Only dead fish go with the flow
18 April 2014 13:54 (South Africa)
Life, etc

Mitsubishi ASX: Refining a winning formula

  • Deon Schoeman
  • Life, etc
Mitsubishi ASX_21 MAIN.jpg

The soft-roader has become ubiquitous on a South African motoring landscape increasingly marred by deteriorating roads. Yes, they’re liked for their taller stance and their spacious interiors. But it’s their ability to cope with ruts and potholes that’s really at the core of their appeal. The recently updated Mitsubishi ASX is a crossover, rather than a soft-roader, but it does benefit from the brand’s off-roading reputation. By DEON SCHOEMAN.

The Mitsubishi brand and all-terrain capability have been synonymous for decades. The legendary Pajero remains an off-road stalwart, and the Triton bakkie isn’t scared of rough and tough terrain, either.

The ASX is Mitsubishi’s compact crossover, and straddles the middle ground between go-anywhere capability and road car. First launched locally back in 2011, it’s just undergone a mild facelift – a clear indication of just how competitive this segment has become.

Midlife makeovers are a way for motor manufacturers to keep their products relevant in an ever-changing and highly competitive environment. It also opens the door to reacting to customer input and improving those elements that may have invited criticism.

As a result, these so-called phase 2 vehicles typically improve on the originals, both cosmetically, and under the skin.

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The ASX update comes earlier than expected, although the original version arrived here later than in other markets. With competition in the compact crossover segment being fierce, Mitsubishi here will be hoping that the changes endow the ASX with a more competitive edge.

Complicating the issue even further is the fact that the ASX has to compete directly with two very close relatives. The Peugeot 4008 and the Citroën C4 Aircross are, for all intents and purposes, badge-engineered versions of the ASX – mechanically, they are exactly the same.

Whether the European veneer provided by the Peugeot and Citroën designers adds any real appeal to their variations on the ASX theme remains a moot point, but it’s true to say that the ASX is the original, and that the technology that underpins it is pure Mitsubishi.

However, it’s equally true that some of the enhancements introduced by the refreshed, 2013 model year ASX were inspired by their French siblings.

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Not that we’re talking any radical changes here. Indeed, the problem with mid-life model updates is that the changes are often subtle, or completely tucked away under the skin. Thus, the 2013 ASX remains instantly recognisable, while identifying the exact differences between old and new is challenging unless you see them side by side.

The most obvious changes are a smoother front end, underscored by the new grille, reshaped bumper, subtle chrome accents, and different fog lamp surrounds. The effect is more modern, and more integrated, while also emphasising the Mitsubishi brand identity.

Matching the front’s design approach, the rear treatment is smoother and more cohesive, too, while the contrasting lower apron adds some visual muscle. The ASX retains its SUV-like raised stance, while the sculpted flanks and bold wheel arches add to the vehicle’s purposeful appearance.

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Less obvious (but arguably more telling) are the changes under the skin. Tweaks to the rear suspension have added greater refinement to the ride quality, while throttle mapping has also been adjusted in the interests of refinement.

Once ensconced inside, it becomes apparent cabin updates were focussed on creating a more upmarket ambience, specifically by adding softer, smarter surfaces with greater tactile appeal – a trend pioneered by the 4008 and the Aircross.

The overall execution is more inviting, with chrome detailing adding further lustre, and there’s a new steering wheel with multifunction controls.

Bluetooth connectivity is now standard across the range, while the updated sound system will read and play back music files on USB flash drives and devices such as iPhones and iPods. The 442-litre boot has a full-sized spare under the cargo floor – vital for anyone intent on exploring the ASX’s all-terrain talent in less than ideal conditions.

The 2013 ASX range consists of three models, all powered by the same two-litre petrol engine and featuring front-wheel drive. The entry-level GL and midrange GLX get a five-speed manual gearbox, while the flagship GLS is fitted with a six-speed CVT. The GLS is also the most comprehensively equipped, although spec levels are high across the board.

The 2.0-litre engine is credited with 110kW of max power, linked to 197Nm of torque. The four-pot mill delivers brisk performance and decent tractability, although you’ll need to use all the revs on offer to extract its full potential.

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The suspension combines front MacPherson struts with a multilink rear arrangement, but tuned to cope with both on and off-road conditions. As one would expect, a slightly raised ride height also assists mobility when heading off the beaten track, or negotiating concrete jungle kerbs.

Considering its crossover intentions, nobody expects the ASX to be a sports car, but it does feel surprisingly frisky. The five-speed manual gearbox has a positive shift action, and nicely spread ratios.

First gear is low enough to ensure tractability over more difficult terrain, and fifth has ample legs for open-road cruising.  The quoted zero to 100km/h sprint time is 9.6 seconds, while top speed is just short of 200km/h.

Fuel consumption varies, depending on the conditions being traversed and the load carried, but the factory figures claim a combined cycle figure of 7.5 litres/100km. Expect vigorous driving to result in thirstier results, though – and considering its appetite for revs, that’s more often than not.

As a crossover, the compact Mitsubishi is happy to tackle decent gravel roads, and that raised ground clearance is useful when the going gets tough, although traction remains limited by its two-wheel drive configuration.

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In that context, it’s important to consider that crossovers now command the niche once occupied by station wagons in South Africa. They are practical and versatile, tall enough to ensure good visibility, and not intimidated by our scarred and potholed roads.

The ASX adds a peppy engine, high comfort levels and plenty of creature comforts. Is it better than its predecessor? Very much so, with the smoother ride, and sleeker looks likely to please most.

Perhaps more importantly, crossovers such as the ASX provide much of what is appealing about compact SUVs, but in a simpler, more economical package without the added cost and complexity of four-wheel drive.

Add the refinements provided by the 2013 update, and the ASX could just become the crossover winner Mitsubishi is hoping for. DM

Mitsubishi ASX 2.0 GLX Manual

  • Engine In-line four-cylinder, 1,998cc
  • Gearbox Five-speed manual
  • Power 110kW @ 4,000rpm
  • Torque 197Nm @ 1,750rpm
  • 0-100km/h 9.6sec
  • Top speed 196km/h
  • Fuel consumption 7.5 litres/100 km
  • CO2 emissions 181g/km
  • Retail price R304,900
  • Deon Schoeman
  • Life, etc


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