Mitsubishi's diesel compact SUV is good - if you like manual cars...
- 2010 Mitsubishi ASX Aspire; 1.8-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-diesel; six speed manual; five-door SUV: $36,990
- Metallic Paint $450
Let's be honest here: Mitsubishi's diesel engines have never really been its strong point. While they've improved over the years, Mitsubishi's diesels have never quite matched the European engines for refinement - until now.
The ASX's 1.8-litre is as good as anything French or German, with its quiet idle and smooth pick-up. It also has the typical 2000rpm powerband from 2000-4000rpm, and its power outputs - at 110kW and 300Nm - are on par with the ubiquitous 2.0-litre diesel crowd on a per-litre basis. It's pretty easy on the fuel, too with our on test figure sitting at 6.8-litres/100km after exclusively urban driving. The engine, then, is quite good.
The only problem is the Mitsubishi ASX doesn't have the right gearbox to exploit the engine's potential. With a six-speed manual behind it, the diesel needs to be kept in its sweet spot by continuous rowing of the gearbox. This isn't helped by the manual's tall lever and notchy shifts, very short ratios and 2000rpm powerband. Second to third can be easily fluffed, too, as the spacing of the H-pattern is very narrow. Slow, easy shifts are the order of the day.
Caught off the hop, there's plenty of lag to be found too, meaning if you're in the wrong gear in traffic, it can be frustrating, or downright dangerous, particularly when pulling out in front of on-coming cars. What the ASX needs - like, yesterday - is an automatic or a dual-clutch transmission. With an auto, it would be an almost flawless drivetrain. But without it, it's a bit too much hard work. We're told an auto is coming in over a year, but Mitsubishi may have missed the boat by not having it from launch.
The rest of the drive fares much better, though. The steering is accurate, and rewards with good weight and plenty of feedback. The brakes work well, and even the ride - which is on the firmer end of the scale - doesn't jolt or jitter, rather, it absorbs bumps comfortably.
Handling is neutral-to-understeery, and the ASX is happy to let you know through the steering when you're pushing it to its limits. Let's just say, it's no sports-car. But it hangs onto the road predictably, and in the wet its all-wheel-drive is appreciated.
It'll also tackle sand work quite happily, but only as long as it's not too rutted, and you've let your tyres down a bit. Leave the rotary selector on the Lock setting (which splits the power 50-50 front-rear for up to around 40km/h) if you do decide to head onto the beach, as on 4WD it takes a while for the rear wheels to respond when the fronts start slipping.
Moving inside, it's fair to say the ASX has one of the best interiors in the Mitsubishi range. The dash features a soft-touch and nicely grained plastic on the fascia, and on the centre stack it has the same climate control dial you find in a Mitsubishi Lancer. It would have been nice to see the same soft dash plastic extend all the way to the bottom of the windscreen, rather than the harsh join across the dashtop, which is really the only thing that stops it feeling quite premium.
The test car was the Aspire variant, which comes with a touch-screen Mitsubishi Multi Communication System (MMCS), which combines a Rockford Fosgate stereo (with boot-mounted subwoofer), sat-nav, equaliser controls, DVD player, CD/MP3, iPod connectivity and AV inputs in the centre console. Reversing camera - a life-saving feature - is standard. The stereo, as expected, is very good, with plenty of bass and clarity. There's bluetooth as standard, which includes voice dialling and that works a treat. A button on the steering wheel (the same wheel as Lancer) activates the voice commands.
The ASX's instruments - lifted straight from the Outlander - are clearly laid out, however they could do without the notches for each 2km/h increment, which makes them look a little busy. The colour screen between the two main dials is functional as well as good looking, displaying fuel use, distance to empty, outside temperature, fuel level and other driving information.
The front seats are lifted straight from the Outlander and feature good bolstering and comfort, seat-heaters and decent leather. The rear seats are also sufficiently comfortable, and there's enough legroom for adults to not feel cramped. Because the majority of the interior is black, and the rear windows are on the smaller side and have privacy glass, buyers would do well to tick the $800 panoramic sunroof option, giving a much more open feel to the cabin, which would otherwise feel a little claustrophobic. Boot space isn't too bad, either, at 416 litres, and at least it comes with a space saver, rather than the current trend of supplying an inflation kit.
The ASX Aspire also comes with rain-sensing wipers, auto-headlights, keyless entry and keyless start - plenty of features, for sure, but how does the ASX Aspire diesel stack up against its competition?
Pretty well, as it happens - as long as you're happy with a manual transmission. For instance, Nissan's Dualis doesn't come with a diesel, plus there's no satnav or reversing camera. Now it is around $6000 cheaper, but it suffers on headroom on the top-specced TI model and because it's a petrol car, it uses more fuel. Volkswagen Tiguan, on the other hand, is presented beautifully, and does come with a diesel. You'll pay for the privilege, though, with the manual version on par with the ASX and then you'd have to add Satellite Navigation, Media Device Interface, Bluetooth phone connectivity and Leather Upholstery to spec the Tiguan to the same level as the ASX - costing a whopping $8520 more. If you want an automatic, add $2200 which takes it to over $10,000 more than the ASX's $36,990 asking price.
Hyundai ix35 does come considerably closer to the ASX in terms of price and equipment, especially in Highlander guise at $38,490. Sat-nav still isn't available (nothing a $500 Navman won't fix), and the stereo and ride aren't quite as good, however the interior quality is excellent and the R-Series diesel and its six-speed automatic is an absolute pearler.
Mitsubishi does offer a 10 year warranty on its drivetrain, which betters all potential competitors, so depending on how long you'll be keeping the car, it's certainly something to whack on the pros and cons list.
The ASX is also styled quite well, too, so with plenty of features, good economy and a reasonable entry price for a top-of-the-line compact SUV, it'll be making up for lost ground in this segment. Just bring the automatic version soon, Mitsubishi. Sales will depend on it.
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Pricing is a guide as recommended to us by the manufacturer and does not include dealer delivery, on-road or statutory charges.