Super-icy way to introduce new super-AWD Eclipse
Oh – super. Here we are in a Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross with its new-age all-wheel drive system called Super All Wheel Control, we turn onto 40km of country road specially selected because it was once one of the outstanding special stages for the Rally of Norway – and we immediately find it difficult to see where the road goes because it is snowing so heavily.
We snake our way along the road, and soon pass a pair of Canadian motoring journalists who have hit a patch of deep snow and speared into a ditch. They’re OK and waiting for a rescue vehicle to arrive and tow them out, so we carry on.
Two kilometres further on, we do exactly the same thing – all of a sudden we’re in the ditch too. So we’re forced to wait as well. Soon a large tractor unit that is clearing snow off the road turns up, and the driver hauls us back onto the road’s surface. Then we’re off again, gingerly picking our way along that former WRC special stage, admiring the skills of those rally drivers who had driven this road, on snow, at high speeds.
Welcome to the international media launch of the Eclipse Cross S-AWC, held in Norway because Mitsubishi wanted to showcase the fact that the all-wheel drive system aboard the vehicle is the latest iteration of a system that was developed over 10 generations of one of the best rally vehicles of all time – the legendary Lancer Evolution.
Mitsubishi’s own all-wheel drive system was first seen in very early form in the Galant VR4 that was launched in 1987, before being progressively developed in the various Evo lines, culminating with Super All Wheel Control that was aboard the Evo 10 that was built until from 2007 until 2016.
And now, essentially the same S-AWD system is aboard the Eclipse Cross compact SUV, and it is scheduled for New Zealand launch in April.
It’s going to retail for $2000 more than the equivalent 2WD models that have just gone on the market – an XLS model will carry a recommended retail price of $43,490, while a top VRX version will retail for $47,590. At launch both the 2WD models carried special retail prices $6500 lower than the RRPs, and it is expected the same will happen with the four-paw models.
But even at the full retail prices these Eclipse Cross models appeal as very good value for the money, because not only is it a fine compact SUV that offers almost coupe-like lines, but also because its S-AWC has to rate among the best on the market.
It’s essentially an electrically controlledAWDsystem that works two ways – it not only feeds torque from the front to the rear wheels as required via such inputs as throttle opening, vehicle speed and driving conditions, but it also has what is known as Active Yaw Control which uses the vehicle’s brakes and other inputs to help keep sideways motion under control.
The Eclipse Cross also has a Drive Mode system that refines all of this to suit particular road conditions.
On startup it defaults to an Auto setting which can instantly change the torque split from 80 per cent front wheels and 20 per cent rear wheels, to a 55/45 split. A Snow setting can offer a bit more rear-wheel bias by going from 80/20 to 45/55, while a gravel setting goes even further by going from 70/30 to 40/60.
A special feature of the international launch of the Eclipse Cross S-AWC was an opportunity to drive the vehicle on a frozen lake near the inland winter playground of Geilo, which is where Norwegian rallying legend John Haugland operates a Winter Rally School.
You need special skills to drive on snow, said Haugland, as one of his pupils roared and crackled around the facility in a Lancer Evo. Slower is often faster – you must brake earlier, and cornering must always be a case of slow entry speeds to achieve fast exit speeds.
And then we were invited to take out Eclipse Cross S-AWCs out onto a choice of four handling circuits on the large expanse of frozen lake.
What fun! With the SUV’s traction control on, the system allowed the Super All-Wheel Control to work its magic until it judged the vehicle was about to slide into a snow bank, and then it intervened by braking and substantially reducing engine torque, almost to the extent of bringing the Mitsubishi to a standstill. It was almost as if the electronic system was telling the person behind the wheel: you mucked that up – now start again.
The vehicle’s 1.5-litre direct injected and turbocharged engine worked well too, happily revving away as the vehicle worked to maintain traction.
This vehicle also has a CVT automatic transmission which can be operated as an eightspeeder using paddles on the steering wheel, but we all found it actually performed better by being left as a CVT – even though several of them did have to take a rest after overheating thanks to the vehicle being driven sideways in big circles at full revs.
Then it was on to our 120km road drive – which was supposed to be a ‘‘scenic’’ tour but which thanks to all that snow and ice ended up as something of a battle, with four of the vehicles coming to grief.
The Eclipse Cross has enjoyed a solid start to its career in New Zealand, with the 2WD models achieving 159 sales in January, 72 of them the top VRX versions. Mitsubishi New Zealand expects the S-AWC versions to add another 30 per cent to total Eclipse Cross sales.
Eclipse Cross on the rocks – the AWD version of this new Mitsubishi poses on the ice lake in inland Norway.