Tuesday 12 December 2017

A diesel with ASX appeal

This week I had a simple choice -- only it wasn't so easy. I drove petrol and diesel versions of Mitsubishi's new 'crossover', the ASX, and I had to come down on one side or the other. Well, I didn't really but I forced myself to.

Now the ASX is a bit late coming to the 'crossover' market, considering the foothold the likes of the Ford Kuga and Nissan Qashqai have taken.

But that is the way things are and the market has been opening up all the time, with the popularity of established favourites generating its own demand.

Believe it or not, a crossover now accounts for around one in 12 of new car sales. That just goes to show how tastes are changing -- and how quickly they might shift again.

The ASX is typical of the genre, although it is less visually striking than the Kuga, in particular.

It is compact, sturdy, simply drawn but pleasant on the eye with a lovely, straightforward, comfortable cabin. Let's not forget that these motors are essentially mixes of people carriers and family cars, with strong shades of an SUV's looks.

Indeed, everything about it was simple and straightforward. These days, believe me, that is a godsend and praise indeed.

Even the model line-up is blessed with simplicity of choice -- one petrol, one diesel, one spec level.

At last, someone has decided to have enough faith in their product to say: "Here is a well-equipped motor, there is no need to go humming and hawing through 59 different spec sheets." Most people I know would be perfectly happy with what this has to offer by way of creature comfort and technical know-how.

Areas of differentiation between this and its rivals come down to such things as visuals, handling and ride, cabin room and boot space.

The Kuga is the best of the lot in terms of driving dynamics and looks. However, the ASX has a lot of useable rear space and good versatility, with adjustable rear backrests and an under-floor 30-litre tray.

Still, it looks and occasionally feels a tad smaller than either the Qashqai or the Kuga.

The Peugeot 3008 probably beats them all in terms of 'car feel'. Nevertheless, the ASX covered the roads, bumps and kilometres without either fuss or fever. Nothing earth-shattering or anything like that, just nice and easy.

In other words, it's a crossover of some substance that ticked most of the boxes.

However, there is a marked difference between the petrol and diesel versions.

Let's take the petrol first. This one will do better than most because of its low emissions and good pep.

But isn't is funny how small things affects one's perception? It came in dark blue and looked a bit dull.

I liked the touch-screen audio display but lamented the lack of remote-control stuff on the steering wheel of the type that we have come to expect. It was grand in its own way but . . .

The diesel came in a great 'green' colour that straightaway did far more for the design, look and overall presence of the car.

It had, for some reason, a different central audio/display area, which I found that bit more accessible. Critically, it had a six-speed gearbox, as opposed to the five-speed on the petrol.

Now, I know Mitsubishi has high hopes for the petrol, not least because it is in one taxation class below the diesel and costs nearly €2,000 less -- but I genuinely felt that there wasn't much of a contest.

Admittedly, I spent rather longer behind the wheel of the diesel (the passing of another friend took us down the country yet again) but I just felt that it drove so much better, felt a smidgen more assured on the back roads and cruised so easily in sixth gear that it really was an all-round pleasure to drive.

Now, the arguments for the petrol are strong in their own way. This will save you money on purchase and, over time, on road tax as well.

The difference in consumption between it and the diesel (the latter sips 5.7 litres every 100km, compared to the petrol's 5.9) is a matter of a few fumes.

And you will be a long time making up the difference in cost on fuel consumption alone.

So on that basis and provided that you get a nice 'green' one, the petrol makes more economic sense.

However, there is no denying that the diesel felt the more robust and energetic of the two.

I can't see into the future but it may catch up in the finance stakes by potentially maintaining a higher trade-in value. That would narrow the gap in the 'life' costs of the ASX.

So my choice is the diesel -- by some distance, because by this stage I'm hooked and am almost predisposed to the preference. All in all, it was a great little package.

However, the petrol challenged some of those preconceptions and I find myself coming back more and more to the maths. Is the diesel worth €2,000 more just because of what it is?

Anyway, I've made my decision.

It will be interesting to see how the buying ratio works out. I have a feeling that sales of crossovers in general will rise quite sharply over the coming years because they have such a mix of what people are looking for.

The ASX may have come late but maybe the party is really only starting. It's worth a test drive by all means -- in either diesel or petrol.

ecunningham@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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