It almost defies belief, but the 2018 Mitsubishi ASX XLS Diesel is a platform that has been on sale since 2010 - a long time in vehicular terms by any measure. Interestingly enough, the ASX is also one of the vital pillars of Mitsubishi’s success, along with Outlander and Triton. Add Pajero Sport to the mix and you could be forgiven for thinking Mitsubishi had become an ‘SUV only’ manufacturer.
So, despite its age, the ASX continues to punch well above its weight in sales terms, and continues to find a relevant niche of buyers, looking for an affordable SUV. Is it the best option in a bulging segment? No. Is it the worst? Also no. As we found when we did our last compact SUV mega test, the ASX is somewhere in the middle in measurable terms.
Sure the ASX has been tweaked, fettled and refocussed over the years, but the segment has moved a long way forward from where it was in 2010 too. Plenty of contenders shape up as hard to beat options, with some priced just as sharply as the ASX - the Honda HR-V being one particular example. Read our full pricing and specification guide for all the details, but the XLS we have has recently copped some extra kit including AEB, lane departure warning and auto high beam.
How then, does the diesel stack up in the city-focused SUV segment? Let’s find out.
The AWD XLS grade we’re testing here is the top of the ASX tree, with pricing starting from $37,500. Our test vehicle only has premium metallic red paint added to that at a cost of $590. Standard equipment highlights include: AEB, lane departure warning, auto high beams, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (with no proprietary sat nav), 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, automatic wipers and headlights, two-stage heated front seats, power driver's seat, panoramic glass roof, LED mood lighting, leather seat facings, keyless entry and push button start.
Under the bonnet, there’s a 2.2-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged diesel mated to a six-speed automatic. The 2.2-litre - originally used in the Outlander - was added to the ASX portfolio back in 2012 along with the six-speed auto.
The oiler churns out 110kW and 360Nm. While the power figure won’t get your blood pumping, peak torque is available from 1500rpm, which means you can get the little ASX up to speed reasonably easily. This model grade also features Mitsubishi’s MIVEC AWD system.
The engine is effectively one of the smoother and more refined bargain diesels we've tested. It’s devoid of any of the old diesel nastiness, there’s no rattling, clattering or strange noises emanating from under the bonnet. While you could argue this compact class doesn’t ‘need' a diesel engine, the frugal ADR claim of 6.0L/100km is impressive. On test, we averaged 7.5L/100km over the week, but that figure jumped up to as high as 8.6L/100km in heavy traffic.
For the class, the cabin is comfortable and well-appointed. The leather-trimmed front seats are heated and the driver’s seat is power adjustable. There are two cupholders up front, and bottle holders in the door pockets. You’ll get a decent-sized bottle in there too - handy on longer road trips.
As you’d expect, there’s plenty of dark, hard plastic throughout the cabin, but it’s not really cheap in appearance either. There’s room for a smart phone under the dash, ahead of the shifter and beneath the heated seat control switches. Inside the padded centre console bin, there’s a 12V power socket and a USB input as well.
The front seats are comfortable and not ‘board-like’ like Mitsubishis of old. The seat squab is still shorter than we’d like though, which gets a little annoying on longer trips. For the MY18 updates, this XLS now gets Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, which worked really well, but that system delete the standard satellite navigation so you'll have to access your data for mapping. The smartphone link works really well though and the screen is clear. We liked the Bluetooth phone connection and audio playback was reliable too.
In the second row, there are no power outlets and only vents under the front seats. We judge rear seat headroom as adequate, and you’ll fit an adult in the second row with enough knee and foot room, provided you don’t have super tall occupants up front. There’s a centre armrest with cupholders, but only small bottle storage in the rear door pockets.
The luggage area is impressive, with 393 litres on offer when the second row seats are in use. Fold them down, and there’s a solid 1193 litres available. The ASX is significantly better than sales favourite the Mazda CX-3 in regard to storage space making it useful for young families.
Despite the diesel engine under the stubby bonnet, there isn’t too much diesel rattle entering the cabin either, only when you lean on the throttle pedal to really ask the ASX to hustle. It’s an interesting conundrum. The diesel engine is a good one, but it’s not quite efficient enough in the real world to argue the case over petrol, which is cheaper to buy and cheaper to service. The extra sound deadening that Mitsubishi claims to have added to this model appears to have made a difference to the general cabin ambience.
Those of you hoping I’ll come up with a verbose explanation of the ASX’s scintillating driving dynamics should turn away now. We jokingly claimed in the CarAdvice office that the ASX neither ‘under’ nor ‘overwhelms’. It simply ‘whelms’ - somewhere in the middle that is.
We reckon the AWD grade is a step above the base model in driving terms, and it’s competent, but the steering and handling isn’t exciting, and there’s nothing engaging about the whole experience. The ASX is however un-fussed, composed, well settled and comfortable. Larger wheels and low profile tyres help here to tie it down more firmly and it manages to ride along quite comfortably even over poor surfaces.
The automatic gearbox Mitsubishi has employed works really well with the diesel engine, and it chooses ratios cleverly and decisively. It’s never seemingly in the wrong gear at the wrong time and the shift is smooth regardless of load. In short, if you spend your time running round town in the ASX, there’s nothing ugly about the way the engine and gearbox pairing work together.
You get a switch marked - funnily enough - ‘4WD’ that locks the ASX into AWD mode if you head off-road onto any dirt. While the ASX isn’t the vehicle you’d choose to cross the Simpson, it can tackle the basic stuff safely. If you head into national parks for camping, picnics and the like, the ASX will get you there and back safely.
Despite its age the ASX is a five-star ANCAP-rated SUV (2014 stamp), and the recent MY18 update has added all the electronic safety aids that are a commonplace in 2017 - so it’s still a safe option for the family. There’s a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, four years of included roadside assistance, and a three-year capped price servicing program so long as your ASX doesn’t cover more than 52,500km in the first three years. Due every 15,000km/12 months, those services will cost $350, $500 and $630 respectively.
There’s no doubt the ASX is a cost effective, reliable and usable small SUV that won’t dent the budget too heavily. It’s not the best in the segment but it does resonate with buyers and continues to find a niche with younger or family buyers. While it won’t get your heart racing, it will do the job you need it to do without fuss. You should consider some of the segment leaders though like the Honda HR-V if you don’t need an AWD platform.