In search of a different angle to look at the ever-popular Mitsubishi ASX from, we took the newly-introduced sporty GSR variant down to South Australia's Encounter Bay for a spot of whale watching, and while we found we weren't too good at snapping some shots of the big sea-dwelling mammals, the little Mitsi was a good car for taking us there to try at least.

There’s not a lot left to say about the Mitsubishi ASX that hasn’t already been said before. With the ever-popular model that’s Australia’s best-selling small SUV having been on sale for a whole decade now, it’s made a strong name for itself with both private and fleet buyers thanks to its sharp pricing and exemplary reliability.

Now on its fourth and most drastic facelift to date, the 2020 lineup is one I’ve already had a lot of experience with after spending a few weeks with the range-topping Exceed model last year – heading to the seaside town of Robe in South Australia for Christmas and putting 1800km on it in that time – so you may think that with another one sat on my driveway this soon after, I’m all out of ideas for what to do with it.

However, given the timing of when I had the newly-added GSR model you see here booked in for me, and given the part of the world I’m in, it was time to head to the seaside in an ASX once again in search of a story and a different lens to look at this unstoppably popular car through.

While coronavirus travel restrictions have put a stop to any interstate or overseas journeys, here in practically virus-free South Australia restrictions on travel within the state and the operations of many businesses have been relaxed to the point of normality, and as a result it’s left many looking to explore what’s been right under their noses here within the state, and to support the local economy in the process by visiting tourist destinations within the state.

And its this set of circumstances that led me to the thought of whale watching at Encounter Bay. While I’ve holidayed there before and visited it plenty of times, it had never occurred to me just how big a pastime spotting the big sea-dwelling mammals was, but it is indeed big business. There are websites and Facebook groups dedicated to reporting sitings, and at this exact time of year as they migrate, stacks of people wait out on The Bluff the snap the perfect shot of one as it comes up to breech.

Not only as a bit of a bird-watcher – yeah, I know – did this appeal to me, but it appealed to the part of my brain that has always wanted to be a spy, hanging out all day in a big black Jag, just waiting to spot and catch some baddies. Except in this case, I was in a little blue Mitsubishi, all I was waiting to see was some whales, and the only thing I’d be shooting were some pictures of them if all went according to plan.

Speaking of, I suppose I should talk about the blue Mitsi in question as this is, y’know, a car review and all. While the drastically restyled 2020 ASX first lobbed in at the tail-end of last year, it’s not until now that the two most notable additions to the range were made – the sportier MR and GSR models, with the latter being the one on test here.

When I say sportier, what I really mean is sportier-looking, especially in the case of the MR, although the GSR does have one notable drivetrain upgrade as I’ll touch on later. Both, though, have certainly had their looks upgraded with 18-inch gloss black alloy wheels and additional black trim highlights such as the grille and mirror caps, along with a gloss black roof spoiler on the GSR – all of which, I must say, compliments the ASX’s modern restyle particularly well.

On the inside, both gain aluminium pedals, too, but it’s here that the GSR sets itself furthest apart from the rest of the ASX range with a total interior makeover – microsuede seat upholstery with red contrast stitching really makes an immediate impression, as does the continuation of that red stitching to the leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob, handbrake lever, and centre console padding, which is all nicely offset by the black headlining, too.

Positioned one rung down from the top-spec Exceed, while the GSR does feel more plush with its nicely re-trimmed interior, it is lacking a few niceties you gain by stepping up.

Gone is the big panoramic sunroof flanked by orange ambient lighting, and so is the nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system with that massive subwoofer in the boot, with it now only featuring six off-brand speakers instead. It lacks the integrated TomTom satellite navigation system, too, although it does still feature the same 8.0-inch touchscreen along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which you can use for finding your way instead – as long as you have reception, that is.

Worth noting, too, is that it still lacks a few features all models in the lineup could still benefit from greatly such as a digital speedometer and radar cruise control, although it does still have plenty of other safety tech as standard including forward collision mitigation, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and an automatic high-beam function for its LED headlights.

I must also say that the black GSR badge bothered me slightly as the rest of the car’s badging is still chrome. A small gripe, I know, but nit-picking is my job after all.

The thing I missed most as I fired it into life on a dark and foggy mid-winter Friday morning was the Exceed’s heated seats that would’ve made the journey just that bit easier – the driver’s seat loses out on power adjustment in the GSR, too, for the record – although at least with the same larger engine you’ll find in the range-topper, the GSR does at least feel at home on the open road.

While ES, MR, and LS models receive a smaller 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine that’s been around since I was still in school, the GSR and Exceed both pack a larger 2.4-litre unit that makes 123kW at 6000rpm and 222Nm at 4100rpm.

However, while all 2020 model ASXs feature a CVT automatic and front-wheel drive, the GSR has a trick up its sleeve as it features a six-speed simulated manual mode controlled by a set of paddle shifters lifted from the Evo X.

All-around, I must say that this recalibrated CVT feels to perform much more predictably than the version in the Exceed, not seeming to flare up the revs quite as harshly with a stab of the throttle.

With that said, it does still ‘rubber-band’ a touch when driven more aggressively and the simulated gear changes aren’t quite as crisp as you might find from one of Subaru’s well-programmed CVTs, but it certainly isn’t too bad either.

Despite the sporty premise its looks attempt to pitch, the ASX GSR still isn’t the sharpest steer out there on tight and twisty roads as there’s still too much body roll and understeer when pushed, but on the drive out to the Fleurieu Peninsula that’s no real issue as from whichever direction you come you’ll be met with fast and fairly straight roads, with only a few nice sweeping bends to break it up.

And out on roads like this, much like I found on the drive even further south last time, the ASX handles a day trip like this with aplomb. The ride is well-damped, the CVT keeps the engine running quietly and efficiently enough – it occasionally dipped below its 7.9L/100km claim on the open road, although returning 9.3L/100km overall by the end of the week after some town driving was thrown in – with the revs keps under the two-grand mark when cruising at 100km/h, and it displays far better balance through these longer bends than it does on any semblance of a touge road.

Sure, there’s a touch of road and wind noise, but it’s not unbearable or anything, and the chances are you’ll be listening to some music anyway much like I was.

Finally arriving at The Bluff, one of the best whale watching vantage points along the coast, it was time to go looking for some, and the ASX’s surprisingly long dashboard did in fact prove a good spot for placing things a camera, binoculars, and a map of the area provided by Victor Harbor’s whale watching centre.

That was about the only good discovery of the day, however, as the rest of it ended up being a bit of a comedy of errors. Arriving just five minutes after some whales that had risen to the surface made themselves scarce for a while, I continued to arrive at every subsequent spot they appeared at a similarly minuscule amount of time too late to snap a shot. After an irresponsible boat driver came dangerously close to a couple and scared them off for the rest of the day, rain over the weekend ensured they wouldn’t reappear for at least a few more.

Still, though, I did at least feel like I was living up to the tagline Mitsubishi’s Australian arm has featured in its TV commercials as of late, as I was truly “living out the back of the car” with the parcel shelf in the boot serving as an ideal surface for plating out fish and chips bought at Port Elliot – one of the locations I attempted to watch from but only snapped a shot of a seal at.

Take two on Tuesday the following week, it felt like deja vu in a pleasant way on the commute down. The ASX still made the drive a perfectly pleasant one, although having left even earlier and in darker and foggier conditions this time, I was really wishing for those heated seats even harder. At least the car’s heater itself made the journey bearable though.

Arriving back at The Bluff once again, this time at a mercifully early hour, the sun coming out even more prominently this time meant that a crowd soon started to form, although I had claimed the prime position looking out over the bay with my tripod and telephoto lens all set up perfectly to finally snap a shot.

And, wouldn’t you know, after around an hour and a half of waiting, a big V-shaped exhalation of water right in the middle between Granite Island and Seal Rock was the unique calling card of a southern right whale.

Okay, so I’ll admit I couldn’t get the best shot of it, as it wasn’t as close as they had been the day I’d missed them, and it wasn’t doing anything other than lazing around at the surface occasionally blowing, but after my failure the previous week, it was success enough for me as I packed all my gear into the ASX’s well-sized boot and headed back for the Hills.

In truth, through this whole process I probably learnt more about my mediocre whale spotting skills than I did the ASX, as I probably could’ve told you how perfectly comfortable and capable it would have been on this seaside venture.

However, there was at least something to be learnt from spending some time with this new GSR variant. With its livelier interior, sportier exterior presentation, and its improved CVT calibration, I’d say it’s the pick of the range as even though it lacks some of the range topper’s features, it falls back on the drawcard the ASX has always relied on – good value for money, which is clearly on display here at $30,740.

A comfortable daily driver that feels just as at home in the city as it does on the open road as you embark on a day-trip to support your local economy – the only sort of travel doable right now – the ASX might not be a segment leader in anything but sales, but it is an undoubtedly solid all-rounder and the relevance it still maintains after this long is proof enough that Mitsubishi managed to get it right with this thing.

2020 Mitsubishi ASX GSR List Price: $30,740 | As Tested: $31,480
  • 7.5/10
    Performance - 7.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 7.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Tech & Features - 7.5/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Value for Money - 8/10

Pros: Worth the step up over an LS or MR, re-trimmed interior adds some nicer materials and more vibrancy, CVT feels better calibrated with its additional six-speed manual mode
Cons: Not as sporty as you might be fooled into thinking it’ll be, lacks satellite navigation, no all-wheel drive option

In a nutshell: The ASX may be getting on in years but it’s undoubtedly still relevant, and this new GSR model is the new pick of the 2020 range thanks to its sportier looks and jazzed-up interior.

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Mitsubishi Motors Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel.

Patrick Jackson
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