Mitsubishi ASX 4WD CKD- 38

In a first floor cafe last week, I looked out and found that almost every other vehicle within eyeshot was an SUV. Just a coincidence, I’m sure, but that didn’t stop me from playing SUV-spotter over the next few days. Results? OK, maybe not every other car, but the tall hatchbacks are very popular with Klang Valley families, to say the least.

And why not? The SUV offers a raised driving position that’s a plus point in the urban context – being able to see further ahead is always good. And while they’ve evolved from the 4X4s of old, crossovers of today still “feel” more robust than the average saloon, with higher ground clearance and thicker tyres to take on the minefield that is our urban jungle.

Honda’s CR-V has long been the segment flag bearer, although the recent emergence of the Mazda CX-5 would have given them some sleepless nights, more then when flashy Koreans Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage came to town.

Toyota and Nissan aren’t in the game, surprisingly. The latter’s X-Trail used to be a contender, but the second-gen box never caught on here. Today’s fringe players include the left field Ford Kuga and too small Peugeot 3008. The Mitsubishi ASX used to be under the radar too, but this year’s local assembly and attractive new pricing has led us to relook its case.

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First seen in Japan and Malaysia in 2010, the ASX isn’t a fresh face, but Mitsubishi’s decision to locally-assemble the crossover in Malaysia has breathed new life into the model. Our ASX now comes from Tan Chong’s Segambut plant in KL, and the change from CBU Japan to CKD brings with it a new price tag of RM114,744 for the 2WD and RM128,880 for a 4WD variant that wasn’t available before.

Prior to this, the imported 2WD ASX was priced at RM139,982, so we’re looking at some serious savings here. The new price point doesn’t just make the ASX look like good value in the SUV class, but poses a question to those in the market for a C-segment sedan. A Civic 2.0 Navi at RM133,230, a Corolla Altis 2.0 for RM132,302 or a 2.0 litre Japanese SUV with some change for a nice holiday?

The ASX appears smaller than the regular mid-size SUV, and it is, at under 4.3 metres long. The smaller footprint is by design, with “compact crossover” as the original concept. Interestingly, the Mitsu’s 2,670 mm wheelbase is 50 mm longer than the CR-V’s, although you get nowhere near the Honda’s class-leading rear accomodation. It’s all about packaging and space utilisation.

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Next to the CR-V, the ASX cabin is cozy, and it feels so even when compared to C- and increasingly large B-segment sedans. Rear legroom is adequate for full-sized adults, but without much reserves to lounge in.

If outright space is the main priority, the ASX is out of the running together with the Ford Kuga and Peugeot 3008. If space is not everything, and if you’re OK with a C-segment hatchback’s cabin, the ASX will satisfy. My only gripe is the angle of the rear bench’s outer bolster – it’s too flat.

Lack of support isn’t an issue in the driver’s chair, where the ASX gives a very car-like impression. It’s an oft-repeated attribute in the SUV/MPV world, but the feel is authentic here. You’re still perched higher than the sea of Myvis but never disconcerting so. Those moving up from hatchbacks won’t find it life-changing.

Mitsubishi ASX 4WD CKD- 28

The ASX’s dashboard design is pretty conventional – there’s not much to rave or rant about here, but it’s worth noting that both material quality and panel fit are better than in the Lancer GT.

Instead of the usual soft plastic moulding, MMC chose to “stick on” a layer of squishy plastic on dash surfaces that face the occupants. Unconventional (and probably cheaper to pull off) but works as intended. We also didn’t notice any quality difference from the CBU version.

As with the sporty-flavoured Lancer, the dashboard’s best bits surround the driver. The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels good in the hands and Mitsubishi’s long magnesium shift paddles are fit for a supercar. Two easy-to-read cowled dials sandwich a colourful LCD trip computer display, which adds a dash of premium to the cockpit.

You get more colour on the centre stack, courtesy of a 2-DIN touch-screen head unit (with Bluetooth, navi and reverse camera) that’s nicely integrated. The D-pad audio controls look pretty odd to this writer though, a design mismatch with the cruise control buttons on the opposite spoke.

Nothing wrong with how the steering feels on the move, though. It’s a pleasant surprise and rare for an SUV to have a communicative helm, something we already noticed back in 2011 when we drove the ASX back-to-back with four other SUVs.

The Mitsu’s compact size also comes to the fore as you push harder; it feels pretty tied down and body control is relatively tight. The CVT does have manual mode, and our 4WD version comes with the aforementioned lovely shift paddles, so the ASX will oblige if you’re in the mood.

This is an urban crossover, so how it performs on a mountain road is a lot less important than how it behaves on the school run, or in stop-go urban crawls.

Mitsubishi’s choice of a CVT ‘box means that you need to have a progressive right foot to bring out the best in the ASX. Ease into the gas and smooth, seamless acceleration is what you get. Likewise, big stabs at the throttle will get you loud protests from the engine, if not your passengers.

It has been awhile since this writer drove an ASX, but I do remember it having the same engine drone as the Lancer GT, which shares the same 4B11 2.0 MIVEC/INVECS-III CVT drivetrain. It’s a dreary voice that can get pretty tiring, pretty fast, but we’re happy to report that much of it has been subdued in the latest ASX. Carmakers make constant improvements to their products, many times quietly, but they didn’t have to shout this one out in any case – the difference is palpable.

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So, the 2014 Mitsubishi ASX offers more of the same, with improvements in refinement and equipment. That’s good news, but the main draw here is the CKD SUV’s newfound value for money. Standard kit on the RM115k 2WD variant includes auto lights and wipers, auto air-con, front/rear parking sensors, the full-featured touchscreen head unit you see here plus leather seats.

Pretty decent for the price, and far from stripped down, but the 4WD (as tested here) is well worth the RM14k premium in our opinion. Not so much for the all-wheel drive function (4WD Lock with a bigger split to the rear axle can be called upon), but for the little luxuries and extra safety kit.

The RM128k 4WD adds on paddle shifters, cruise control, keyless entry with push start, security window tint (by Llumar) and a large panoramic glass roof. Some might question the the latter, but I love the natural light it provides on cloudy days and evenings, and city sightseeing is so much more fun. Kids love it too!

Going for the 4WD nets you a panoramic roof, keyless entry with push start and Active Stability Control

That’s not all. The ASX comes with three airbags (dual front plus driver’s knee), ABS and EBD as standard, but only the 4WD has Active Stability Control (ASC) with Hill Start Assist. SUVs are used as family cars, and electronic stability control is a great safety net for your loved ones.

To round things up, the 4WD looks much better with these 17-inch wheels, plus chrome trim on the face and profile. The car you see here isn’t standard, though. Our test unit was fully decked out with optional accessories such as front/rear under covers, daytime running lights, chrome wing mirror caps, wind deflectors and a rear bumper plate, among other things.

If cabin space is your main SUV priority, there are better options; but if you don’t need (or want) the bulk of a Honda CR-V, the CKD Mitsubishi ASX is great value, and a brilliant family car alternative to C-segment sedans. Try it out for size.