Mitsubishi is known as a manufacturer of 4x4s but the kind of 4x4s it’s best known for aren’t really what’s in vogue at the moment.
Models like the Shogun and the L200 pick-up truck are the real deal. They’re tough, uncompromising and capable, like the main protagonist in so many ‘hard-hitting’ TV cop shows. What’s currently setting the automotive world alight though, are 4x4s of a smaller, softer bent. Models that may look like they could rough-up an informant but would really rather take the family to the supermarket. The ASX is Mitsubishi’s attempt at this more urbane face of 4x4 motoring, a crossover model designed around everyday on-road use.
Its reputation as a proper 4x4 brand should stand Mitsubishi and the ASX in good stead with buyers in an area of the market where appearances count for a lot. This isn’t the first time that the Japanese marque has ventured away from producing hardcore 4x4 models either. The Outlander compact 4x4 took a more road-biased approach but that car still retains a level of ability in the rough. The ASX slots in below the Outlander and is designed expressly to perform on the tarmac. Although four-wheel-drive models are available, many will be ordered in front-wheel-drive form to keep costs down.
Mitsubishi’s engines haven’t always been the last word in sophistication, the manufacturer often having to borrow technology in from elsewhere. The ASX could signal a change to all that with its advanced petrol and diesel units that were developed in-house. The petrol engine option is a 1.6-litre 115bhp unit with MIVEC variable valve timing technology. It’s offered exclusively with the front-wheel-drive transmission and generates 154Nm of torque at 4,000rpm.
"this kind of vehicle could become very commonplace very quickly"
Better still is the 1.8-litre DiD diesel which packs 148bhp and 300Nm or torque from 2,000rpm. That’s a lot of grunt for a unit of this size and there’s no shortage of technology behind it. The engine is of all-aluminium construction with common-rail injection and it also uses MIVEC valve timing – the first time such technology has been employed in a diesel passenger car. This unit is predicted to be the big seller and comes in front or four wheel-drive guise with a six-speed manual gearbox in place of the petrol’s five-speed item.
Looks are very important for crossover 4x4s like the ASX, the hint of off-road ruggedness being a big part of what separates them from more mundane superminis and family hatchbacks. The ASX doesn’t disappoint here but its key stylistic devices are borrowed not from the mighty Shogun 4x4 but from the Lancer hatchback. The vast ‘jet-fighter’ grille that dominates the car’s snout-like nose, bordered by its squinty headlamps, had ample aggression to grace the front of the Lancer Evolution X rally-replica so it should get the ASX noticed. Elsewhere the design is more conventional small 4x4 with the flared wheelarches, elevated ride height and roof rails.
The cabin isn’t hugely adventurous in its design with a proliferation of dark plastics lightly peppered with metallic detailing. The control layout is simple and you certainly aren’t overwhelmed by too many buttons. The rear seat backs recline to help passengers get more comfortable and there’s an optional panoramic glass roof to flood the cabin with light. Luggage space is up to 416 litres but the 60:40 split Easy-fold rear seats can be dropped down to increase that total substantially. A storage tray under the boot floor can hold an extra 30 litres.
It hasn’t been easy to keep track of the small 4x4 market in recent times. At 4,295mm long and 1770mm wide, the ASX slots in at the smaller end of the compact 4x4 class and represents a realistic alternative to family hatchbacks and larger superminis in terms of its carrying capacity. Direct rivals will include road-biased crossover 4x4s like the Nissan Qashqai, Skoda Yeti and Suzuki SX4. It runs on fully-independent suspension with Macpherson struts at the front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear. Electric power steering with reach and angle adjustment is standard on all models.
Standard equipment on the ASX includes ASC Active Stability Control, a CD stereo with MP3 compatibility, air-conditioning and seven airbags. Mitsubishi tends to campaign strongly on the value for money angle and the ASX should be no exception.
Mitsubishi is making its ClearTec package of low CO2 modifications standard on all versions of the ASX. The highlight of this is the Automatic Stop & Go system which turns the engine off when you’re stationary to save fuel but there’s also a diesel particulate filter on the oil-burning models, use of LED lights to save power, low rolling resistance tyres and a number of other features. One of the major efficiency savings buyers can make themselves is by choosing a two-wheel-drive ASX. It typically emits 5g/km less than an equivalent 4x4 model.
Think of Mitsubishi and you might think of big 4x4 vehicles that can plough through the most treacherous terrain but the ASX is a 4x4 from Mitsubishi that’s designed to take things easier. As the Japanese marque’s entrant in the burgeoning crossover 4x4 market, the ASX replicates the tough looks but is a far smaller and softer proposition overall. It looks a tempting alternative to the ordinary family hatchbacks and superminis that everyone else drives but the way the small 4x4 market is going, this kind of vehicle could become very commonplace very quickly.