Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross: 'The engineering is of high quality, the car felt well-made and solid'
First drive: Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
WE'VE had more concepts than cars from Mitsubishi for some time now. Thankfully, they promise, that is about to change. The new Eclipse Cross compact SUV is tangible proof of the shift from concept to reality.
But they are not finished with concepts. We got up close and personal with two daring examples - of the next Outlander and ASX - as we drove the new Eclipse Cross compact SUV.
Described by Mitsubishi as a "SUV-coupe", it is another rival for the Qashqais and Tucsons of this SUV/Crossover-crazy world.
Emphasis on its design explains why the radically-designed Toyota C-HR is cited as a keen competitor.
It is radical for a Mitsubishi, but maybe not for other marques. You will either love or hate the split-rear window with its wiper hidden under an upper louvre and its bottom affording unusually low visibility.
It is due here for the January market - they'll be taking orders from October/November.
The Eclipse Cross is roomier/bigger than the firm's soon-to-be-revised ASX (January), but by no means as large as the Outlander, of course. What it will cost or even have as standard spec (expect three trim levels) remains in the realms of conjecture.
But never being one to shirk speculative responsibility, I'd reckon on it starting around the €28,000+ mark.
That figure is partly guided by the fact the ASX starts around €24,500, so anything much closer would cannibalise the existing incumbent and anything more in a massively price-sensitive segment would preclude it from shopping-list radar.
What may lower the price a bit further, maybe, will be the new 1.5-litre 161bhp petrol engine (151g/km, 159g for 4WD).
A revised 2.2-litre diesel with AWD and torque converter 8spd auto box arrives early next summer.
Meantime, that 1.5-litre will be a litmus test of how much pace the swing to petrol is gathering in a segment where diesel drives 90pc of sales.
The 1.5-litre will have a 6spd manual and/or a stepped 8spd CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) with either 2WD or 4WD. I drove the 6spd 2WD manual and the 4WD CVT. The former was okay but quickly reached its potential, especially on bends, as well as suffering from front-wheel-spin (torque overload).
The latter I found more to my liking, even allowing for all CVTs' tendency to boom a bit when you go looking for response. Really I'd need to try both on Irish roads to give you a fairer assessment.
But we'll hear about and drive many a car with that new 4cyl turbo or its derivatives. It is brand new and beats the pants off all opposition in developing 161bhp.
I liked the sound of the exhaust soundtrack and feel of the engine, which revved freely and felt livelier than its official figures (0-100kmh in 9.8 seconds) would suggest. I thought it had excellent low-down torque. But CVTs don't do so well here.
The only drawback with the petrol is the road tax, which at €390/year is a good bit out of synch with its admittedly lower-powered rivals.
The 4WD system (Super-All Wheel Control, 'S-AWC') was impressive - if it wasn't, it would be a surprise considering Mitsubishi's track record in that area, yet didn't convey any great sense of feedback or fizz. Nor did the electric power steering system.
But watch the S-AWC and petrol engine start to filter into, and through, other line-ups in the Renault/Nissan Alliance.
Not before 2019, however, when Mitsubishi is expected to formally have joined the fold (it's only eight months since the announcement was made).
They will share a lot of stuff - with PHEV, 4WD technology prime assets - with the alliance, but Mitsubishi insists it will also keep its identity and the emphasis on pedigree.
There won't be a PHEV version but they are working on an "electric solution".
Anyway, the Eclipse Cross is built on the same basic architecture as the Outlander, and at 4,405mm is slightly longer than the Qashqai.
Its 2.67m wheelbase and "twin bubble" roof help interior space.
As I say, you'll love or hate the styling of the back. I think it works well enough with variations on the SUV theme. Despite its crescent profile I found loads of headroom and overall space in the back seats (they can slide 20cm for more passenger/luggage space).
It's a big, roomy cabin and I liked the slightly off-set driving position. Some practicalities: the rear doors open wide (75°) and do help access. And there is a cleverly worked compartmented box under the boot for a variety of items.
They're using a touchpad controller rather than the more ubiquitous rotating knob to operate functions such as radio, iPod, Apple CarPlay etc. Not so sure about it at all. I think they've responded well to criticism of cabin design and materials in current models.
Quality is well up - certainly better than anything else they have - though I felt the dark, rippled plastic hood over the speedo/rpm displays was disappointing in that context.
I'd expect standard spec to include a touchscreen infotainment system that's Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-friendly, though you'll have to rely on your phone's link up for satnav. It's something to watch for.
As you would expect, the engineering is of high quality (and there is an eight-year warranty). This car felt well-made and solid. Mitsubishis keep going. Simple as that. It has been their USP. Now with a sprinkling of design flair and improved interior added, the Eclipse makes a better case as a compact SUV.
But it's an amazingly demanding market place where price and spec are critical. Mitsubishi can't afford to be Eclipsed on either.