Cruising the urban jungle

Cars of the Crossover-kind – family hatchbacks with a dose of SUV-style – are deservedly popular but they tend to be sold by brands with very little 4x4 credibility.

Not in this case. Mitsubishi’s ASX is a properly developed and very credible alternative to the Nissan Qashqais and Peugeot 3008s you might otherwise picture when considering a car in this segment.

What people like about Crossover models is what they’ll like about this one. The raised SUV-style driving position and butch looks, combined with an accessible family hatchback-style driving experience. All right, there are Crossovers that handle a little more tautly but the ASX’s manners are tidy, plus the ride’s impressive and there’s plenty of grip. And in this clever 147PS 1.8-litre DiD diesel variant, ‘swift’ is the operative word. This is the first diesel car to feature the variable valve timing, the technology that has been making petrol motors more efficient and responsive for ages. It won’t be the last.

It means you get the affordable running costs of a smallish feebly-powered diesel engine with the performance of a thirstier 2.0-litre one. In other words, you can match the pace of 2.0 dCi Nissan Qashqai, yet use 20% less fuel in doing so. The slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox helps the ASX sprint to sixty from rest in 9.7s on the way to 124mph and though this certainly isn’t the most refined diesel out there, it is one of the most responsive, thanks to a meaty 300Nm of torque that cuts down on gearchanges and makes this a relaxing car to drive.

Owners happy to leave the Serengeti to Ranulph Fiennes will be happy with a front-drive ASX, but for those needing to negotiate muddy carparks or snowy driveways, there is the option of a 4WD set-up and in true Mitsubishi style, it’s a properly developed one. The system offers full-time front wheel drive for normal tarmac use or, if conditions are rainy or icy, an automatic four-wheel drive option that can send anything up to 50% of the torque to the rear axle if sensors detect wheel slip.

Should you venture onto the mucky stuff and be unwise enough to take your ASX somewhere you shouldn’t be, the third permanent four-wheel drive option would give you a fighting chance of extricating yourself.

In the same way that the ASX’s diesel engine offers big-hearted virtues with small-time efficiency, so the design team have attempted to do the same when it comes to this car’s shape and size. So though this model slots in below Mitsubishi’s apparently much larger Outlander SUV, it shares exactly the same underpinnings, with a long wheelbase that allows for an interior that’s a good deal roomier than you might expect and plenty of stylistic SUV attitude on the outside. So although there’s no Qashqai +2-like 7-seater option for ASX buyers, the cabin you do get takes two rear-seated adults comfortably even if they’re the tallest teenagers, with space for three uncomplaining ones available on shorter journeys.

Mitsubishi sells SUV-style vehicles designed to make life easier, whether the need is for a Shogun to plough through the sand of the Serengetti or, as in this case, a more affordable ASX to deal with the aggravation of a trip to Asda.

In these cash-strapped times, there’ll be no prizes for guessing which of the two approaches is likely to prove most popular.

Vehicles like this one really do offer a tempting alternative to the ordinary family hatchbacks and superminis that everyone else drives.

The question though, is whether in buying a 4x4-style Crossover car of this kind, you really need to buy into a brand that actually knows something about 4x4 motoring. Mitsubishi of course, will argue that you do but this ASX can offer those who agree more than just vague associations of SUV brand equity. It does, after all, boast the most innovative and efficientNew Car Road Test | Mitsubishi ASX 1.8 DiD 2wd diesel engine in its class and arguably delivers the best value proposition too.

It is then, a car that like the opposition, buyers in this sector will need to take very seriously indeed.