get a very audible and irritating whistle from the turbo once it finally decides to start spinning.

However, once you’re in that power band and the turbo is working hard there’s plenty of grunt to get you moving with, for a diesel, a reasonably pleasant tone that’s not too noisy. The six speed gearbox keeps revs low on motorway runs, boosting refinement and reducing fuel usage.

On the Front Seat Driver Test Route I averaged 35.1 mpg, which I think is reasonably good. Official figures say it’ll manage 54.3 mpg, with lowish CO2 emissions of 138 g/km seeing a road tax bill of £120. It’s comfortably ahead of its obvious Nissan Qashqai rival in that regard, while the list price is within pence of its curvier alternative. Service intervals of 9,000 miles are too short though, so you’ll be seeing too much of your dealer.

It’s smooth and compliant along most roads, although it crashed through a couple of more significant bumps on a local urabn road, sending shudders through the cabin. Long motorway cruises are comfortable and relaxing, while it copes well going down country lanes. It’s not the sharpest handling of vehicles, but it inspires confidence and has a surprising amount of grip available – perhaps a little too much for the flat seats to cope with. A four wheel drive option adds an extra layer of security for when conditions get a little more taxing, although this is no off-roader.

All told, the ASX is a mixed bag. It’s a comfortable, spacious, frugal cruiser that can tackle country roads well. It just needs to be a bit brighter inside, with less reliance on dark plastics, while some work definitely needs doing on the engine to get some sort of low end response.

It is a fine alternative to the Qashqai though, with lower fuel costs and a more distinctive look. If you need a crossover for your family, make sure you check out the ASX before making any decisions.

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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