The Mitsubishi ASX is a pioneer of the compact SUV set, that growing crowd of urbane warriors with style and substance in smaller packages than traditional SUVs.

This particular little wagon was first seen here in 2010 and updated late last year. It’s what Mitsubishi calls “city-sized” and that tag sits well with the high-riding and cute ASX, or Active Sports Crossover. The size is right, there’s an uncluttered style to the five-door body and those ASX drivetrains have some spirit. That’s now been enhanced by the addition of a six-speed automatic transmission for the 2.2 litre diesel-engined, four-wheel drive versions of both the entry level ASX and the premium ASX Aspire.

There remains the choice of two litre petrol engine, manual or auto transmissions, two and four-wheel drive plus two trim levels. This auto-diesel combination for the ASX fills out a very complete range of Mitsubishi SUVs.

Where it fits
The compact SUV segment is one of the fastest growing in Australia, young buyers in particular are looking for stylish and practical wagons, and hatchbacks, that don’t demand too much road space. These smaller SUVs, most with two-wheel drive options, fit the times. A higher driving position for better spotting of traffic dramas, a little extra ground clearance for kerb-hopping and, in the main, a decent cargo space for shifting apartments are all worth consideration.

Here Mitsubishi had the jump on many with the ASX three years ahead of most rivals aside from Nissan’s Dualis. There’s now Subaru’s XV and the Holden Trax with Ford’s EcoSport and the Nissan Juke due here by the end of 2013.

Mitsubishi’s ASX range starts at $25,990 for a petrol-engined, two-wheel drive and manual gearbox version. These new diesel autos start at $31,990 with the ASX Aspire diesel at $36,490.

What it has got
There are few direct rivals with diesel engines and four-wheel drive at these prices.That doesn’t mean these newest ASX’s are shabby or slow rides. The 2.2 litre turbocharged diesel, backed by six-speed auto, pumps out 110kW at 3500rpm and a decent haul of 360Nm of torque from 1500rpm.

There’s a five-star ANCAP rating, helped by electronic driver aids from stability and traction control to brake assist. Plus the Mitsubishi ASX boasts seven airbags.

Standard convenience gear across the range includes Bluetooth connectivity, climate control air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, central locking and 60-40 split fold and recline rear seats. Mitsubishi says there’s 416 litres of rear cargo space with all the seats in place and cabin space for driver and passengers is very good for the vehicle’s size.

The premium Aspire diesel ASX with heated front seats, scores even further comfort and convenience with extras such as rain-sensing wipers, auto dusk-sensing headlights and 17-inch alloy wheels over the standard 16-inch alloys.

On the road
This diesel-auto combination for the Mitsubishi SUV will attract those who like the idea of a diesel compact with four-wheel drive but don’t like the business of keeping engines in the power band by manually changing ratios. Many find turbocharged diesel engines work smoothest and easiest with an automatic transmission, especially when towing. Here the ASX will haul 1400kg which would allow for a decent compact caravan or boat.

Mitsubishi claims these autos return 5.8 litres per 100km on a combined cycle. That’s pretty thrifty although making full use of the ASX’s decent power-to-weight ratio will see that lift. These are not sports machines but do offer good road performance, on and off the bitumen.

For the most part drive is sent to the front wheels. Selecting ‘Auto’ allows the Mitsubishi drivetrain to send drive to the rear wheels if the front lose traction; then there’s 4WD Lock which splits drive between all four wheels.

Perhaps the auto-diesel Mitsubishi ASX was never meant for climbing rock-strewn mountains but it makes good sense as an urbane warrior for the city with safe and sure weekend trips down back roads.

Tech stuff: Turbocharged 2.2 litre diesel 110kW/360Nm; six-speed automatic, 4WD. Wheels, tyres:?ASX Alloy 6.5Jx16-inch; ASX Aspire Alloy 6.5Jx17-inch. Dimensions:Length 4295mm, width 1770mm, height 1615mm, wheelbase 2670mm, weight from 1530kg, turning diameter 10.6m.

Thirst: Fuel consumption, 5.8 litres/100km.

Bottom Line: ASX 4WD DiD AT $31,990; ASX Aspire 4WD DiD AT $36,490; plus on-road costs.

Prices quoted do not include statutory and dealer on-road charges unless otherwise stated. Prices correct at time of writing.