Eclipse Cross shades other Mit­subishi SUVs

Rotorua Review - - MOTORING -

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.

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