SHE’LL BE RIGHT

The ASX’s sales suc­cess is down to size and kit. Now it needs blokes to buy it

Mercury (Hobart) - - MOTORING - IAIN CURRY

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.

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