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Mitsubishi ASX Aspire Diesel 4WD
Japanese car maker's baby SUV is a competent urban runabout but doesn't set any benchmarks in a burgeoning segment.
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- Relaxed diesel performance
- Heaps of kit for the money
- Five-year warranty and capped-price servicing
- Diesel engine isnít quite a gem
- Some on-road niggles
- Bland cabin ambience
Australians love their automatics and theyíre also pretty big fans of diesels these days.
Yet for some reason or other many Japanese brands have found this particular drivetrain combination hard to manage, offering only manual-gearbox options and cruelling their chances with most buyers in the process.
But the tide is turning. Mazda has quashed this limitation from much of its diesel-car catalogue and Subaru has started the process with a new auto version of its Outback oiler.
Mitsubishi, too, has added a new two-pedal diesel version of its ASX as part of a wider MY14 update of its smallest, cheapest SUV.
What do you get?
You can get into a petrol ASX from $24,990 but the new diesel demands a rather more hefty financial commitment, kicking off at $31,990 plus on-road costs.
Some of the premium for the base diesel model is justified by it being 4WD rather than 2WD like entry-level petrols. The new (and mandatory) six-speed automatic transmission and bigger 2.2-litre engine (in place of the outgoing 1.8) account for the rest.
The base ASX diesel gets the same specification as its entry-level petrol equivalents. Itís not especially luxurious but nor does it want for much, with climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth, touch-screen stereo, voice control and 17-inch alloy wheels all part of the deal.
The Mitsubishiís safety artillery Ė seven airbags, stability control, rear parking sensors, reversing camera and five-star ANCAP rating Ė is just as hard to fault. And with a five-year/130,000km warranty and four-year/60,000km capped-price servicing, ownership is unlikely to be a brow-furrowing experience.
We tested the glitzier of the two ASX diesels available, the Aspire, which adds leather trim, heated front seats, satellite navigation (accessed via a larger, 7-inch touch-screen system), keyless entry/start and panoramic roof for a very reasonable $36,490 plus on-roads.
The ASX has little more to offer than your average small hatchback when it comes to carting people and luggage.
Back-seat space is adequate rather than generous for adult-sized folk, while occupants taller than 180cm will find the Aspireís panoramic roof limits head space.
The 416-litre boot, too, while usefully shaped, usefully flat with the back seats folded and marginally bigger than you get in rivals like Ford Kuga, Mazda CX-5 and Nissan Dualis, is quite short. And despite a dreaded space-saver spare tyre, the floor is quite high.
Up front, buyers will appreciate the ASXís easy access, decent space, good vision and ample small-item storage, as well as the generic Japanese-car simplicity of most of its instruments and switchgear.
However, its strong functionality isnít matched by the ambience. The ASX gets more soft-touch plastics than some Mitsubishis but plenty of harder, nastier stuff is still in evidence and the leather trim feels cheap. Thereís a sobriety to the all-grey colour scheme and lack of originality to the design that stops it well short of being inspiring.
Under the bonnet
The ASXís new 2.2-litre diesel engine isnít the big kid in the diesel sandpit. Other diesels of similar capacity crank out significantly more power and torque than its 110kW/360Nm peaks, and the one in Mazdaís CX-5 manages to do it while beating the Mitsubishiís 5.8L/100km official economy rating as well (albeit by just 0.1L/100km)
Donít go looking for a model of high-rev flair or silver-tongued refinement, either. The ASX diesel gets a bit wheezy when revved, redlines at a comparatively ho-hum 4000rpm and isnít particularly smooth or quiet.
It does, though, serve up massively superior driveability to its petrol siblings. Solid, determined response is never more than a twist of the ankle away and the six-speed auto doles out the grunt very proficiently, so the lack of high-rev flair is rarely noticed. Itís a relaxed urban performer, effortless open-road cruiser and also offers a handy 1400kg braked towing capacity.
You couldnít call it thirsty either, even if our 7.3L/100km test average was some way off the official claim.
On the road
This is a broadly competent package to drive. Itís usefully manoeuvrable in tight urban situations, a respectably agile and totally predictable cornerer and the ride soaks up most lumps and bumps without fuss. Mitsubishiís Ďall wheel control systemí offers the versatility of 2WD, 4WD and 4WD Lock modes for different conditions.
But thereís also room for improvement. The ride goes through a phase of noticeable low-speed lumpiness before settling down at open-road speeds, and thereís plenty of tyre roar on coarse-chip roads as well.
Floor the throttle out of a corner in 2WD, meanwhile, and the inside wheel lights up with wheelspin, while the steering combines a lack of feel with crude kickback over sharp bumps.
Itís not as well tied-down as the best-driving small SUVs, nor does the stability control system show much finesse in curbing the extravagances of over-enthusiastic driving. Diesels, too, lose a chunk of ground clearance compared to their petrol equivalents (180mm versus 195mm).
If you must have an ASX, and can afford to shell out over and above what youíd pay for a petrol model, this new diesel is the one to target. It takes the Mitsubishiís competency, sharp value, enticing ownership assets and throws in a dose of easygoing driveability and frugality as well.
However, itís also hard to shake the feeling that the Mitsubishi is also an urban SUV for just getting the job done at the good price rather than resetting benchmarks or tickling emotions. That wonít happen until itís more special inside, drives better and squeezes out more grunt and sophistication under the bonnet.