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For those of us who’ve coveted a Lancer Evo and worshipped at the shrine of Tommi Mäkinen, Mitsubishi Motors hasn’t had much to offer for a while.
For years this eminently sensible company has been focused on profitable pick-ups and big-selling SUVs, which makes total economic sense, while throwing its engineers a bone by leading the mass market in plug-in hybrid (PHEV) vehicles.
But with the release of the Eclipse Cross – half-borrowing a name from its defunct coupe flagship of the early 2000s – the company appears to be acknowledging that it’s not always enough to be ‘just’ sensible, reliable and affordable.
You need design nous, which is why despite being basically the same size (4405mm long) as the top-selling ASX, the Eclipse Cross has a clear reason for existing. That’s not to say we have a new WRC car on our hands, but it’s a gesture in another direction.
Launched earlier this year, the Eclipse Cross has also given Mitsubishi’s dealers something properly new to show customers. Not a twice-yearly tweak to an old model with a new grille design and touchscreen, but something truly different.
Unlike the ASX that sells on price and perceived reliability – go look at your local Hertz or Avis, not that we’re judging – the Eclipse Cross is targeting the high-grade Mazda CX-3, Hyundai Kona, Honda HR-V, Nissan Qashqai, Subaru XV and… It’s a cluttered segment.
The first giveaway is design. It actually vaguely resembles the concept version, which was called the XR PHEV II. It has pronounced contours and character lines, a wedge-shape belt line, split rear glass, and altogether more pleasing proportions than its cousin.
The small SUV market is a safe space for car brands wanting to explore bolder design. Think about the Toyota C-HR or Nissan Juke. The Eclipse Cross’s case is strengthened when you see it in the extra-cost deep Brilliant Red paint too.
Here we’re testing the range-topping 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross Exceed, which has a retail price before on-road costs of $38,500 with all-wheel drive, though you can get into the entry-grade LS for $30,500. Either way, it’s thousands more than an ASX, while you can even get a much bigger Outlander for $30K at the moment.
It’s even a shade more expensive than a range-topping front-drive Honda HR-V VTi-L with ADAS or Nissan Qashqai TI, or the AWD Hyundai Kona Highlander, Mazda CX-3 Akari, or Subaru XV VTi-S. That’s a bold move from a brand that usually has sharp pricing.
In MMC’s defence, the Eclipse Cross’s aforementioned design nous carries over to the cabin, with plenty of premium tactile materials used throughout giving it a much more upmarket feel than most – though the abundance of glossy, glaring, dust-drawing black plastic on the fascia is an irritating trend in motoring. MMC is not the only perpetrator.
You get a protruding centre stack with a floating tablet screen on top, controlled by a touchpad like the Lexus’s rather than a BMW-style rotary dial. However, the user experience this time is much friendlier, with simple tiles on the screen for key functions.
There are also good seats with better foam density than the ASX, more side bolstering and thicker cushioning, and a flip-up glass head-up display (HUD) that gives you the coveted digital speedo, though it doesn’t adjust low enough for taller drivers. Annoying.
There’s good interior storage comprising big door bins, a double-compartment glovebox, console with sunglasses tray, and an underfloor cargo box.
Standard equipment is not in short supply, extending to a double-pane panoramic sunroof, the HUD, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane-change assistant, rear cross-traffic alert, a 360-degree camera like Nissan’s, leather heated seats and dual-zone climate control.
You also get a system called Ultrasonic Misacceleration Mitigation, which will apparently cut off the throttle if you hit it in a parking bay or driveway instead of the brake pedal by mistake. To be diplomatic, we have an ageing population…
This is alongside the LS’s equipment that includes 18-inch alloy wheels with Toyo tyres, forward collision mitigation (AEB), lane departure warning, seven airbags, auto high-beam LEDs, all-round parking sensors, rear camera, keyless entry and start, DAB+, privacy glass and a 7.0-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Like the Pajero Sport, you cannot get integrated satellite-navigation in any grade. If you’ve an iPhone like me and dislike the CarPlay’s Apple Maps integration, you’ll need a phone mount and a Waze/Google Maps download. We wonder if MMC has underestimated Australia’s demand for conventional mapping…
In terms of practicality, the Eclipse Cross gives the benchmark Honda HR-V a real run for its money. The back seats don’t fold quite as flat and low, but they do both slide up to 200mm on rails, and recline across a 16-degree arc, up to 32 degrees overall. Novel.
On the downside, while Mitsubishi claims there’s ample head room, that big sunroof eats into it. Anyone north of 180cm will feel it. There are also no rear air vents. The boot is sufficient for a pram or a few suitcases, but if you’ve got two kids maybe an Outlander is a better bet. Still, it demolishes the Mazda CX-3 for space.
From an engineering perspective, the Eclipse Cross isn’t quite as new as appearances suggest. It’s the final Mitsubishi to be developed with the current ASX’s platform before future models port across to architectures developed by (or with) Alliance partners Renault and Nissan.
Credit to MMC, though, for doing significant dynamic reworking, including an extensive testing regimen in hot, dusty and corrugated-road-wielding Australia. It drives better than the ASX without question, though vague allusions to it being ‘coupe-like’ are a stretch.
Around 55 per cent of the body is made of expensive high-tensile steel (the five-star ANCAP score is no coincidence), there’s a new electric power steering system, and new suspension components including the front strut brace, and the spring housings. The rear suspension is a multi-link set-up.
The Eclipse Cross offers a comfortable, compliant ride around town, with good noise and vibration insulation, pleasantly light steering and a high seat height. Push it harder and you notice some body roll against lateral cornering forces, which is to be expected.
Our test car had the optional Super All Wheel Control (S-AWC) all-wheel-drive system with selectable Auto, Snow and Gravel modes that adjust the throttle, ESC and gearbox mapping/calibration.
This on-demand system (as opposed to Subaru’s permanent symmetrical AWD) sends torque to where it’s needed. For example, if the front wheels are scrabbling, engine outputs go to the rear axle. It’s the same set-up as the Outlander PHEV’s, and is reassuring on gravel.
If you never leave the tarmac, save yourself $2500 and just get the front-wheel drive (FWD) model. Decent tyres, ESC and ABS mean it’ll do the trick.
One of the real highlights to the Eclipse Cross is its brand-new engine. It’s only a 1.5-litre petrol four-cylinder, but turbocharging gives it a high-for-the-class 110kW of power at 5500rpm and 250Nm of maximum torque between 2000 and 3500rpm. This falls short of the Kona’s 1.6-litre turbo and AWD drivetrain, but beats most other rivals in one or both metrics.
The sole transmission offering is a CVT auto, but before you cry out, it’s actually very refined and pleasant thanks to its artificially ‘stepped’ ratios, plus it has a Sport setting with paddles that lets you change the gears. It’s much more refined than the Subaru’s set-up.
MMC claims combined-cycle fuel use of 7.7L/100km, though we averaged about 9L/100km. Commendably, it’ll run on basic sulphur-heavy 91 RON petrol.
From the perspective of ownership, Mitsubishi Motors Australia gives you an above-average five-year/100,000km warranty, with long service intervals of 12 months or 15,000km, capped currently at $300 for visit one and $400 a pop for the next two.
There’s little doubt that the Eclipse Cross mounts a compelling case for itself, being a genuinely appealing small crossover that could... well... eclipse… the established players.
The issue is convincing people not to buy the way cheaper ASX or larger and great-value Outlander when they’re in the dealership. That’s a tough job for its sales staff, but there isn’t a whole lot lacking with the product.