I don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but here in the depths of the Hampshire countryside, the landscape has become decidedly aquatic. Streams are now raging torrents, fields have been repurposed to form vast lakes, and once quiet country roads are now fast-flowing rivers.
What few roads are still visible are pock-marked with pot-holes that wouldn’t look out of place on the surface of the moon, loosely connected by tarmac strewn with mud and gravel.
Many a motorist has come unstuck while venturing out into this new wilderness and, in the face of the increasing regularity with which this picture unfolds throughout the country, many are choosing to reconsider their choice of transport.
The family hatchback is giving way to something with greater ground clearance and four wheel-drive. Of course, no-one wants to give up too many creature comforts, so the challenge is to find something with a wheel in both camps: the road manners and efficiency of a car, coupled with the robustness and all-wheel-drive capability of a large SUV.
Such a beast does exist in the guise of the Mitsubishi ASX.
Built on the same platform as the fire-spitting Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, the ASX couples good road manners with increased ground clearance and a proper 4WD system.
What’s more, the ASX has been revised for 2014 with a few extra goodies, the availability of an automatic gearbox on the range-topping 2.2-litre model and, as an added bonus, a useful drop in price – by as much as £2,400 on some models.
As well as sharing its platform, the ASX borrows a few of the Evo’s styling cues, with a nicely aggressive front grille and headlights, sculpted flanks, and a modest roof spoiler.
The sporty theme continues inside with well-bolstered seats, cowled instruments, and a thick-rimmed steering wheel with adjustment for both reach and rake. The cabin is an airy place to spend time, particularly on top-spec ASX 4 models that boast a panoramic glass roof with electric sunshade and ambient lighting, while the front seats offer a wide range of adjustment.
Rear seat passengers are well looked after, too, with three full seat-belts, and while the roofline does slope towards the rear, headroom should be sufficient for all but the most ardent hat-wearer.
Practicality in the boot is good, with 442 litres of storage space plus a 26-litre compartment under the floor. Space can be increased to 1,193 litres by folding the split rear seats, and while doing so requires just the press of a button, it’s a process made a little more fiddly by the need to unclip the rear seat-belts beforehand. Once folded, there’s also nowhere to stow the parcel shelf – a retractable load cover would work much better here.
Three engines are available: a 1.6-litre petrol with 115bhp and 154Nm of torque; a 1.8-litre diesel with 114bhp and 300Nm with best-in-range economy and emissions of 55.4mpg and 134 g/km; and a 2.2-litre diesel with 148bhp and 360Nm that’s under the bonnet of our test car.
New for 2014, the 2.2 is rare in that it is mated as standard to a six-speed automatic transmission – a popular combination that’s often difficult to find – and the two work well together, albeit with the odd caveat.
Making a quick getaway off the line, perhaps to take advantage of a gap in traffic, reveals a little initial lethargy. Whether this is a function of the transmission or simple turbo-lag isn’t immediately obvious, but it can catch you out if you’re not expecting it.
The noise it emits can be a little droning, too, but while there’s nothing offensive or even harsh about it, there’s little doubt as to which fuel is being burnt up front.
However, once on the move the gearbox swaps smoothly from one ratio to the next, and with your foot planted in the carpet the degree of acceleration on offer is quite surprising, with each new ratio accompanied by a pleasing shove towards the horizon. Keep your foot in, and 62mph will arrive in 10.8 seconds, although in practice it feels substantially quicker.
The ‘box responds well to kick-down requests, too, making it feel eager to pick up its skirt and gallop off into the sunset, but should you prefer to exert a little more manual control you can do so either by moving the gear selector into the Sport position and nudging the lever back and forth, or by using the steering column-mounted paddles.
These work well, and while in Drive the paddles allow you to make a quick down-change or two, perhaps in preparation for an overtake, simply by tugging the left paddle. A display in the instrument cluster updates to show the current ratio, and the system will return to fully automatic mode if left to its own devices or if the right paddle is pulled and held for two seconds. The system will also change down automatically when coming to a stop, and will change up as the red-line approaches, making it both logical and fool-proof.
The 2.2-litre model is equipped with Mitsubishi’s All Wheel Control (AWC) four wheel-drive system as standard, and is an option on the 1.8. Mitsubishi know a thing or two about 4WD, and the ASX’s system features an electronically-controlled centre differential and a choice of three modes: 2WD powers the front wheels only and is offered for greater economy; 4WD Auto is the default mode and allows the system to automatically apportion torque, with up to 50% diverted to the rear axle as conditions dictate; while 4WD Lock is intended for driving on poor surfaces and sends greater torque to the rear axle to maintain traction.
The system is controlled by a single push-button next to the gear lever and can be operated at any speed, and it’s this simplicity that makes it perfect for navigating our water- and debris-strewn streets. With a high-mounted air intake and an official wading depth of 400mm, only the deepest of floods are likely to cause the ASX any trouble.
On the rare occasion that the roads are dry, the ASX displays surprising nimbleness and progressive, unruffled body control. It rides well, too, and the ASX is easy to place on the road through the electric power steering.
Much of this agility comes from Mitsubishi’s efforts to reduce the overall weight of the ASX, and this has been achieved by using thinner sheet metal – such as for the bonnet, where it saves 2.5kg – and the use of plastic for the front wings, which comes with the happy incidental benefit of improving pedestrian safety and resistance to annoying car park dings.
Of course, this weight loss programme helps boost efficiency, too, with the 2.2-litre ASX officially recording 48.7 mpg on the combined cycle. During our time with it we averaged a figure around the 41 mpg mark, despite having to negotiate a few recently-formed rivers. CO2 emissions of 153 g/km place it in VED Band G with a £175 annual road tax bill.
It’s not expensive to buy, either, with the ASX range now starting from £14,999, significantly undercutting competition such as the new Nissan Qashqai. Moving up the three-model range, the £16,750 ASX 3 includes 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, front fog lights, climate control, parking sensors and privacy glass, while the range-topping £22,499 ASX 4 adds leather seats, panoramic roof, Kenwood satellite navigation system, reversing camera and, of course, four wheel-drive.
The Mitsubishi ASX offers an interesting take on the compact crossover. It’s good to drive, with easy-going road manners and a comfortable ride that will make those trading up from a regular hatchback immediately feel at ease. But it goes on to mix in a commanding driving position and, in the ASX 4, a well-proven four-wheel-drive system that makes the ASX a real all-weather proposition.
Given the Great British weather’s penchant for offering us all four seasons in just one day, it might just be exactly what’s needed.
|Entry-level Price||£14,999||Price as tested||£23,899|
|Engine||4-cylinder turbodiesel, 2268cc||Transmission||Six-speed auto|
|Power||147bhp @ 3,500rpm||Torque||360Nm @ 1,500-2,750rpm|
|0-62||10.8 secs||Top speed||118 mph|
|Economy||48.7 mpg||CO2||153 g/km|
|Dimensions||4295 x 1770 x 1615 (LWH)||Kerb Weight||1520 kg|