Things have been quietly stirring at Mitsubishi. The reason you may not have heard much about it is because it’s all down to silent electric power, or to be precise, a plug-in hybrid electric
The Outlander PHEV has gone down a storm, without the normal resounding thunder, to become the company’s best-seller in just two years and the leader in the field of petrol/electric SUVs.
It sold an incredible 10,000 models in its first ten months and there are now almost 27,000 on UK roads. Almost single-handedly, it is responsible for a turnaround in the company’s fortunes.
Just a few years ago it was struggling with an ageing lacklustre range and even the fearsomely fast Lancer Evolution rally car which evolved into the iconic and much-desired Evo, couldn’t do much in the face of the strength of the pound, which meant they effectively lost money on every car they imported from Japan. That was compounded by a customer base tempted away by very impressive models from alternative brands.
Mitsubishi ASX 5 2.2 Diesel 4WD Auto
Engine: 2.3-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Top speed: 118 mph
0-62 mph: 10.8 secs
Fuel economy: 48 mpg combined
CO2 emissions: 152 g/km
Mitsubishi’s 40-year presence in the UK and their reputation for four-wheel- drive machinery in the UK faced competition from almost every name who turned out their own small SUVs or crossovers. Ford, Vauxhall, VW, Seat, Nissan, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru, Infiniti, SsangYong, Kia or Suzuki . . . they were all at it.
But now, after Nissan bought a controlling interest last year, Mitsubishi are following on from the PHEV’s success with their smaller crossover and it should give the competition something to think about.
The ASX has been given a makeover to freshen its appeal to buyers who want something a bit different from the crowd, most of whom seem to be driving around in a Qashqai, Kuga or Sportage.
What hasn’t changed is the name, which to my mind is a wee bit uninspired and apparently stands for Active Sports Crossover. The fact that it should therefore be called the ASC is beside the point – the latest model is much more appealing than the outgoing version with a new front end redesigned by the creative people in Mitsubishi’s European Design Centre. It matches the so-called Dynamic Shield front-end sculpture of the rest of the family which not only improves pedestrian safety in the event of a collision, but also makes the body edges more visible to the driver, helping manoeuvrability around town.
There are four trim levels – ASX 2, 3, 4 and top-of-the-range 5 – and even the entry-level model which starts at just under £16,000, comes with alloy wheels, air conditioning, leather steering wheel and active stability and traction control.
The 5 comes with some fancy extras previously confined to the bigger Outlander and Shogun like Nappa leather interior, heated rear seats, twin rear USB charging ports, front and rear blue LED mood lighting, LED interior lights and front-door entry guards.
All engines meet the latest Euro 6 emission regulations. Some time ago a new 1.6-litre turbo diesel engine replaced the old 1.8 Mitsubishi diesel unit and this is in both the 3 and 4 manual variants, while the 4 and 5 have 1.6 diesel manual and 2.2 diesel auto options.
The test car’s big diesel power unit certainly felt good with plenty of pull but it was not as quiet as I would have expected from a sophisticated engine with the latest sound-deadening.
I liked the six-speed auto gearbox which did a good job in selecting the best for the conditions and demands and if you want more control, the manual paddle shifters behind the steering wheel react well.
The car is roomy inside, helped by the panoramic sunroof, and the raised ride height gives a good overall view of the road ahead. The boot is pretty spacious too which will appeal to family buyers, especially those with an active lifestyle and all the gear that goes with it.
It has a braked towing weight of up to 1400kg, which covers most trailers and caravans so that’s an extra attraction to outdoor types, especially with the on-demand all-wheel-drive system which helps keep it stuck to the road on bends and safe and secure once you head off it.
A lot of work has been done to reduce the weight of the vehicle to improve agility and economy and reduce emissions.
The thickness of the sheet metal has been reduced, which in the bonnet has saved 2.5 kg, 7.6 kg from the doors and 1kg in the tailgate. The front wings are plastic which are also lighter but should spring back to their shape in the event of minor bumps.
I like what’s been done with what was a pretty unremarkable car. It’s now clearly part of the Mitsubishi family but will have to fight to do its bit in what is a very competitive market where there is certainly plenty of choice.