Mitsubishi recently updated its top-selling ASX crossover with a bit more kit and some added features. We took the ASX on a family road trip to the Gariep Dam, which is a great stopover on the long drag between Johannesburg and Cape Town.
The stretch of N1 tarmac between Johannesburg and Cape Town has to be one of the most mind-numbing sections of road in existence. There’s nothing to look at for the first 1 000km, while the final 200km can be a huge amount of fun if you happen to have the right car. Unfortunately, one is usually too exhausted to even care about those beautiful passes near the Mother City. That’s why most people prefer to stay over at the halfway mark. It’s much safer tackling the road to Cape Town one day at a time, but this method has its problems.
As it currently stands, there are two obvious sleepover options. Some travellers chicken out at Bloemfontein (about 500km from Joburg), while others hold out for an additional 200km or so to get to Colesberg. Problem is, if you leave Johannesburg at dawn, you still get to Colesberg with some time to spare and while this little town is perfect for getting a good night’s rest, there’s not much else to do. Like in, really not much at all.
Luckily, there is a more adventurous third option, and we took it upon ourselves to investigate whether Gariep Dam offers a better overnight experience than Colesberg. We just needed a crossover to complete this completely unscientific and subjective comparison.
The Mitsubishi ASX
It’s been a while since we last slipped behind the wheel of Mitsubishi’s small crossover offering and the first thing that struck us again is its odd size. It’s not as small as a compact crossover, and not as large as a mid-size SUV. This may seem like an unnecessary niche, but it makes sense from a cost and size perspective. Most of the compact cross-overs are aimed at young, funky bachelors or newlyweds, while the mid-size vehicles are aimed at those same people 10 years down the line.
With the Mitsubishi, one might not need to trade in the smaller funky car for a bigger and more expensive one once the family expands. To test this theory, we packed the ASX with our overnight bags, photography equipment and a family – including a two-year-old. If the ASX could swallow all of our usual fare, as well as everything a small family needs, and transport everything in comfort halfway to Cape Town, we’d give the ASX our stamp of approval. And with everything squeezed in, it certainly passed its first test.
The boring bits
Once we were free from Joburg’s early morning traffic, we hit the open road. The boredom set in 10 seconds later, which gave us some time to inspect the interior of our vehicle. Being a top-spec GLS model, there were a few things to play with. We set the interior temperature just right with the climate control, while the tunes were playing through the nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate sound system. There’s also a trip computer which gives you every piece of information you could possibly need.
The rest of the ASX is mostly automated. The wipers switch on when they detect rain and the headlamps do the same when ambient light is low. The rear camera shows you where to reverse and the parking sensors tell you when things are getting a bit tight. The leather upholstery was comfortable and easy to wipe down after the trip (remember the two-year-old). They’re heated, too, which is something one doesn’t really appreciate until you get back into a vehicle after an impromptu photo shoot at -40 Celsius. This icy shoot at least allowed us to admire the most recent upgrades to the ASX. It received a facelift early last year, which saw the inclusion of black roof rails, a few chrome inserts, LED daytime running lights around the fog lamps and an impressive set of 17-inch alloy wheels.
It’s not the most striking design ever, but it has aged rather well considering it doesn’t look dated parked next to any of the compact crossovers or mid-size SUVs. In metallic blue and with those 17-inch wheels, it actually looks fairly sporty. Given its size, we were expecting things to get cramped a few hundred kilometres into the journey, but there was sufficient space for everyone to be comfortable. So much so that everyone but the driver fell asleep, eventually. Fitting all the luggage turned out to be a slight hassle, but only because we’re used to having the kind of space where you simply chuck everything in and close the boot. With the ASX you have to pack smartly in order to make the most of the available space. It took us a few goes, but all those years playing Tetris eventually paid off.
With the passengers snoring away and the ASX sitting pretty at 120km/h, we soldiered ahead feeling safe in the knowledge that we were behind the wheel of a five-star Euro NCAP car. Bethulie was beckoning…
Well, because it’s there and it happens to be one of the most famous small towns in South Africa, thanks to Patrick Mynhardt, also known as the Boy from Bethulie. Interestingly, he died a long way from his place of birth in 2007. He was in London, busy performing his famous one-man show, Boy from Bethulie.Bethulie, which roughly translates to “Chosen by God” used to be a mission station and is the home of the oldest settler-built building in the Free State. It was the site of one of the largest concentration camps during the Boer War, which makes it slightly ominous.
It took us a grand total of two minutes to drive through the whole town, which is an old blend of dilapidated buildings and beautifully decorated houses. It’s one of those towns where you can’t simply buy something in a store. The cashier engages you in a conversation and before you can remove a few notes from your wallet, you’re already familiar with his family history, all the way back to the Boer War. After buying a pack of Smarties for the toddler, which we eventually found just above the chicken feed right next to the tractor parts, we set off in the direction of Gariep Dam.
Diesel for what?
We reckon a turbocharged diesel engine makes more sense in modern crossovers. The low-down torque and the low fuel bills make a lot of sense, so why bother with a petrol engine?
Well, it seems South Africa is still very much in love with petrol, so the ASX is only available with a petrol engine. At least it’s a very good example of the species. The two-litre four-cylinder delivers 110kW and 197Nm of torque which is sent to the front wheels only via a five-speed manual gearbox. Unfortunately, the ASX is not available in all-wheel-drive format. It doesn’t sound like a recipe for fun, but consider the fact that the ASX doesn’t weigh that much more than the average hatch. It’s also made by the same company that gave the world multiple rally championships and the Lancer Evo saloon, so Mitsubishi knows what it’s doing in the handling department.
The ASX feels confident and is a joy to drive. It falls just short of sporty, but within the confines of its segment, it’s definitely one of those that’s going to put a grin on your face on the odd occasion when you feel like driving a little faster than you should. And while this particular vehicle and engine is a match made in heaven most of the time, it does get a bit thirsty on a trip like this, when it is fully laden. The best we managed was 9.2l/100km. At least you get a decent 750km driving range from the 63-litre tank, which means visits to the fuel station won’t happen too often.
Where’d the water go?
The 50km stint between Bethulie and Gariep Dam behind us, we went in search of the dam wall and the famous singletrack bridge that spans the river. The sight that greeted us was shocking and the first real signs we’ve seen of the current drought in South Africa. This dam used to be an awesome sight to behold, but these days you’re left staggered by how much the level has dropped. The darkened lines on the wall reveal where the waterline used to be, but the situation is much worse a little further down the water body.
The part of the dam where the boats are ‘moored’ is particularly tragic. Boats lay abandoned on portions where water used to be and those that remained floating are clustered together like teenagers at a Justin Bieber concert. This made our planned photo shoot particularly tough, because we wanted a sundowner image with the water in the background. We were soon informed that it would be possible, but that we’d have to use the 4×4 track to get down to the water’s edge. Gulp. Off-roading in a front-wheel-drive hatch with slightly increased ride height? Well, at least we had 195mm of ground clearance.
By choosing our lines carefully and sticking to solid surfaces, we eventually made it down to the water, just in time for a glorious African sunset.
The ASX made it through without losing grip or bashing its undercarriage once, proving once again why SUVs like these are so popular. Many folks just want something that can cope with the occasional tricky dirt road and nothing more, and the ASX fits the bill perfectly.
The ASX is often overlooked and we see no reason why it should be. It looks good, performs well and is as comfortable as anything else at the price on a long road trip such as this. It’s even childproof, thanks to its robust build quality. As a matter of interest, the rear door panels are easy to wipe down too – as we discovered after the toddler got bored and decided to remodel the standard Mitsubishi part with a yellow crayon.
It completed a journey of 1 000km over two days without annoying its occupants, which makes it a pretty decent vehicle in our books. As for which destination is best… Well, the Gariep Dam is not much to look at currently, but it’s still one dam up on what Colesberg has to offer. Next time we’re heading to Cape Town, we’re definitely going the Gariep Dam way.
Places to stay
There are several Bed and breakfast options in the town of Bethulie, but the most convenient and family-friendly sleepover option in the area is Forever Resort’s Gariep. The popular resort has a beautiful camping area (106 camping sites) with excellent ablutions, as well as 44 chalets and 12 luxury chalets. It’s a typical resort, so in the holiday season (and especially in summer) there’s plenty of action for the kids and adults. More information: forevergariep.co.za
Mitsubishi ASX 2.0 MIVEC GLS
Engine Two-litre, four-cylinder petrol
Power 110kW @ 6 000r/min
Torque 197Nm @ 4 200r/min
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Electronic aids EBS, ABS, EBD, Active stability control, traction control, hill start assist
Ground clearance (claimed) 195mm
Service intervals 15 000km
Service plan Five-year/90 000km Price: R377 900
Text: Gerhard Horn Photographs: Deon van der Walt