If you can look past the CVT whine, Mitsubishi's ASX is a well thought-out and well executed ride
Worth the long wait The Mitsubishi ASX is a rugged-looking crossover with a rear that looks vaguely like Audi Q5's. The Singapore version is powered by a 2-litre engine mated to a continuously variable transmission -- PHOTO: DAVID TING

One year is a long time for a mass-market manufacturer to go without a new product launch. Mitsubishi Motor went without one for two years. Its last all-new model was the Lancer Evo X, introduced here in 2008.

Twenty-four months and one global recession later, the dry spell is broken with a car called the ASX, a name which does not exactly roll off your tongue. Which explains why it is known as the RVR in Japan.

But RVR stands for Recreational Vehicle Runner, which makes little sense outside Hello Kitty Land. Hence, the change to ASX, for Active Sports X'over (crossover), a term the English-speaking world can better relate to.

Perhaps Mitsubishi should have taken a cue from BMW and called the new model a Sports Activity X'over, which would have made for a better acronym. Something for Peugeot and Citroen to think about when they roll out their versions of this joint-venture project in 2012.

When you have endured a two-year product drought, you are parched. Which is why Mitsubishi agent Cycle & Carriage brought in a Japan domestic market (JDM) version for a soft launch last month.

The car is a 1.8-litre, versus 2.0- litre for the export version that will arrive in July.

The differences are minor, with the 2.0-litre car offering a bit more torque and a higher equipment level.

Standard features in the higher- end variant include keyless access and ignition, paddle shifters, steering-mounted cruise control, hill-start assist, automatic headlights and wipers, welcome home lights and a 'three flash' turning lamp system common in European cars.

In the cabin, the ASX makes a statement with its sporty dials which combine analogue and digital readouts, an ergonomic dash and for the first time in Mitsubishi, a steering column that is adjustable for angle and reach. Look up and you will find concealed 'cornice' lighting lining two sides of a ceiling that can be retracted to reveal a panoramic glass roof.

Now, for the more fundamental bits.

As first impressions go, the ASX comes across as a car not unlike the Nissan Qashqai.

Both offer the same 'crossover' propositions: easy ingress and egress because seats are closer to hip level, better visibility than a sedan because you are seated higher, loading convenience of an expansive tailgate and flat cargo space and the rugged styling of an SUV but the driveability of a big hatchback.

The ASX - which sits between the Mitsubishi Outlander SUV and Lancer sedan - clearly exudes a louder presence, with its gaping manta ray-like grille. It may seem overdone but is actually in line with grilles found in other Mitsubishis - only bigger. Its rear has a hint of the Audi Q5. On the whole, it looks more aggressive than the Qashqai.

While both cars employ continuously variable transmissions, the Mitsubishi betrays a far louder CVT drone. It is fine if you keep revs below 3,000rpm, though.

Besides this aural assault, the car is generally well insulated - in terms of road noise, perhaps a wee bit better insulated than the Nissan. Its doors also close with a more resounding thump.

The JDM car is powered by a new 1.8-litre Mivec engine that is said to be ultra-efficient. Combined with the car's relatively lightweight body (under 1,400kg) and its front-wheel-drive configuration, it is said to be capable of 6.6 litres for every 100km.

The 2.0-litre engine is essentially the same one found in the Lancer. Its specifications suggest that it offers more low- end torque but the 1.8-litre already feels quite adequate. Most times, you need not rev above 2,500rpm.

Will the 2.0 be as efficient as the 1.8? We can find out only in July.

On the whole, the ASX is an absolutely inoffensive option for folks who tire of sedans. It is a well thought-out and well executed product, if not brilliant nor unique. For Mitsubishi fans, it has definitely been worth the wait.