“If it ain't broke…” must be something of a mantra around the corridors of Mitsubishi HQ in Japan, as the freshly restyled 2017 Mitsubishi ASX XLS is basically the same car as it was when launched back in 2010.
In fact, the car made its Australian debut at the 2010 Australian International Motor Show in Sydney. Remember that?
There was a facelift in 2012, another in 2014 and, true to form, the current revision in 2016. The range has seen some mechanical and equipment upgrades during its tenure too, and while it may seem like an ageing platform, the ASX still took second place (behind the Mazda CX-3) in compact SUV sales in Australia for 2016.
It still holds that category position heading into March 2017 too.
Like I said, if it ain't broke…
Our test car is the range-topping XLS but in front-drive rather than AWD configuration. It lists for $31,500 before options and on-road costs, a $5500 saving over the all-paw version.
New styling for the 2017 range is limited to a new chrome grille and front fascia, that, despite protests from a number of colleagues, isn’t as bad in the metal as it can look in pictures. It isn’t the model’s finest hour, though.
Wheels (18-inch on all models), and rear-end treatment remain the same, but the antenna is now the more streamlined ‘shark fin’ type.
There are subtle changes to the trim inside and updated graphics on the infotainment interface, but the majority of the ASX XLS remains the same, and in terms of equipment, that isn’t a bad thing.
Keyless entry and start, automatic wipers and headlamps, two-stage heated front seats, the driver’s with powered adjustment, and a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation and DAB digital radio give the ASX plenty to keep buyers happy.
There’s the enormous panoramic glass roof too, which features LED lighting strips for a bit of mood-setting at night. These have an adjustable brightness level, which when cranked up to the maximum at night simply reflect on the glass panel, turning it into a giant, tinted mirror. Giggity.
During the day, though, it really helps keep the cabin feeling bright and spacious. There’s a powered blind to keep things under control temperature wise as well.
Up front, the cabin is showing its age in design and basic layout. It works, though, with big dials for the climate control and the central, seven-inch screen. The front seats have leather trim accents and are reasonably comfortable and supportive.
It feels quite spacious and you sit up high, which is what obviously keeps people attracted to the little ASX. Vision is good all round too, handy for a car likely to spend most of its time in town.
Each door has a bottle holder, and there’s a central cubby as well as the glovebox. The cubby has twin layers, the top designed to fit a phone, including a large iPhone, where the lower section offers both a USB and 12-volt point. There’s a pair of cupholders next to the handbrake too.
There’s also a strange, blank container on the console, where the AWD selection switch is in the quad-drive ASX. It has a strange rectangular cavity which fits exactly nothing and feels like a wasted opportunity to add something like a key holder or coin tray.
Ironically, the cupholder ahead of the transmission lever has a ‘no cups’ logo next to it. You had one job…
Turns out, this is the storage hole for a removable ashtray, as leaving your takeaway cappuccino there makes it awkward to reach while on the move, thanks to the placement of the transmission lever.
Driving data is represented on an LCD display between the analogue speedo and tachometer, and we had a number of small glitches where it wouldn’t calculate the average fuel consumption until you looked at the fuel consumption display. It’s quite fiddly to use, but might be something you get used to over time.
All other information is shown on the double-DIN size touch screen, which despite a frustrating motion lockout function on the navigation, works pretty well. There’s a solid feature set including iPod and Bluetooth audio support, DAB radio and even *gasp* CD player, but no CarPlay or Android Auto projection support.
There’s a rear-view camera display, supported by rear parking sensors, and you can even set calendar dates and reminders, handy if your car is a mobile office!
The 393-litre boot works well and is bigger than the Mazda CX-3 (264-litres) and Holden Trax (356 litres) but down on the Honda HR-V (437 litres). There’s a space-saver spare wheel under the floor and a storage cubby either side, behind each wheel well.
You can fold the rear seats 60:40 and the floor is mostly flat when they are down. Space expands to 1143 litres like this. Both outside seats have an ISOFIX and top-tether point.
The rear cabin itself is probably best for children and not-quite-best friends. The bench is firm and flat, and not the comfiest going around.
Headroom for anyone over six-foot is compromised by the panoramic roof and sloping roofline, but legroom is good and toe room excellent, thanks to that higher-set driving position in the front.
It’s a bit spartan back there too, with just one map pocket, no door bins, charge points or air vents, but there are cupholders in the central armrest.
Under the bonnet is a 110kW/197Nm 2-litre petrol engine, which drives the front wheels via a six-speed CVT. It’s not what you would call an entertaining engine, and takes a little while to get the little Mitsubishi up and running.
Peak power isn’t available until 6000rpm, and peak torque at 4200pm, so there’s a sense of having to rev the ASX hard to get anywhere with any urgency. Nothing really happens until 2500rpm, and you do have to keep going to shift the 1365kg SUV around in traffic. This, combined with the CVT, gives the ASX a somewhat drony engine note.
Hold your speed, though, and the Mitsubishi trundles along quite happily. Consumption is claimed at 7.6L/100km, and we saw just under 10L/100km for predominantly urban use.
There’s no idle-stop system to help keep this lower either.
The CVT works smoothly, though, and once you understand the performance limits, the ASX is easy to get used to, especially in urban environments.
It rides well too, providing you pay attention to advisory speeds over speed humps and the like. Potter around like a happy, carefree urbanite, and the little guy is happy and carefree in return.
What wasn’t so smooth, though, was the steering. It’s quite heavy at low speeds, for example when parallel parking, but also offers a range of feedback when on the move.
Think of the wheel as a clock, and moving from 11 o’clock to 1 o’clock is basically dead. You can waggle here all you like and the ASX stays its course. This is an outcome of the so-called ‘sneeze’ test, which stops any amplified movements being transmitted through the wheel if the driver was to sneeze. True story.
Not a bad thing, but start turning with some voluntary force, anywhere from 9 o’clock around to 3 o’clock and there’s a noticeable delay between steering action and ASX reaction. The lower hours of the clock just weight up and feel a bit heavy again.
That’s not to say the car is hard to handle, far from it, it’s just a little ‘soft’ in terms of steering feel.
But, this is an ASX, not an Evo and they give them away on Family Feud, so when we surveyed 100 people and asked them what they found to be important characteristics of the little SUV, a communicative steering rack would likely return a resounding, ba-bow.
And probably a little dance from Grant Denyer.
The price of the ASX XLS feels a little sharp for our liking, although it is in line with the $33,340 Honda HR-V VTi-L, $30,490 Holden Trax LTZ and $33,290 Mazda CX-3 Akari front drive models. Keep an eye out for regular in-market offers from Mitsubishi to get the best value though.
It is covered by a $230 per year (or 15,000km interval) capped-price service package which makes it a very wallet-friendly little thing to keep running, plus after seven years, you can be sure all the bugs have been ironed out, making the ASX a reliable and basically risk-free purchase.
We’ll bring you the latest on the ‘Eclipse Cross’ concept that is likely to replace the ASX, but until it lands, people will no-doubt keep buying the 2017 Mitsubishi ASX XLS, or winning them on game shows. For our money, we'd head lower in the range to the LS with a manual transmission, as nearly all of the core ingredients are there for $25k, plus the manual is going to be more fun!
Whatever the case, the ASX still proves that new and fancy doesn’t always win the race and that Mitsubishi’s marketing team could well embrace the whole ‘if it ain't broke…’ mentality as its next catchy slogan.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.