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Let's deal with the elephant in the room here: the Mitsubishi ASX is old. It was released in 2010, but its underpinnings have their roots in the now-defunct Lancer launched in 2007.
Including the incumbent John Howard, we've had six Prime Ministers – although Kevin Rudd having two turns bumps that to seven, technically – since the bones of the ASX were conceived. And yet it was the best-selling small SUV in Australia last month, and the month before that.
The ASX ES we have here is the base model, priced from $25,490 drive-away with a CVT transmission. As other manufacturers look to push upmarket, Mitsubishi has pushed the ASX downmarket to fill the void left by the Lancer.
Although the bones remain unchanged from 2010, Mitsubishi has done a good job of keeping the car fresh visually, with 18-inch alloy wheels, a brighter nose, and mild revisions to the rear bumper the latest updates.
Sure, in white it looks a bit [insert cheap rental company of your choice], but there are enough blue, red and black models getting around on the roads to suggest style-conscious buyers aren't turning up their noses.
The car's age does show inside, where you get plenty of standard equipment, but little in the way of visual or tactile stimulation. The dashboard is trimmed in hard plastic and you could probably file your nails using the material topping the instrument binnacle, but the basics are actually quite good: the seats are well padded and trimmed in what'll surely be hard-wearing cloth, while the steering wheel feels nice in your hands.
Taller drivers would be well served taking the car for a test drive before laying down their hard-earned, though. The seat is mounted quite high and doesn't slide as far back as I'd like, forcing a legs-splayed driving position. That does preserve rear-seat leg/foot room, and the lack of sunroof means head room is plentiful back there.
Boot space is par for the class at 393L, comfortably shading the Mazda CX-3 (364L), but lagging behind the Honda HR-V (437L). There's a space-saver under the boot floor, and plastic storage cubbies either side of the load bay, while the rear seats fold 60/40 to free up 1143L of load-lugging space.
Your main source of interior excitement is a touchscreen incorporating Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, DAB+ radio and Bluetooth connectivity. With no inbuilt navigation, it's reliant on a smartphone for directions, but that's not the worst thing given how good Google Maps has become. Oh, and paper maps are still a thing apparently. Shocking to me, too.
CarPlay worked without a hitch, and the base system is exactly what you'd expect. Audi and Mercedes won't be losing any sleep over the graphics, but it responds promptly and is logically laid out. The only real knock? There's no proper volume knob – just a stupid touch-capacitive slider. Ew.
Climate control comes in the form of three knobs below the touchscreen, all of which do exactly what you'd expect of them. There's no fancy temperature screens or dual-zone control here, but this is the base model, so that's not really to be expected.
Those who want active safety gear like autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, rear parking sensors, dusk-sensing headlamps with auto high beam, and rain-sensing wipers will need to stump an extra $1500 for the ES ADAS. Our tester went without.
Power comes from a 2.0-litre petrol engine making 110kW and 197Nm, put to the front wheels through CVT. Suffice to say, the ASX isn't what you'd call fast. In fact, you could even go so far as to say it's quite slow.
Peak power doesn't come on tap until 6000rpm and peak torque is out of reach until 4200rpm, so revs are a must if you're keen to proceed with a degree of urgency. Not a heap happens below 2500rpm, but if you're willing to put up with a bit of noise, the ASX offers enough punch to make most commuters happy.
Around town, where throttle inputs are generally light and speeds are generally low, the car is smooth. Given that's where most of these cars will spend their time, it's fit for purpose, but keen drivers will long for a bit more punch and a decent noise. Although a diesel (and all-wheel drive) was previously offered, they were both killed for the 2018.5 model year, which also saw the birth of the ES.
Claimed fuel economy is 7.6L/100km on the combined cycle, but we only matched that on an early morning run to the airport. In town, it regularly averaged between 9.5 and 10.5L/100km depending on traffic. The worst we saw was 13.0L/100km on a particularly slow morning.
It's a similar story with the handling. The suspension is relatively soft to deal with the pockmarked roads and gargantuan speed bumps prevalent in the city, where the car will spend the majority of its time, but the steering isn't quite on the same page.
It's not exactly 'heavy' at low speeds, but it's also not as pinky-twirlingly light as some other city cars for parking manoeuvres, and has quite a bit of play around straight-ahead at highway speeds.
We'll call it wiggle room for drivers who don't often get out of the city, but it doesn't inspire a huge degree of confidence. Still, there's no risk of veering off the road if you sneeze violently at 110km/h, which is a positive.
With that said, the car felt more susceptible to crosswinds than we'd expected on a breezy Melbourne day.
The ASX most shows its ageing bones on the open road, where road/wind noise are both noticeable – especially on coarse-chip surfaces. No rival to an S-Class or A8 inside, don't get us wrong, but there's room for improvement when the ASX is eventually replaced. We're banking on 2027/28. Not really.
Servicing the ASX happens every 12 months or 15,000km and will cost you $230 at each of the first five visits. You also get a five-year/100,000km warranty, and four years of roadside assist.
Although it's featured in a few recall notices of late, you can also bank on Mitsubishi having ironed out any mechanical niggles that might otherwise have impacted the ownership experience.
Pricing is sharp-ish on face value. The $25,490 drive-away price puts the ES head-to-head with the Hyundai Kona Go ($23,500 before on-roads) and Mazda CX-3 Neo Sport ($25,990 before on-roads), along with the base Honda HR-V ($24,990 before on-roads).
You'll pay $1500 to get autonomous emergency braking in the Kona, but it's standard on the CX-3 and HR-V. All three offer more attractive, modern interiors than the ASX, and can be had with all-wheel drive.
But the sticker price only tells part of the story. A quick scan of the classifieds shows the ASX ES can be had for $23K drive-away with a CVT, which makes it meaningfully cheaper than its rivals. It's also a darling among fleet and rental buyers.
If you're after cheap, reliable transport, the CVT ES fits the bill. Buyers in search of more styling sparkle or an upmarket interior will need to look elsewhere, but the base ASX knows its role (A-to-B, minimum of fuss) and executes it perfectly, regardless of age. If it ain't broke...