Mitsubishi has a wide range of SUVs led by the ASX and Outlander, which sell in huge numbers here on the back of commendable low pricing and a reputation for bulletproof reliability.
But a brand cannot rely on such sensible metrics alone. Which is where the more alluring 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross comes in, boldly repackaging a badge once used on a compact sports coupe, to meet the modern crossover boom.
Now, not everyone will be happy about that, but Mitsubishi has long signposted its intent to focus on SUVs and light commercials, so that's just the way things are going to be.
Pitched between the aforementioned pair of range-mates, it's designed to tackle fellow spacious-but-small SUVs such as the Honda HR-V, Nissan Qashqai and Subaru XV, but feasibly might also be cross-shopped against a Mazda CX-5 or Hyundai Tucson.
Rather than launching with low, low pricing, it instead comes loaded up with modern infotainment and active safety equipment, and as such gives the cookie-cutter ASX some room at the bottom end of the market.
That logic also applies to the design, which resembles the XR PHEV II concept car, with its interesting contours and wedged shape. It's only 40mm longer than the ASX and sits on the same 2670mm wheelbase, though its more commanding presence makes it seem larger.
This design is enhanced, by the way, if you shell out $890 for the Brilliant Red premium paint that gives Mazda's a run for its money.
Pricing kicks off at $30,500 for the Eclipse Cross LS, which is at least a few thousand dollars more expensive than most entry-grade rivals, and actually places it alongside a bigger but less well-equipped offering such as a Tucson Active X or CX-5 Maxx.
On the bright side, it's not specified like a base-grade car at all.
Standard features include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, DAB+ digital radio, two USB points, 18-inch wheels, roof rails, push-button start and keyless-go, reversing camera, dusk-sensing lights and rain-sensing wipers.
There’s also standard safety equipment such as an ANCAP five-star rating, seven airbags, two ISOFIX anchors and three top-tether attachment points, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and a lane-departure warning chime.
There’s a $6000 premium to jump into the flagship $36,500 Exceed version, which gives you extras such as leather seats with heating, LED headlights, two-zone climate control, panoramic sunroof, and a flip-up glass head-up display like Mazda's and Volkswagen’s.
Extra safety tech on the Exceed includes a great 360-degree around-view camera just like Alliance partner Nissan’s, adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert for backing out of parking spaces, lane-change assistance and a system that cuts the acceleration if you accidentally hit the throttle, in Drive, too close to a static obstacle.
The cabin is a massive step up for the brand, overtaking the Pajero Sport to be its most modern set-up. Notably, there’s a 7.0-inch touchscreen perched atop the dash powered by a complementary Lexus-style touchpad. It’s less immediately ergonomic than a Mazda or BMW-type rotary dial, but you adjust quickly, and it keeps smudges off the screen.
There’s actually a lot of Lexus in the fascia shape, and the plastic trim around the vents, though the cheap-feeling leather and black plastic on the steering wheel lose points. Not enough to take away a feeling of robustness and the look of something rather premium.
The driving position gives you that desirable height over a regular hatch/sedan, and there are ample wheel and seat adjustments. The distinctive split rear tailgate doesn’t impinge on rear vision all that much, reassuringly. In fact, the cabin feels open and spacious thanks to all that glass.
There’s also a decent glovebox and console, and bottle holders in the door. What would we like to see? A Qi-style wireless smartphone charging pad is an obvious omission, and a digital speedo in the instruments as well as the HUD would be ideal. Phone mirroring won’t date, though some buyers will rue the lack of a conventional sat-nav system. Warning.
The back seats are fantastic for the class, up there with the Honda HR-V’s and capable of seating two 180cm-plus adults with room to spare, though there are no rear vents. Commendably, the 60:40 split bench pieces also recline slightly, and slide on rails by up to 200mm so you can bring your baby seat closer or elongate the cargo area behind them. Fantastic idea.
That said, they don’t fold quite as flat as the Honda’s Magic Seat set-up, even if the cargo space minimum of 341L, growing to 448L with the back row slid forward, and up to 1122L (and 1.4m long) with them flipped down, is still above average for the class. As per the class norms, there’s a space-saving speed-limited spare wheel only.
So that’s the cabin, but how does the Eclipse Cross drive? It’s not yet based on a shared Renault-Nissan platform, but Mitsubishi has done significant suspension reworking. More importantly, this car premieres a brand-new engine for the company.
It’s a downsized 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol making 110kW of power at 5500rpm and a fairly muscular (for a class dominated by gutless offerings) 250Nm of torque on tap between 2000 and 3500rpm. Claimed fuel use is 7.3L/100km using 91 RON petrol, though we got high 8s on our test.
It’s a nice little unit: refined and responsive off the mark, with a strong mid-range that gives you better-than-average acceleration. It also gives you a braked-trailer tow rating of 1600km. There’s no alternative yet, be it diesel or – more likely – plug-in hybrid (PHEV).
The engine is mated to a CVT automatic with eight ‘stepped’ ratios to make it feel like an auto with a torque converter, and it’s generally inoffensive. You get column-mounted paddle shifters for the manual mode. The LS and entry LS are also front-wheel drive, as per the segment norms.
However, if you want Mitsubishi’s great S-AWC all-wheel-drive system – an on-demand set-up that sends torque to the rear wheels when slip is detected at the front, and which offers Snow and Gravel modes – instead of FWD, it’s available for $2000 extra.
If you regularly drive on gravel or snow, consider it. If you rarely leave the city aside from the odd long-distance drive using major highways, you probably don’t need to bother: it makes the car 65kg heavier, 0.4L/100km worse on fuel, and requires a fuel tank downgrade from 63L to 60L.
Dynamically the Eclipse Cross, while not living up to the Eclipse coupe of a bygone era, offers a predictable and safe feeling from behind the wheel. The reworked existing group platform has had extensive tuning, including some in Australia, and it shows.
Its suspension absorbs sharp hits well, and despite the low-profile Toyo tyres it feels composed over degraded and broken surfaces. Noise suppression is decent enough as well.
There's some minor body roll through corners, exacerbated by the high driving position, but it's controlled and acceptable. The electric steering is light and vague, clearly most at home around town.
A dynamic leader in the spirit of Evo? No. But while the Toyota C-HR and Hyundai Kona feel more planted and sporty, the Eclipse Cross is more than a match for a HR-V or Qashqai, cars that are more similar on account of the extra cabin space.
One area where Mitsubishi tends to do well is running costs. The warranty is five years or 100,000km, which is the same length as Hyundai's (but has a lower distance cap). You also get four years roadside assist and three years of capped-price servicing.
The quotes on your services, which come at excellent 12-month or 15,000km intervals, are $300 for the first, then $400 for the next pair. Keep in mind a petrol 2WD ASX's services are $240 a pop.
All told, the Eclipse Cross is a strong sign of what's to come from Mitsubishi. As it moves into its next phase as a member of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, it'll get access to more money and more advanced engineering.
For now, this offering makes a strong case for itself, given the well equipped and practical cabin, edgy looks, strong engine and AWD option all stand up well against the main competitor set. A change might be in the air for Mitsubishi, and we should all welcome it.