Tuesday 19 June 2018

Whisper it, but this Eclipse is a different sort of SUV

But a few annoying bits get in the way, writes EDDIE CUNNINGHAM

Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

I have never had a car's voice control system admonish me for speaking too loudly before. Even when I greatly moderated my vocal volume 'she' (why are satnav/voice controls always 'female'?) persisted in saying my command was "too loud".

Those who travelled with me in the new Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross will vouch I was whispering entreaties to have it phone a friend - to no avail. I tried to get it to call someone, hands-free, most times I was driving. No go. It was okay for audio (kinda - at least it didn't tell me to lower my voice). I more or less gave up.

I also gave up on the touch-pad controller which wasn't really helpful in doing what I wanted it to do either: radio, phone, etc. Not a great start to my relationship with the Eclipse - the car they call an 'SUV-coupé' - was it?

Voice control systems work well on most cars these days and are a boon to drivers and their safety because you (should) only have to press a button and speak your command.

The quality of voice varies but none has ever told me, even when I was whispering, that I should speak even more quietly. Frustrating for me; a great laugh for the passengers.

Let me explain why I'm front-loading the negatives here (there are positives, I promise).

On the face of it, those appear to be two small criticisms. The only thing is that, these days, they represent two important channels of 'communication' with the car. In their way, they are as important now as any other aspect of a motor.

Most of us expect the engine to start each time, the suspension to keep us comfortable, etc. And we expect everything else to be as proficient, no matter how peripheral they might appear.

Enough said and point laboured; sorry. Let's shift on to 'everything else' and see how the Eclipse fared.

First to the look of it. I have to tell you, I didn't like the outline at all with its 'coupé' posture - until about half way through my tests. It has just grown and grown on me. I like it.

It is strikingly different than most in the compact SUV market (rivals include the Hyundai Tucson and Nissan Qashqai). That is a good thing in itself.

They 'went for it'. Just like Toyota went radical with the C-HR and are enjoying the success. 'Different' is important in a segment busting at the seams with so many models.

Despite its sloping roof to accommodate that coupé look, the Eclipse Cross still gave us lots of headroom and a cabin that felt spacious. It took four adults in reasonable comfort - the rear two complained of the seating being 'hard'. Far from the soft seats they were reared. Those seats also slide and tilt a decent amount and I thought the boot was a good shape and size.

Now for the difficult bit. I always feel Mitsubishis are undeservedly left in the shade a bit. Great engineering for sure, but low key. For example, the smaller ASX (fine motor) and larger Outlander (excellent) are often overlooked by the likes of myself, not least because they are so unspectacularly efficient. Mitsubishi are unlikely to be accused by a voice control of shouting too loudly about their wares.

I know people who swear by them and have had their cars for ages. They (the cars) tend to go forever.

Yet, did you know their new cars have an eight-year warranty as standard? I can think of rivals who'd have voice control in an audio spin with the volume of their trumpeting.

So I'll make a little bit of a fuss for them - with the new 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine. Dig into a few of the stats and you'll see why I'd do so. This has eye-catching power (a whopping 161bhp) and will be under the bonnet of many a new car from the brand for now on.

You can expect it with other models in the Nissan/Renault alliance stable too in the near-enough future.

However, because of all that power, the car suffers from some front-wheel-spin - too much ooomph! in one go. And, yes, the road tax comes to €390. A revised 2.2-litre diesel is expected which will hopefully lower the tax, but I still think anyone doing under 15,000km/year should consider petrol.

With leather upholstery, good seats, fine driving position and loads of spec, the cabin in my test car was set to executive billing (€34,900) in an unfussy manner. It tipped along quietly, was decently comfortable (bit jarring over poorer roads) and had a lot of technology that went quietly about its business to keep everything ticking over smoothly.

Among the many helpful bits and pieces that didn't talk back and worked really well was an excellent overview/rear-reversing camera, a blessing in tight spots.

Whisper it... but I think it served as a fine example of what, and how much, we expect from ALL the elements in our cars these days.

Facts and figures

■ Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SUV 2WD, 1.5-litre turbo petrol, 163PS, 151g/154g/km, €390 road tax. From €27,900. 'Instyle' tested, €34,900. Eight-year warranty.

■ Standard spec (Invite) includes: smartphone link/touchscreen (Apple Carplay, Android Auto), touchpad controller, 16ins alloys, reversing camera, 2 USB ports, voice control, auto air con, sliding rear seats (200mm), cruise control. Mid-trim Intense (€29,900+) adds panoramic sunroof, leather, around view monitor, two-zone air con, premium sound system, 18ins alloys. Instyle adds: heated front seats (driver's electric), blind-spot warning, lane-change assist.

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