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Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross: not a name I’ve heard before? Nope, this is a new one for Mitsubishi, among the Shoguns and L200s that date back to the age of cave paintings and hair elephants. If you had bad taste in films in the early 2000s you might remember there used to be a front-drive Mitsubishi coupe called the Eclipse, but now that name belongs to this lumpy-looking crossover. Looks big, doesn’t it? In pictures, I’d thought this was a proper family-sized SUV, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a Land Rover Discovery Sport or Mazda CX-5. But no, the Eclipse Cross is a size smaller, giving Mitsubishi a crucial toehold in the Nissan Qashqai’s territory. And the Kia Sportage’s. And the Ford Kuga, and Seat Ateca… Needs to stand out, then. Well, it’s certainly not subtle… Quite. There’s some very haphazard surfacing down the flanks, and the nose is striking and sort of modern and rugged, like a designer space helmet. But the rear – what the heck happened? Paint one of these things mint green, lose a wheel trim and hey, Jesse, we need to cook. And don’t tell Skylar. It’s the new Pontiac Aztek.
Why Japanese car designers seem convinced by a whacking great horizontal bar across the back window that creates a giant blind ‘spot’ (more of a blind border) and a lower pane with no wiper that’s quickly frosted with crud in winter, is a mystery for the ages. It was a crap idea on the Honda Civic, it’s annoying in a Prius, and it sucks here. And the boot’s not giant either. Still, some logical thinking has helped the Eclipse Cross in that regard. The rear seats all slide forward and back via a lightweight spring-loaded bar that doesn’t require a protein shake breakfast to move. So, adult-sized legroom when there aren’t suitcases in the boot, or extra real estate for the dogs when the children aren’t on board. Or a compromise inbetween for the family holiday. Like pretty much every family car on sale today styled with words like ‘rakish’ and ‘emotion’ in mind instead of small people, the sharply rising windowline prohibits the view into the outside world that a lofty SUV should afford passengers. How’s life for those up front? This is an SUV which isn’t shy about seating its occupants high, to obtain a commanding view down the road. Fine by us – crossovers that aim for low, car-like seating positions should be filed among other useless entities. Chocolate teapots. And all Infinitis. Eclipse Cross drivers lord it over Qashqais and Sportages in stature, but not in quality ambience. If the standard-fit Apple CarPlay and Android Auto loses its novelty, you can have a good game of Japanese interior design surface bingo (extra points for fake carbon fibre and dubious metal), and play hunt the switchgear among the admittedly interesting-looked tiered dashboard. Fundamentally, the driving position is sound, the seats comfortable, the dials easy to read and so on. But the switchgear isn’t as professionally thought out as what the Koreans are doing now. Or copying off Audi, at any rate. Not a very clever time to be launching a diesel SUV, is it? This isn’t a diesel. Not even as an option. The Eclipse Cross has a simple model range (‘2’ is base spec, but very well kitted out, ‘3’ is mid-range and then there’s a ‘4’ and ‘First Edition’ as range-toppers, with prices from £26,825), but only one engine. It’s a new 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine good for 160bhp and 184lb ft. Mitsubishi says it’s considering offering a 2.2-litre turbodiesel later in the year, but only if demand from the public stops freefalling, and the UK government stops interfering with what it calls ‘unhelpful’ rhetoric. A hybrid is being mulled too. If panicking politicians do deny a diesel, we’ll survive. The 1.5-litre petrol is a reasonably free-revving and generally fit-for-purpose powerplant. There’s no sensation of a great wodge of VW Group-sized torque being unleashed at 1,800rpm – probably thanks to the transmission, which I’m getting to – but the Eclipse Cross’s performance is there or thereabouts. The manual-only front-drive version gets from 0-62mph in 10.3sec, and the auto option – a CVT – takes as little as 9.3sec with front-wheel drive, or 9.7sec when paired with the adaptive all-wheel drive tested here. Off you go then. Time to eviscerate the CVT! Well, I’m going to dissent. Mitsubishi’s latest effort is (stand back from the platform, there’s a non-stop faint praise service approaching) the best CVT I’ve driven. It doesn’t act like a panicked auto, constantly in pessimistic kickdown and revving the engine to rubble. You can exit a junction or negotiate a sliproad with engine speed having some relation to your road speed, and your ear canals free of blood. The highest compliment I can pay the CVT is I resorted to using the paddles twice in two hours of driving. And when I did, it behaved like a slow automatic. Honestly though, it’s a fit-for purpose, appropriate drivetrain. Not one for aggressive driving, but capable of smooth and dignified progress. Mitsubishi claims this model records 40.4mpg and 159 g/km of CO2 – lower spec models are slightly greener – but the official figures remain behind the high forties/low fifties claimed by the likes of the Nissan Qashqai 1.6 and Seat Ateca 1.4 petrols. Mind you, the Eclipse Cross’s are that much more realistic… So what’s the USP here? Mitsubishi is convinced it’s the handling. It’s at pains to point out how much Evo and Dakar-winning know-how has been lavished upon the Eclipse Cross. Seems like an odd priority, right? Driving dynamics as memorable as listening to paint dry has hardly done the current crossover set (Seat Ateca excepted) any harm, sales-wise. Still, Mitsubishi has plunged in with a small steering wheel fixed to rather quick steering and a suspension set-up which trades some back-road maturity for snubbing body roll. The car’s a little fidgety as a result, as if it’s riding on bigger rims than merely 18s with a generous sidewall. The steering’s speed but slight vagueness off-centre doesn’t feel all too accurate either. But we’re forgetting, only Mitsubishi reckons this is a car to hustle. It’s towards the competent end of the handling scale, sure, but it’s not as tightly controlled as the Ateca, and we’d have traded some of that fidget for a cleaner, more professional ride. Still, if you’re a Mitsubishi long-termer used to Shoguns and trucks, this thing’s miles happier on the road. Should I buy one? Has it done enough to stand out is the nub of it. Well, it certainly looks striking, it’s spacious, and it drives with some intent and the powertrain’s surprisingly effective. But mainly, it’s the value. You can have a fully loaded Eclipse Cross for £224 a month with a £6k deposit, or from £185 a month if you can do without heated leather seats, five-layer paint, a cluster of active safety aids and LED headlights. ‘Basic’ models embarrass the likes of the Ateca or Qashqai by throwing in a back-up camera, automatic lights and wipers, climate control, tinted glass and cruise control. It feels like a decent chunk of car for £21,275, though the sweet spot ought to be the Eclipse Cross AWD ‘auto’ at £25,350. One for the shortlist if you’re sick of the usual crossover suspects, then. And remember to bring a blindfold to the test drive, until you’re inside.
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