Cape Town - My usual ride is a 1992 Hyundai Elantra manual. Trusty as it is, you can imagine my delight at getting offered the opportunity to drive the Mitsubishi ASX 2,0 MPi CVT GLS for a week. This spot of luck was a result of Mitsubishi’s decision to host a ladies’ fun day with a focus on safety. As our current team of journalists is a bit low on the fairer sex I got to move from behind the screen to behind the wheel.

The Beginning

Upon reassuring my colleagues that I would be quite okay with driving an automatic I set off for my first impression of the vehicle. A beautiful rich blue, with side mirrors that smoothly unfolded as I depressed the unlock button. I was surprised at its size – closer to a 4x4 in dimension than I had expected. That said, I didn’t have to hoist myself up into its leather seats. A very comfortable slide across did the trick.

Guilty admission: at this point I spent several minutes just sitting in the car. No, not just to take in the layout of the instruments and adjust the seats and mirrors. I couldn’t figure out where to put the key! Fortunately deputy editor Terence Steenkamp came along at that point and very tactfully (okay, just a small snigger) pointed out that it has a stop/start button. So the key doesn’t really have to be ‘put’ anywhere. It can just remain in the immediate vicinity. So it stays in the handbag – good for those of us who tend to misplace things.

The Drive

On takeoff in the lower gears, the surging revs of the CVT did make it feel as if I was slipping the clutch of a manual gearbox but once I was at cruising speed this eased off.

Once I had made the adjustment from 90s tech to 2016, the ASX very quickly became second nature to me. The dials are clear and easy to use, with self-explanatory icons. I liked the fact that there weren’t too many different buttons, which can appear cluttered. A sensible mixture of traditional layout and incorporating modern technology where it makes things simpler and easier to use. The rev-counter and speedometer take the traditional and recognisable form of circular dials left and right, while useful information is digitally displayed on a panel between the two. Engine temperature, fuel gauge, external temperature and service intervals (every 15 000 km) are the standards displayed here. It is worth mentioning that the ASX comes with a three-year/100 000 km manufacturer’s warranty and a five-year/90 000 km service plan.

The touchscreen radio is very easy to navigate and also offers a menu to set up your Bluetooth phone pairing. No more grappling with cellphones and driving (but you didn’t anyway, did you?). Taking calls, volume control and cruise control can be operated via the leather steering wheel. A handy USB port resides in the sliding central armrest.

Other useful functions are the automatic lights which come on as you enter a dark garage, or as you exit a brightly lit arcade and set off on your journey home. With the ASX being wider than my regular sedan, I also enjoyed the rear-view camera, which displays the expected trajectory of your car every time reverse gear is selected.

Safety in Design

In the design of the ASX model, Mitsubishi has employed many passive and active safety systems to keep the inhabitants safe. In the spirit of this investment in safety on our roads, Mitsubishi invited Peggie Mars (the founder of Wheel Well) to talk to us about their initiative. Wheel Well focuses on educating the public about the importance of the correct use of car seats. They also collect second-hand car seats in order to clean, check and redistribute them to those unable to afford brand new car seats. To aid Peggie in this endeavour, Mitsubishi will be rolling out a plan to collect donations of second-hand car seats, starting with their major dealers. Peggie shared some stats with us on the level of road deaths in South Africa. They were truly alarming. It is easy to brush off ‘stats’, but when you look at a death certificate it is a stark reminder that lives are at stake.

The moment when you have to figure out what to do with the paraphernalia attendant with bringing children into the world is bewildering. Such a little person ... so much stuff. The ASX has Isofix attachments for car seats, which reduce the risk of installer error. This is a good thing for the new and sleep-deprived parent.

Two main things stood out to me from Peggie’s talk. One was that most people do not really understand why car seats are necessary; that a developing child’s frame is fundamentally different to an adult’s and vehicle restraints are not designed for them. Secondly, we stop using car/booster seats too young. Once our children are old enough to object, we cave in. Children should have safety restraints in place until the age of 11. Any parents wishing to seek further information should check out Wheel Well’s website, www.wheelwell.co.za.

The Course

On to the next section of our morning with Mitsubishi. No stranger to CAR readers, Deon Joubert was there to demonstrate a few of the safety features of the ASX. It has good brakes... ABS brakes, but no matter how good the brakes are, the distance a car takes to come to a halt is SIGNIFICANTLY extended by a high speed. The reaction time of the driver is of paramount importance. A distracted driver is far less likely to avoid a collision.

With great trepidation we hopped into the car with Deon’s capable hands at the wheel. He switched off the ETC and demonstrated the difference in the vehicle’s handling with and without its safety features active. Some thrilling swerves and spins ensued but we all came out intact at the other end with the efficacy of the active safety systems acknowledged all round.

Summary

Overall this car has great road handling. I am surprised that I haven’t seen more of them on the roads. But it may be a brand-awareness thing – when I think Mitsubishi, I think Pajero. I had several people asking me what ‘my new car’ was. My children will certainly be sad to say goodbye, particularly to the panoramic sunroof. Judging by the second glances of other motorists, though, it seems that the ASX has what it takes to widen our Mitsubishi horizons.