Diesel manuals just don’t sell in Australia, which means the new Mitsubishi ASX DiD AT is an important addition for the Japanese brand.
The DiD AT part denotes a new 2.2-litre diesel engine with automatic gearbox combination that should sell significantly better than the model’s previous 1.8 diesel manual.
Only about 10 diesel Mitsubishi ASX models had been sold per month as Australians instead opted for the 2.0-litre petrol with CVT auto that would avoid the mundane and repetitive task that typically comes with diesel manuals.
Mitsubishi expects to sell 150 ASX diesels a month with the new model.
There will be an entry-level version for $31,990 and a loaded Aspire version for $36,490. Both have four-wheel drive. The prices are a fair jump up from the entry-level front-drive petrol manual ASX, which kicks off the range at $25,990, but diesel engine technology is not cheap and it also drives two extra wheels.
The base diesel auto ASX is a bit of an oddball in that it doesn’t really have a true competitor.
The Skoda Yeti ($37,990) and Volkswagen Tiguan ($38,490) diesel autos are considerably more expensive and the Hyundai iX35 and Kia Sportage diesel automatics are a size larger. The Nissan Dualis diesel is manual only and the Subaru XV doesn’t have a diesel option.
This alone doesn’t make the Mitsubishi ASX a natural choice in the market, though the new diesel engine is a strong point.
It is described as a 2.2-litre, but with a capacity of 2268cc, it’s actually a 2.3-litre.
The common rail four-cylinder diesel unit generates 110kW at 3500rpm and 360Nm from 1500-2750rpm, which means it is particularly potent for this size of car.
The pull is really something you appreciate when you sling away from the lights or accelerate up a hill.
During regular driving, the diesel hardly toils at all. With an automatic transmission doing all the changing, the driver can just relax and concentrate on the road instead.
None of the cars we tested at this week’s launch were towing anything, but there appears to be so much torque in reserve that this model should make a good tow car. For the record, the towing capacity is 1400kg, which means a modest caravan with some gear on board.
The diesel can be quite rattly at idle when cold, but is more civilised when it warms up (although it still makes some noise at idle).
It isn’t the most refined engine on the run, although it is far from the worst, too.
The auto changes up early and often in city driving, for optimum economy, and some low frequency noise (probably torque convertor lock up) can be heard in some situations.
The pay-off is good fuel efficiency and our ASX test cars delivered 6.7 litres per 100km on a cruisy run in two-wheel-drive mode and 8.2L/100km when pressed hard in 4WD Auto mode.
You can opt to have the torque sent through the front wheels only and this will do in most conditions, such as city roads in the dry. There is also the option of selecting 4WD Auto, which sends the energy through the front wheels until they start to slip and then some is sent to the rear wheels.
A third option is 4WD Lock, which sends torque to the front and rear wheels. It is not a mechanical lock, which means it is not as capable in slippery conditions, but also means it can be left in 4WD Lock mode on tarmac without damaging the drivetrain components.
The 4WD Auto is good for country driving, especially when you pull up at a T intersection littered with loose gravel, which sits just at the point you want to accelerate. Torque is quickly sent to the rear wheels and the ASX gets going much better than if it is left in 2WD mode.
With 360Nm on tap, it can result in some wheel chirping when it goes to just the front wheels.
The ASX is a competent performer on country roads.
It isn’t great around corners and the suspension can get unsettled every now and again. If you wanted a vehicle that handled, you could just buy a hatchback that is just as practical and closer to the ground, but some of the ASX’s rivals cope better with corners.
The suspension setting is comfortable on the standard 16-inch wheels and while it is a little firmer on 17s it is by no means harsh.
Despite a model update in 2012, the interior of the Mitsubishi ASX is still let down by hard, ordinary plastics on the doors and the dashboard.
The new centre screen in the base car is adequate, and we like the streaming audio Bluetooth function, but the surround looks like that used for the BF Falcons.
The plastics are all very dark and there is only a little chrome detail on the steering wheel and doors, leading to a perception that the car was built to a (low) price.
Surprisingly, the dashboard and door plastics are the same on both the base model and the range-topper that costs another $4500.
While the touch and feel of the interior is disappointing, Mitsubishi doesn’t skimp on the content.
Both models get seven airbags (and 5 star ANCAP ratings) and, importantly, a reversing camera and ISOFIX seat anchor points.
Climate control air-conditioning is standard, as is cruise control, a 6.1-inch display, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming.
The lure to step-up to the Aspire model includes a premium 7-inch, higher-resolution centre screen, leather heated seats, satellite navigation, a panoramic sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels (up from 16s), keyless entry and start, rain-sensing wipers and automatic (dusk sensing) headlights.
The Aspire’s leather seats don’t feel particularly nice and the leather is on the cheap side.
There is a surprising amount of room in the cabin, with 5ft 11in adults provided ample head and shoulder room in the two rear outer seats.
The boot space is acceptable at 416 litres and the seatbacks fold 60/40 and very nearly flat.
Noise suppression could be improved and there’s plenty of road noise on coarse-chip country roads.
The exterior design revision, introduced with last year’s upgrade, looks smart, with a touch of Lancer Evo in the front-end treatment. Small touches such as the turn signals in the wing mirrors bring the model up to date and there are some tasteful chrome touches that add extra style.
If you are specifically after a diesel automatic compact SUV the size of the ASX at the right price, then the base model ASX diesel auto is the car for you.
The engine and transmission combination is top notch. If you are not sure whether you need a diesel, or a diesel automatic, then you should still consider the ASX. Its strong engine and transmission, along with good standard specification, makes it a contender.
However, the cheapish interior, disappointing refinement and uninspiring handling mean you should also check out its competitors before signing on the dotted line.