SHE’LL BE RIGHT
The ASX’s sales success is down to size and kit. Now it needs blokes to buy it
Mitsubishi’s ASX is the Roger Federer of SUVs. Defying longevity and younger, fresher competition, it just keeps on winning and showing the cooler SUV kids how to fly out of showrooms.
The bones of this ASX have been with us since 2010 — an eternity in car model life terms — but for 2020 there’s a shiny new face, more powerful 2.4-litre petrol engine for rangetoppers, and improved infotainment and safety.
Come December, sportier-looking MR and GSR grades with black alloys and trim arrive, trying to woo more male buyers to the ASX. Typically, Mitsubishi reckons, its small SUV finds more favour among women, young families and older buyers.
Fleets and rental firms love it too, accounting for roughly 40 per cent of total sales, and it topped the small SUV sales charts in 2017 and 2018 with tallies of nearly 20,000 each year. It’ll be the same this year — the ASX is thumping second and third placed Mazda CX-3 and Hyundai Kona yet again.
The 2020 model updates, the most comprehensive in a decade, will trouble the rivals further. Its marginal gains in style and equipment are allied to the ASX’s trump cards.
First, size. A small SUV straddling the medium segment, it’s large enough to provide reasonable rear seat and boot space, unlike, say, a Mazda CX-3.
Anecdotally, its seat height is ideal for access for retired folk with dodgy hips and knees. Many an ASX gets recommended down the bowls club.
Second, price and running costs. You can drive away the cheapest ES grade with manual gearbox for less than $25,000 and services total a mere $597 over three years. Only Toyota’s C-HR trumps it at $12 cheaper.
Mitsubishi is turning the screw a bit more. Until year’s end, it’s giving two years’ free servicing plus a seven-year warranty.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. In the cabin, the larger eight-inch touchscreen with smartphone mirroring dominates the central dashboard but the layout, giant knobs, clunky buttons and plain swathes of black plastic (not too hard) feel a bit, well, 2010.
The lack of a digital speedo, for example, harks back to a time when we didn’t get fined for going 1km/h over the limit.
The boot, rear seats and storage leave little to complain about. That said, I watched older drivers struggle with the tailgate’s weight — there’s no power option, even for the Exceed range topper.
Otherwise, there’s good specification for your money. The entry ES ($26,740 on the road with continuously variable transmission) gets 2.0-litre base engine, 18-inch wheels, autonomous emergency braking, LED lights, cruise control and rear camera.
An additional $2500 buys a comprehensive suite of active safety kit.
The mid-spec LS ($30,240) includes this safety gear plus smart key and roof rails.
For $35,740, the Exceed gets the 2.4-litre, power heated leather seats, massive panoramic sunroof, navigation and enhanced audio.
Mitsubishi product strategy executive Owen Thompson has high hopes for the new “sport range” GSR and MR grades.
“The styling … along with the more powerful engine in the GSR,” he says, “will really capture the attention of customers who may have previously been in the market for a small sedan or hatch.” Blokes, basically. ON THE ROAD The MR and GSR are, of course, all bark and no bite. They look the part with black body highlights but the engines — non-turbo fourcylinders — won’t deliver thrills or great economy.
You need to find the higher revs to enjoy any reasonable response but things get a bit noisy. The CVT doesn’t help matters but in the GSR you get paddle-shifters to exercise some control.
Treat the ASX as most will — as town transport and highway cruiser — and the engines are fit for purpose. They chug along without fuss and the CVT is a smooth operator, if lazy to wake up at low speeds.
The suspension is also a pragmatic choice, erring on the soft side for pleasing comfort and the ability to soak up most road bumps.
If you’re after driving excitement, best to look elsewhere. VERDICT ★★★1/2 The fuss-free ASX wins by being just the right size with just enough equipment and for 2020 there’s improved styling too. The new 2.4-litre isn’t powerful enough to entice sportier shoppers and the drive experience will never thrill. But the price and low ownership costs — including the current seven-year warranty — will maintain its No. 1 small SUV ranking.