Eclipse Cross shades other Mitsubishi SUVs
We catch an early drive of Mitsubishi’s coupe-style SUV on Kiwi roads. By David Linklater.
It’s been a long time between exciting things for Mitsubishi, especially in the oh-so-important SUV space.
The small ASX dates back to 2010, and the platform it’s on was actually launched in 2006 under the mid-sized Outlander (the two even have the same wheelbase). A new generation of Outlander arrived in 2012, although core platform components were carried over.
There was the Pajero Sport SUV in 2015, but that’s a pretty specialised off-road/tow vehicle and owes a lot to the Triton pickup truck.
Point is, in an era where conventional passenger cars are in decline and anything that looks and feels remotely like an SUV is a hot ticket, Mitsubishi hasn’t had much shiny stuff to distract buyers away from the influx of high-riding models in rival brands’ showrooms.
The company hopes the new Eclipse Cross will be its ticket to much higher SUV-status. There’s actually nothing wrong with the way ASX and Outlander are selling, but Eclipse Cross is intended to be more of an imagebuilding, pseudo-premium choice. It fits between ASX and Outlander, so you can think of it as a more hi-tech alternative to the former or perhaps a sportier coupe-style version of the latter.
Mitsubishi New Zealand likes to think of it as a new model smack in the middle of the two hottest SUV segments around: small and medium. It’s expected to add around 150 sales per month to the brand’s tally, without taking too much away from Outlander (260) or ASX (200).
There’s new and new-new. Eclipse Cross is the former. It will add sparkle to Mitsubishi NZ’s SUV range when it’s launched in December; but it does still ride on that same ubiquitous platform and yes, it even has the same wheelbase as the ASX and Outlander.
In design and dynamic terms it owes little to either. The ‘‘Eclipse’’ name comes from a 1989 sports coupe sold in the United States, while ‘‘Cross’’ is supposed to imply an adventurous journey. And this car is a crossover/SUV type of thing, of course. You can see what they’ve done there.
The car you see here might be wearing a promotional number plate, but the photographs were taken in Wellington, as we grabbed an early drive in the sole Eclipse Cross Mitsubishi NZ has in the country.
It’s a top-specification VRX 2WD, which will sell for $45,590. There will also be a lower-spec XLS 2WD at $41,690. Versions with Mitsubishi’s clever SuperAll Wheel Control (S-AWC) fourwheel drive system will be launched in April, with prices to be announced.
There’s just one engine for NZ: an all-new 1.5-litre direct-injection turbo with 112kW/254Nm, paired with a new-gen continuously variable transmission (CVT). Despite the Outlander bits underneath, there’s no plug-in planned. A mild-hybrid version has been mooted for 2019, though.
Our drive time was brief – just a morning heading out from Mitsubishi NZ’s headquarters in Porirua, on a mix of urban, motorway and open-road stretches – but first impressions are that this car does indeed move the brand’s SUV efforts into a more modern and desirable space.
The 1.5-litre engine is strong low-down, impressively refined and even serves up an interestingly gruff (but still unobtrusive) note when extended. More importantly, the CVT is not terrible. It has an eight-step manual-hold mode, but even when left to its own devices it responds well to the throttle and avoids CVT-flaring by initiating its own steps down the rev range as you ease off the throttle.
Lighter weight and that vastly improved CVT make the Eclipse Cross quicker than a 2.4-litre Outlander to 100kmh, but Mitsubishi has also tried hard to make the car a decent dynamic package. All models get a threepoint under-bonnet strut, the cowl and upper frame have been reinforced and new spot-welding/ adhesive techniques have been used at key points.
We’re yet to really hit the backroads, but the new model seems like a competent package: decent steering and composed handling, albeit still with a safe bias towards early understeer.
There are some pleasantly practical features as well. The Eclipse Cross has door skins that wrap around the lower sills, keeping the inner part clean for entry and exit. This seems to be a new-gen SUV thing: the latest Volvo XC60 has the same feature.
There’s theatre-style rear seating, raised up above the front chairs so that occupants still get a decent view out over that high waistline.
The rear seat also slides through a 200mm range and the backrest can move through eight stages of recline (16-32 degrees), meaning that you can mix and match passenger and boot space. The latter ranges from 341-448 litres. Legroom is generous, anyway; remember, this car has the same wheelbase as an Outlander.
The interior won’t wow you with its design, but it is much more crisp and modern than the brand’s other SUV efforts. And there is a touch of genius in a new centre-console touchpad, which is the first such controller in the automotive world to work with Apple CarPlay.
One finger swipe moves the touch-screen menu left or right. A two-finger swipe (like you might do on your Apple laptop) shifts to the next screen or can also be used to change tracks. Two fingers upwards or downwards changes audio volume. And push to select, naturally. It’s brilliant and very easy to use.
It’s also not compatible with Android Auto, which is pretty weird; normally it’s Apple that locks clever stuff like this out of its operating system. Android users still get full phone projection, including the touchscreen and voice control.
All Eclipse Cross models get forward collision mitigation with pedestrian detection and lane departure warning.
The top VRX picks up adaptive cruise control (which now works right down to standstill), blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and a colour head-up display.
Ignore the promo number plate: we’re driving this Eclipse Cross right here in NZ, around Porirua Harbour.