We’re getting mixed signals from the motoring industry at the moment. Fears about diesel and 11 consecutive months of declining new car sales paint a backdrop of doom and gloom – but against that many of the executives and dealers we speak to are bullish about the year ahead.
There are pockets of good news in the data to back that up as well. The crossover and SUV segments are experiencing growth and sales of petrol cars increased in the first month of 2018 by eight per cent, as buyers desert under-attack diesel.
Which might explain why Mitsubishi are so chirpy about the prospects of the new Eclipse Cross – a petrol-engined C-Segment SUV looking to go toe to toe with top sellers such as the Nissan Qashqai and Kia Sportage.
And why Mitsubishi – now part of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, the biggest car company in the world – are keen to highlight their 4×4 heritage.
Every volume car manufacturer has a crossover or SUV model nowadays. But Mitsubishi have been building 4x4s a long time and have 12 Dakar Rally wins, five World Rally Championship titles plus cars like the Lancer Evolution and Gallant VR-4 on the pages of their history books.
Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross First Edition
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Top speed: 127mph
0-62mph: 9.8 seconds
CO2 emissions: 159g/km
In more recent history, their big successes have been the Outlander PHEV and the 4×4 L200 pick-up truck.
Their 2018 line-up is almost entirely crossover and SUV models (with the Mirage supermini the only exception) with more to come in the Shogun Sport later this year.
The Eclipse Cross slots right into the middle of that line-up. Smaller than an Outlander, but bigger than an ASX. It’s the first of the current range to be designed from the ground up by new head designer Kunimoto-San and wears the corporate face which debuted on the Outlander facelift and 2017 ASX, showcasing the brands new ‘dynamic shield’ design philosophy.
Cutting through the marketing bumph, that means the car is supposed to look like it’s going fast, even when it’s parked in the drive. I’m not sure about that, but I do think it’s a pretty good-
looking car which competes well in the style stakes with sharp-looking segment-mates like the Toyota C-HR and Peugeot 3008.
And that also extends to the interior, which is stylish, uncluttered and comfortable. Mitsubishi say it’s their best interior ever and, while it’s not going to be worrying the Jaguars of this world, it’s hard to disagree.
It’s a huge step forward in ergonomics even from recent offerings like the Outlander. There’s a silver score cutting across the width of the dash that does more than add a bit of flash. Everything above the line is information (dials and displays), with everything below the line is operation (switches and controls). It should allow drivers to keep their eyes on the road for more of the drive.
This isn’t a car that’s all style over substance though. It’s packed full of the little practical touches that drivers familiar with the brand have come to expect. The boot can swallow up four full-sized golf bags without obscuring the view out of the split rear tailgate. The sliding rear bench can increase rear legroom or boot space as required and the width of the door sills has been optimised to reduce the chance of your trousers getting dirty as you get in and out of the car.
The old Mitsubishi infotainment system is gone in favour of the new Smartphone Link Display Audio system which fully supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, with navigation via Apple or Google Maps – complete with voice control.
Having spent a good deal of time struggling with the old system in the past I can say that the new set-up is a huge improvement.
Something I’m not completely sold on is the touchpad controller, located on the centre console. Mitsubishi say that once you’re used to it, you’ll wonder how you ever used anything else – but I struggled to get to grips with using the trackpad-style interface with my left hand. Thankfully, the system can also be controlled via touchscreen.
The Eclipse Cross achieved a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating thanks, in part, to advanced driver aids like forward collision mitigation (FCM), lane departure warning(LDW), blind spot warning (BSW) and a host of other acronyms and, in part, due to a 97 per cent rating for adult protection in a collision and an 80 per cent pedestrian safety score.
A single-engine car (for now), the 1.5-litre, 163bhp engine comes mated to either a six-speed manual gearbox or a CVT automatic box.
CVTs get a bad rap but this is definitely one of the better ones, smooth and refined across the spectrum. I also drove the manual version which worked well with the rev-happy engine, despite a heavy clutch.
The automatic is the faster of the two, with a 9.3 second nought to 62mph time (in 2WD) compared with the manual’s 10.3 second time. So far more than 68 per cent of orders have been for the four-wheel drive version of the car, which is only available with the auto transmission and splits the difference with a 9.8 second nought to 62 time.
Characteristic of the C-segment SUV (or crossover) class, the Eclipse Cross is car-like in its handling. A stiff chassis made with 55 per cent high tensile steel using welding techniques perfected in the Evo rally cars and multi-link rear suspension combine to keep body roll under control, and the steering stiffens up nicely at higher speeds to help you keep everything wobble free.
With prices starting north of £20,000 for a two-wheel drive model (and just shy of £25,000 for a 4×4 version) the Eclipse Cross isn’t the cheapest in class in terms of list price but, with residuals of 48 per cent (three years, 36,000 miles) Mitsubishi are confident that their PCP deals will be very competitive.
Combined with impressive kit levels as standard, good looks and a punchy petrol engine the Eclipse Cross should be equipped to challenge for market share in a competitive segment.
If the buyer shift toward SUV-style models continues it stands every chance of being the right car for Mitsubishi, at the right time.