Now that driving a proper 4x4 through the boroughs of Islington or Wandsworth is such a complete no-no, thank goodness that the car manufacturers have come up with an alternative for the new London family car. It’s the crossover, a car for people for whom estate cars bring to mind the car sickness of long journeys on family holidays in the early 80s, or who think estate cars are about as much fun to drive as a fridge. The ASX is essentially a cross between a small SUV and a family saloon but with the practicality of a larger car and the economy of a small one. So it’s adios to the gaz guzzler SUVs we’ve come to love (to hate).
We’re driving the ASX 3 1.8 Diesel 2WD and although there is a 1.6 litre petrol-engined version available, this will likely be the better seller in the UK. Though there’s no four wheel drive on this test model, there is a 4WD version available with this engine. Our 1.8-litre turbodiesel is fitted with Mitsubishi’s ClearTec low emissions package, which includes its automatic Stop & Go technology.
For some reason, the trademark Mitsubishi square bonnet – so familiar on the Evo – looks particularly canine on the ASX. The car appears higher than it is thanks to its tall beltline and it looks as if its got attitude, even if it’s not out and out aggressive. Visually, it could be the automotive answer to a labrador – a sensible choice, dependable, endearing, occasionally slightly menacing to a dinner guest sporting a beard.
Inside, the car is undoubtedly let down by a very plasticky interior. Really, it’s the only area where the car disappoints, as the cockpit just seems a little out of date for a car that is otherwise so thoroughly contemporary. Having said that, the Bluetooth system is excellent. And space, with the seats folded down, is 1,193 litres, which should be enough to minimise stress at Ikea (give or take a torrent of expletives as you get to the end of its retail maze only to find that a crucial part of the Snork “system” that you planned to buy is sold out.)
On the minus side, step inside and leave too quick – to sprint back into the house for your Ray Bans, say – and you’ll set off a Philip Glass-style symphony of bleeps and bells. We never worked out what any of them meant in our short affair with this car, but it didn’t stop us from doing anything or going anywhere so we didn’t really worry about it. It’s a chatty, affable, affectionate car – when it suspects that you’ve parked up and are planning to leave, it flashes up a cheerful “See you” on the display in the instrument cluster.
Performance-wise, the ASX is really surprising. It’s a comfortable ride, perhaps a little noisy around town. But it’s the acceleration that really wows. The car feels genuinely quick thanks to its turbocharger, which makes a satisfying whistling noise. Steering is accurate too.
It doesn’t have a particularly fancy interior or a prestige badge. But the ASX is a sensible choice for someone living in town who wants a car that looks a bit 4x4ish but doesn’t really need the four-wheel drive (Mitsubishi expects to sell mainly 2WDs) and doesn’t want to pay full whack for a system they won’t get the use out of. What’s more, thanks to some clever engine tech and impressive weight saving measures (the car has plastic front wings) it’s a spirited drive and super-economical too.