It's a terrific lottery, this car-building business. You've either got to be years ahead of the game in commissioning whatever you think is going to be the next big thing (and spend the last two years of development with your fingers crossed, judiciously leaking pictures to weekly magazines and hoping you've got it right), or you've got to be really quick at copying what others have got right and hope you get it to market on time.
Somewhere in-between is the happy balance, the recipe for a sure-fire hit. Mitsubishi hoped to have got that balance just right with its ASX, its offering in the family crossover segment that was sparked by the arrival of Nissan's Qashqai. Rivals flooded to compete with it, so the Mitsubishi has its work cut out.
The ASX isn't a bad car - they might have put too much effort into rushing it to market, with no time to think up a decent name for the car, but it's based on the Mitsubishi family platform that underpins the Outlander SUV. It's not bad, but it's distinctly average on most fronts - the only thing that really sets it apart is that strange aggressive Evo snout that the company is determined to graft onto even the most inappropriate cars.
We never thought that the crossover term had anything to do with rallying-derived saloons, but perhaps that sporting cachet will swing some buyers over towards the ASX's direction. To our eyes it looks a little incongruous, but it is arguably the most successfully styled of Mitsubishi's recent offerings.
Quite a few manufacturers manage to disguise their cheap plastics to look merely robust, or hard-wearing. Perhaps they'll try something imaginative with artex-style swirly patterns or something like that - not Mitsubishi. These are just straight up cheap plastics, which is admirably honest. The cabin does feel quite spacious though - more so than the competition.
The driving experience isn't particularly memorable here, but the ASX does the job well without feeling like a liability. The ride quality is generally good, but the car can occasionally be upset by larger bumps. It's tall, so it doesn't have the same car-like pretensions of the lower Nissan Qashqai, but you're rewarded with a more commanding view. The 1.8-litre diesel is our pick of the range (of two engines) for its real-world flexibility and impressive economy.