The Mitsubishi ASX is here. This is the third and final part of the new model onslaught (after the Pajero and Lancer Sportback) by Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia, which surely must be the busiest car company in the second half of 2010. The ASX, which was introduced in Japan as the RVR earlier this year, is billed as a compact crossover that aims to combine the good points of an SUV and a sedan.

At under 4.3 metres long, the ASX is noticeably smaller in footprint than the CR-V and X-Trail, but its 2,670 mm wheelbase actually betters the Honda and Nissan. The platform sitting under this 2WD crossover is adapted from bigger brother Outlander. Going with the compact and agile theme, turning radius is a class leading 5.3 metres. The suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and multi links at the back, while the steering is an electric system.

The ASX is powered by the 4B11 2.0-litre engine as found in the Lancer. This DOHC 16-valve MIVEC unit produces 150 PS and 197 Nm of torque, which is slightly less than the C-segment sedan’s 155 PS/199 Nm, but it’s tuned to suit this application. Doing transmission duty is an INVECS-III CVT with 6-speed Sports Mode, controllable via nice and long magnesium shift paddles.

The kit list includes Active Stability Control (ASC), Hill Start Assist, dual front airbags plus a driver’s knee airbag, leather seats, cruise control, auto air con and a 2-DIN touch screen ICE system. The latter incorporates a reverse camera. Fully imported CBU from Japan, the ASX retails at RM139,980 OTR inclusive of insurance.

We’ve driven the ASX already – once in Japan and once in beautiful Langkawi – so look after the jump for our impressions and verdict!

Just a raised Lancer? That was what I expected before driving the ASX, but after two rounds of testing Mitsubishi’s compact crossover at the company’s Tokachi proving ground in Hokkaido and then closer to home in Langkawi, the ASX proved to be much more than that. Certain aspects that we don’t like about the Lancer have disappeared altogether!

Let’s start from the inside. It won’t take long to notice the more premium feel and better quality over the Lancer. Instead of making the entire dash panel out of soft plastic, Mitsubishi added a piece of slush material on the surface of the dash where your hands can reach. The front door caps are also of the same material, although the rear ones don’t get this treatment. The area where you rest your elbows are also padded and leather covered.

Leather is also found covering the seats, steering wheel and gear knob. It’s all in black, and the centre stack is in glossy black as well. There’s some silver and chrome accents to break the monotony. As usual for Mitsubishi, the area central to the driver is nicely done – the instruments are sporty and classy at the same time, the high-res full colour LCD trip computer display is cool and the three-spoke wheel feels as good as it looks. Making a repeat appearance are those long magnesium shift paddles that have a substantial action.

The centrepiece of the dash is the Kenwood touch screen entertainment system. This 2-DIN unit also doubles up as a display for the reverse camera. All the above combine for a pleasant interior that’s streets ahead of the Lancer in quality and fit – no unsightly gaps here! A good driving position is easy to find, the steering is adjustable for reach and the driver’s seat has a big height range.

We’re no big fans of the 4B11/CVT combo in the Lancer, which tiring drone is very uninspiring. And while the ASX uses the same engine and gearbox, the workings seem to much better insulated from the cabin. It feels sprightly from the get go, and there’s less of the elastic CVT response when you floor the pedal. Besides feeling more natural in D, the gearbox’s manual mode comes in handy in fast driving where you need immediate response. Performance and acceleration is entirely adequate, and there weren’t any situation where it was found to be lacking.

I was pleasantly surprised by the performance and looked up the specs. More surprise was in store. The ASX’s low kerb weight of 1,375 kg is actually 10 kg less than the Lancer GT’s, while the comparatively lethargic feeling Honda CR-V weighs 1,540 kg. That explains it all.

The ASX’s compact footprint suggests an agile crossover, and it delivers in the drive. The well weighted steering is precise and has reasonable feel, while the other controls feel natural. Wearing 16-inch wheels with high profile 65 series rubber, the ASX rides very well over bad roads, soaking up most of what Langkawi tarmac threw at it with ease. There’s some body roll in corners, but it’s not of the off-putting variety and doesn’t distract from the business of driving.

It’s no sports car of course, but the ASX isn’t too uncomfortable under hard driving, and you won’t feel awkward pushing it too. The addition of ASC in addition to ABS and EBD is commendable, as is the driver’s knee airbag.

Boot space isn’t spectacular but decent considering there’s a full sized spare inside the car, and the load height is quite low. It would be great if the Lancer Sportback’s handy seat folding levers were included here as well. Although the ASX’s wheelbase is 50 mm longer than the CR-V’s, it’s not reflected in rear legroom, which is more apparent in the Honda, proving that bare figures don’t tell the full story. Headroom isn’t generous, but adequate, and the ASX feels more compact inside than in a CR-V or Nissan X-Trail. Feels roomier than the Peugeot 3008, though.

There’s nothing groundbreaking about the Mitsubishi ASX, but it’s a likable car that’s decent to drive. Personally, I like its compact size, but reckon that there will be as many whose idea of an SUV/crossover is of a bulkier vehicle with more presence. If that’s you, the ASX won’t be in contention, but if you’re sold, the ASX’s attractive sub RM140K price tag plus two years free maintenance package will help to seal the deal.

The ASX will be showcased at Midvalley’s Centre Court from 10-14 November. There are 13 optional interior and exterior accessories from Japan brought in by MMM for the ASX retailing at RM6,490 per package. The fully kitted car will be on show in Midvalley as well.

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