Image Credit: Supplied

Mitsubishi's visibility is phenomenal. For a manufacturer with a limited presence (it was 2009's seventh biggest Japanese car maker — out of eight), its vehicles have huge presence on the road. The distinctive trait of a gaping, aggressive grille means that across the range, Mitsubishi's passenger cars can be recognised from some distance.

Even its L200 pick-up turns heads; quite a feat for an essentially commercial vehicle.

Looking good is one thing, however, performing well is quite another. With the likes of the Lancer Evolution X on its books and as experts in four-wheel drive, nobody could accuse the company of building technically underperforming models. However, the Japanese manufacturer leans towards niches.

Not so with its newest venture, the ASX. As Mitsubishi puts it; "the ASX is the right car at the right time".

Operating in one of the fastest growing segments, one blown wide open with the arrival of the Nissan Qashqai, the ASX is by no means in a niche.

That leaves Mitsubishi with a dilemma; how do they target a larger market without losing the unique character that adds to its model's appeal?

And the answer is…

The response to this conundrum lies partly in the styling.

The ASX — it stands for Active Sports Crossover but you'll be forgiven for not working that out given Mitsubishi's somewhat random naming policy — uses the "Jet Fighter" grille, sloping bonnet profile and angular front light units to great effect.

The flared arches and sweeping line along the profile to the rear lights also help give it a more insistent presence that contrasts with the family-friendly faces of the opposition.

Of course, this being a crossover model, the opposition is hard to pin down. Clearly, Nissan's Qashqai is the most obvious competitor with the Hyundai Tucson following close behind. But manufacturers love crossovers because they reach across segments. Drivers of regular C-segment hatchbacks and larger SUVs can all find what they're looking for within the segment and, Mitsubishi hopes, within the ASX.

Two- and four-wheel drive plus three trim levels offer a reasonable degree of choice, but the option of a single diesel followed by a single petrol unit seems a little restrictive at first.

Fortunately this isn't the case. With a stop-start system present across the range, a small engine line-up can deliver both the economy and performance required. OK, so maybe not a lot of performance, since the petrol 1.6-litre is a bit less brisk with its 115bhp, but emissions are 135g/km — far better even than the model's 1.8-litre turbodiesel figure.

On the road, the car doesn't lag behind its rivals. Part of Mitsubishi's plan to maximise potential from its existing equipment, the ASX uses a version of the same platform employed on other Mitsubishi models. If it's good enough for the crisp handling Lancer Evolution X and rugged enough for the Outlander SUV, then it ought to suffice in the smaller, considerably less sporty ASX.

True to its word, the model rides very comfortably and competently, while offering more than sufficient responsiveness and roadholding for a family vehicle. There's more body roll than in some of the ASX's direct rivals, but not enough to detract from the driving experience, plus the weighty steering is direct and rewarding. Refinement is impressive, too. There's some wind noise, but the engine remains hushed and polished.

The driving experience is relaxed and undemanding. A good driving position and decent visibility help. Large mirrors offer an excellent rearward view, the interior dials are sharp, colourful and neatly presented and in the dark a new headlight design throws an impressively clear beam across a wide angle. Then there are the competitive equipment levels, with the option of a full length glass roof and the top spec model receiving sat-nav and a reversing camera.

Verdict

Mitsubishi won't tell us when the ASX is coming to the region, but their response was enough to warrant that it's at least coming. Despite decent kit, the middle trim model will suffice happily, with cruise control, Bluetooth, auto lights and wipers and an engine start button.

Even the base car receives alloy wheels, AC and ESP. Most noticeable, however, is the space. The ASX feels very roomy. Front passengers will certainly not rub elbows, headroom is good and rear legroom impressive. The boot door is also wide, offering easy access to the well proportioned boot space.

The ASX comfortably retains the Mitsubishi brand identity, but it projects it to a much wider audience. As Mitsubishi says; "it's the right car at the right time," and it deserves to do well.

Specs & rating

  • Model: ASX
  • Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder
  • Transmission: Five-speed manual FWD
  • Max power: 115bhp @ 6,000rpm
  • Max torque: 155Nm @ 4,000rpm
  • Top speed: 182kph
  • 0-100kph: 11.4sec
  • Price: Dh82,000 (UK base)
  • Plus: Fresh-looking contender in the segment, economical
  • Minus: Low on power, small engine line-up