First drive: Mitsubishi ASX

The ASX may have been gestating in Mitsubishi's corporate belly for a while, but now it's here the Japanese manufacturer believes it has brought a car to market at just the right time, and more importantly, at the right price.

The industry's scurry towards C-segment crossovers was instigated by the runaway success of Nissan's Qashqai - the car which combined hatchback-sized practicality with an SUV profile, and flew off the shelves like honey-coated Apple iPads.

When the Qashqai was launched, Nissan figured its nearest competitors were the Focus and the Golf, but that class ambiguity has vanished now, and the ASX finds itself vying for buyers' money with Skoda, Peugeot, Kia and Hyundai, all of whom have launched similar crossovers.

Like much of the competition, Mitsubishi set Nissan's best-seller as the benchmark when they began work on the ASX. The car is based on the manufacturer's global architecture and shares 70 per cent of its components with the larger Outlander.

But it will be available in both two and four-wheel drive, and Mitsubishi expects the latter to make up a very small percentage of overall sales. Beneath the bonnet there is a choice of two engines - a 115bhp 1.6 litre petrol mated to a five-speed gearbox, and the new 147bhp 1.8-litre DiD turbodiesel with a six-speed manual transmission.

Mitsubishi is particularly proud of the oil burner, and claim it is the world's first passenger car diesel engine to feature variable valve timing. The all-aluminium lump develops 221lb ft of torque, which helps the ASX deliver a 0-62mph time of 9.7secs, while also managing a claimed 51mpg and 145g/km CO2.

The ASX can't quite compete with the frugality of the Qashqai's familiar 1.5 dCI, but the DiD engine does make Mitsubishi's crossover noticeably quicker. Its impression of a 2.0-litre turbodiesel is fairly comprehensive, and though it won't set the world on fire off the lights its torque output makes it punchy in gear. The ASX's extra performance does have a price though. In the pre-production model we drove the engine delivers its power with a lot of clattery background noise that's complimented with the whistling whine of a warm turbocharger. It's not worryingly obtrusive, but there's certainly no forgetting you bought a diesel.

You won't forget you purchased a high-sided car either. The pre-production ASX we drove was more prone to body lean than the Qashqai, and certainly didn't feel as nimble as the Nissan over challenging roads. The steering is well-weighted though and the car never felt any less than safe and dependable which are the qualities most buyers will expect.

While it might not be an aide to handling, that SUV profile does mean extra space inside. Like most crossovers the ASX's extra headroom makes the C-segment hatchbacks seem desperately snug by comparison. The car shares its wheelbase with the Outlander which means even the tallest teenagers will be an easy fit in the back.

As advantageous as the spaciousness certainly is, the ASX's appearance is arguably the result of buyers clamouring for the pseudo-SUV look rather than extra practicality. Mitsubishi has tried hard to stretch its corporate nose over the crossover's face, but it doesn't work quite as well as on the smaller Lancer or Colt.

Admittedly these things always subjective, but for our money the ASX's styling isn't quite as well reconciled as the Qashqai's. Nevertheless, if you can see past the beauty contest, the ASX has enough going for it to place it on the growing shortlist of worthy crossover contenders.
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