The Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross adds to the Japanese brand’s SUV range with its first truly new model in over half a decade. While it may be close to the slightly smaller ASX in format and theory, the fresher Eclipse Cross proves Mitsubishi has come a long way.
From a global perspective, the Eclipse Cross plays the role of a brand ambassador, designed to convey the most avant-garde aspects of Mitsubishi’s ‘Dynamic Shield’ design ethos. Even the name, derived from a long-discontinued American-market coupe, has been specifically chosen to convey the dynamic and aesthetic goals Mitsubishi has aspired to.
Alongside the budget-priced ASX, the Eclipse Cross shocks not with its angular fastback look but thanks to its price, which steps away from the bargain-bin value of its smaller sibling and steps up a league to play against more premium-mainstream small SUVs like the Toyota C-HR and Jeep Compass.
To enable it to play in that space, the 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross takes a similar loaded approach to equipment, with a two-model range that sits in what would traditionally be considered mid-spec and high-spec positions, foregoing a conventional cut-price base model.
The lower LS trim level comes loaded with highlights like a continuously variable automatic transmission, 18-inch alloy wheels, proximity key with push-button start, single-zone climate control, cruise control with speed limiter, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear-shift knob, and automatic wiper and headlights with auto high-beam functionality – yours from $30,500 plus on-road costs.
There’s certainly no ignoring the way the Eclipse Cross looks either, particularly from the rear three-quarter view, which divides opinions through the use of a high rump framed by a pair of tail-lights that look like the result of a tryst between a Volvo wagon and previous-generation Honda Civic leading to a somewhat unusual divided rear window.
Surprisingly, the split tailgate glass doesn’t carve into visibility, offering a particularly clear view of the area immediately behind the car with minimal obstruction from the dividing strip through the middle. To either side, though, the wide C-pillars take a toll on over-shoulder visibility.
Beyond that, the angular side window outline and a body filled with sharp creases take Mitsubishi’s chiselled corporate face and extend it around the sides and rear. The result is a look that’s rather distinctive and obviously contrasts against the move to more curvaceous forms from competitors like Mazda, Honda and Toyota with their much softer-looking urban SUV offerings.
Mitsubishi has continued its design overhaul inside, with an interior layout that makes clever use of existing components and assemblies, but remixes them to create a new, more modern, and importantly more premium look and feel.
Some pieces like the steering wheel, climate controls, and even the instrument cluster bear similarities to those used throughout the Mitsubishi range. A new, deeply sculpted dashboard and a re-interpreted freestanding infotainment screen, with a layout inspired by BMW and a console controller eerily similar to that used by Lexus, give the Eclipse Cross a more unique identity.
Focussing on that 7.0-inch infotainment system brings details like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to the fore, although inbuilt navigation has been left out. The on-screen layout is clear and simple, and while the touchpad mounted low in the centre console is an odd inclusion alongside a touchscreen head unit, the simple up-down-left-right recognition (instead of Lexus’s omnidirectional mousepad) makes on-the-go operation much simpler, more accurate, and less distracting.
There’s a mix and match feel to other elements of the interior too. Padded door sections with contrast stitching and upper gloss-black decor panels all look premium. Some of the dull silver centre console surrounds, matte-finish carbon-look pieces, and the strange texture and feel of the padded dash pull a few points back.
Up front, a pair of manually adjusted seats trimmed in a sturdy but handsome fabric cover the support basics, including driver’s seat height, but go without adjustable lumbar support that can impact long-range comfort a little.
Comparatively, the rear seats gain a surprisingly full range of adjustment including fore-aft sliding and backrest angle. In their rearmost position, the rear seats offer generous leg room, and while the Eclipse Cross and ASX share identical wheelbases, the newer model takes the lead for its impression of length.
It’s a shame then that rear head room is so limited by the high positioning of the seat base. Boot space is also limited slightly by a high floor, but the sliding seat function means there’s between 341 and 448 litres of capacity depending on position.
As with the interior, the Eclipse Cross’s on-road behaviour moves Mitsubishi forward in some aspects, but fails to excite in others.
Mechanically, the new Mitsubishi is powered by an all-new 1.5-litre turbo-petrol engine that musters 110kW of power at 5500rpm and 250Nm of torque giving the Eclipse Cross an average power output amongst its peers, but a strong slug of torque.
There’s no choice of transmission either – just a CVT. In LS specification it drives the front wheels only, though the higher-grade Exceed variant has a choice of front- or all-wheel drive.
As an urban appliance, the engine and transmission pair up to provide a balanced approach to commuting. A little zip from a standstill, but a more sedate mid-range that ties in well with the way Australia’s urban peak-hour traffic flows (or doesn’t depending on where you live).
Ask for blistering drag-strip-style acceleration and you’ll be left waiting an eternity for a reply. Conversely, thanks to robust torque and rapid reactions from the CVT auto, including a simulated kickdown like a traditional automatic, the Eclipse Cross can deliver short bursts of rolling acceleration with haste.
The ride also feels right at home in the city, high enough to dispatch speed humps and driveways, with good absorbency for paved or bluestone sections and those little tarmac niggles that blight suburban streets.
Mitsubishi has opted for a fairly typical MacPherson strut front suspension set-up and given the rear a multi-link independent layout, which errs on the more sophisticated side of what’s available in the small SUV class.
Away from the low-speed confines of suburbia, the Eclipse Cross loses some of its shine.
At freeway speeds the suspension rocks and bobs, taking time to settle over undulations with some accompanying suspension crash echoing through the cabin. Under even light braking, the nose dips readily revealing a ride that’s tuned more towards comfort than handling prowess.
Mix that with soggy steering, despite a reasonably weighty feel through the wheel, plus a propensity to lean heavily on the outside tyres, and the Eclipse Cross shows a real lack of enthusiasm for spirited driving. This is no handling benchmark like the Mazda CX-3 or Toyota C-HR from behind the wheel, but not everyone needs that either.
Perhaps more crucially for owners, the Eclipse Cross LS includes a roll call of safety systems including autonomous emergency braking (which Mitsubishi dubs Forward Collision Mitigation), electronic stability control, seven airbags, lane departure warning, auto high-beam, anti-lock brakes, a reverse camera, and front seatbelt pretensioners.
While its safety spec gets a tick (and there’s a five-star ANCAP safety rating too), other ownership aspects are less enticing, like official mixed-cycle fuel consumption of 7.5L/100km (not helped by a lack of start-stop technology), which is rated slightly higher than automatic versions of the Nissan Qashqai, Holden Equinox, and Mazda CX-5 all at 6.9L/100km.
Service pricing for the turbocharged engine also chips away at the hip pocket, with Mitsubishi charging $300 for the first service and $400 for the next two visits (at 15,000km or 12-month intervals) – more than either the petrol ASX or Outlander, and more than rivals like the Qashqai, Kona, or CX-5.
Despite those shortcomings, the Eclipse Cross stands up as a decent example of what a high-quality small SUV can be.
It doesn’t delight on the open road, but makes up for that with a decent interior and a city-centric focus that gets to the heart of what a modern compact SUV is all about, with plenty of comfort and right-sized urban versatility.