Fourth facelift gives ASX new tech, power

Peter Atkinson
The Mitsubishi ASX has undergone its fourth facelift

Has Mitsubishi discovered the automotive fountain of youth?

You'd think so, judging by their ability to keep squeezing strong sales out of models that, in the normal course of events, should have been pensioned off years ago.

The Japanese marque has a habit of developing successful models and riding them well beyond their use-by date. The current fourth-generation Pajero, for instance, has been in showrooms in virtually the same guise for 14 years now.

And its little brother, the ASX, has managed a similar feat of holding back Father Time for an entire decade.

The ASX was something of a trailblazer when it was launched in Australia way back in 2010, and has shown remarkable resilience to remain among the bestsellers in its class for much of that time. Even late last year, it was among the top-selling vehicles, nationwide, in the lucrative sub-$40,000 price bracket - where buyers have a choice of almost 30 different brands.

Like the Pajero, it's become the Joan Rivers of the automotive world, having just undergone its fourth facelift of the past decade. Importantly, the most recent makeover is more like major surgery, bringing some new technology and a larger, more powerful engine to the market.

But the ASX is fundamentally still the same car as the one that was the nation's top-selling SUV as recently as 2018.

That's quite an achievement in a crowded SUV market where there seems to be a new option every other month, and this latest upgrade seems a wise investment in keeping the ASX at the front of buyers' minds.

The new range starts at just $24,990 for the base-model ES - albeit with the carried over 2-litre engine and five-speed manual transmission. There are two new models - the MR ($28,240) and GSR ($32,240), the latter getting the larger 2.4-litre engine, which it shares with the flagship Exceed, tested here, costing $34,470 plus on-road costs.

The bigger engine delivers 123kW, a 12 per cent improvement over its predecessor, while thirst has increased slightly to 7.9L/100km. All ASX models now get Active Stability Control.

The ASX sits very much at the urban end of the SUV spectrum - specifically designed by Mitsubishi to attract city-based buyers. If you needed proof of that, consider that an all-wheel-drive version and a diesel engine have both disappeared from the menu with this machine.

That's probably a wise tactic, given the brand's off-road credentials where the legendary Pajero, its ute-based namesake Pajero Sport, and the strong-selling Triton ute hold sway. In fact, of seven models currently offered by Mitsubishi in Australia, six are SUVs, the outlier being the Mirage micro-car, which only serves to underline the brand's commitment to soft-roaders.

The first impression of the ASX reflected that heritage - it's extremely quiet, comfortable and impressively refined, from the almost complete lack of engine noise to the well resolved ride and smooth CVT transmission.

That sense of quality and refinement gets undermined by the slightly "tinny" feel of the doors and rear hatch - which shut with a clang rather than the clunk so perfected by high-end marques. But it's one of the few ways the ASX falls short of the mark on quality.

A new 8-inch multimedia touchscreen is functional and efficient, with cabin management systems, audio settings and smart Tom Tom navigation system easily accessed.

The absence of a digital speedometer is a bit of an oversight for a car that will, inevitably, spend the bulk of its days buzzing around the speed-patrolled city streets. A head-up display would be even more welcome.

The fairly upright stance of the cockpit means headroom and passenger space are relatively generous for a smallish machine. The rear hatch happily accommodates a set of golf clubs without the need for reorganising or dropping the rear seats - although that would be necessary to accommodate a second set. Boot space is a useful 393 litres, although the sub-woofer of the Rockford Fosgate premium audio system in the Exceed model intrudes slightly into that space. The "doof doof" speaker is probably a bit superfluous in a car that will primarily appeal to empty-nesters and young families.

But in that market it represents strong value and reliable, comfortable driving.

Not to be overlooked is the lengthy, seven-year 150,000km warranty now being offered by Mitsubishi, a contract that significantly trims the cost of ownership for someone keen to lock into a vehicle for an extended time. It's also a solid vote of confidence by the brand in the quality of their workmanship and engineering.

Features well worth having in a car that rarely seems to age.

MITSUBISHI ASX EXCEED

HOW BIG? It belongs to the small SUV segment, but despite its compact size it offers generous interior and storage space.

HOW FAST? The new, bigger 2.4-litre engine adds some additional oomph to the car's performance, but with a CVT transmission it remains a fairly modestly-performed thing.

HOW THIRSTY? Official combined thirst is 7.9L/100km, which is not the best in class.

HOW MUCH? While entry-level models start around the $25k mark, this flagship version will set you back $35,740 plus on-road costs.