Exciting times for Mitsubishi with new Eclipse Cross
THE most popular vehicle in the compact SUV class is about to be overshadowed. Mitsubishi's ASX is facing a serious threat from a member of its own family in the form of the Eclipse Cross.
The newcomer has sharper looks, a vastly better engine and transmission pairing and a $30,500 price (before on-roads) that is only $2000 dearer than a comparable ASX.
What's more, the Eclipse Cross is loaded. Standard gear in the base LS version includes autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, keyless start, 18-inch alloy wheels and seven-inch touchscreen with Android/Apple smartphone mirroring and digital radio.
Step up to the $36,000 Exceed and there's a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, around-view camera, leather trim, LED headlamps, panoramic sunroof, powered and heated front seats and dual-zone aircon. All-wheel drive on the Exceed adds $2500.
The only area the ASX wins in is cargo capacity at 393L against 341L, despite being 40mm shorter. That's going to be a tough sell for dealers but could be good news for Mitsubishi.
Chief operating officer Tony Principe says there will be some cross-shopping but points to the ASX being a fleet favourite - private buyers, he reckons, will gravitate to the Eclipse Cross.
"The ASX is the sensible choice, this (Eclipse Cross) is going to be more of an emotive buy," Principe says.
Product planning head James Tol agrees. "In this space it is all about the design. They've got to look good but they're also about utility. The sliding second row seats give us the versatility customers want - they can decide whether they want maximum cargo space or leg room."
Tol also believes there is space for a lower-spec Eclipse Cross in the future, presumably to make the model more attractive to fleet and budget buyers.
"We're looking at it,' he says "but the LS and Exceed are the right vehicles for now because the early rush on any new car is for the top-spec versions."
The new SUV will compete against the style-driven Hyundai Kona and Toyota C-HR as well as the more conventionally styled Nissan Qashqai and Mazda CX-3.
Improved packaging and the latest software puts the Eclipse Cross on a pricing par with the segment leaders. That's a different approach to the ASX and Outlander, which are the bargain buys of their respective classes.
ON THE ROAD
The rear screen is bisected by a spoiler that doesn't have much impact on rear vision - rear three-quarter vision is another matter and it's necessary to double-check before changing lanes. The Exceed's blind-spot warning should be standard on the LS to remedy this difficulty.
All versions are fitted with a new 1.5-litre turbo engine matched to a continuously variable transmission. It is a huge improvement over the ASX's combination and makes the Eclipse Cross one of the more powerful vehicles in this segment.
That translates into decent acceleration around town or when overtaking at highway pace. Opt to change "gears" with the reassuringly solid paddle-shifters and there are eight steps to help avoid engine drone.
Use them if you find a back road and want to take advantage of the better-than-average handling.
The shifts take too long up or down compared with a conventional auto. Still, the paddles give more flexibility than letting the CVT set the ratio - because it is constantly trying to be efficient rather than enthusiastic and will momentarily pause before responding to request for more power.
Lack of engine braking, a trait of CVT-equipped vehicles, means the cruise control on the base LS is prone to creeping over the set speed on long descents. That wasn't evident in the Exceed version fitted with adaptive cruise control.
Leave the CVT to its own devices in regular driving and it's possible to come close to the claimed 7.3L/100km - we logged 8.0L after almost 500km on highways and twisty, hilly roads.
Around town there's very little lag on takeoff and the steering is well calibrated in weight, if not for feel. The brakes are solid.
The suspension copes with speed humps without jostling and body lean in the corners is good for a compact SUV. It will patter over small lumps and corrugations at speed but then isn't flustered by decent mid-corner potholes.
Noise suppression is good - until you hit coarse chip surfaces at speed and tyre roar intrudes.
That cabin is the best looking in the Mitsubishi range - the attention to detail and styling flair can't be found in its siblings. Storage for sundry items is also good and the sliding and reclining rear seats borrowed from the mid-sized Outlander SUV makes back-row riding a relaxing proposition.
The heavy tailgate takes a hefty pull on the handle to close in one motion and the shape of the roof and tailgate means there's not a lot of height to play with relative to, say, Nissan's rival Qashqai.
The Eclipse Cross shines a light on future Mitsubishis by fusing a more shapely look on to the company's reputation for reliability. With the new styling and <drivetrain>, it can play with the cool kids in this class.
AT A GLANCE
Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
WARRANTY 5 years/100,000km; $1100 for 3 years/45,000km (good)
ENGINE 1.5-litre 4-cyl turbo petrol, 110kW/250Nm (
SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags, AEB
TRANSMISSION CVT; FWD/AWD
THIRST 7.3L/100km (FWD); 7.7L/100km (AWD)
CARGO 341-1122 litres