IAIN ROBERTSON 

Change for change’s sake has never been a Mitsubishi Motors’ precept, as evolution is closer to its heart, states Iain Robertson, however the company was in desperate need of something new and the latest family car evolution is on the money.

For many years, Mitsubishi was perceived as a brand-with-purpose. All of its vehicles were regarded as tough, resilient and slightly left of centre. It was a brand with history…not all of it illustrious…but, rather like BMW, it possessed a connection to an aeronautical past, albeit with a more progressive attitude towards the future. In post-WW2 Japan, the greater corporation grew to be the largest in the world, especially in shipping.

The car company was, to a certain extent, an annoying fly in its ointment. The group seldom knew precisely what to do with it. It earned its crust but contributed only small amounts of profit to the overall balance sheet. Its products were well-received by the car-buying consumer, notably in communities, like agriculture, where farmers swore by the integrity of the Shogun. Yet, it did not stop the corporation from selling it off to another one, albeit the specialist hub of DaimlerChrysler, when the German-American combine was on a brand acquisition trail back in the 1990s.

The problem was that, like so many of DC’s rivals, including Ford and GM, grander corporate disharmony led to breakdowns in relations and the acquisitive ‘dream’ soon became a fall-out zone. Mitsubishi was pushed out onto a limb, its light truck division being retained by Merc, and a buyer was sought. Mitsubishi Corp felt forced into a re-association with its previous charge, which led to several ‘fallow’ years, until courtship with the ailing Renault-Nissan Alliance.

Now producing in excess of 10.6m new vehicles annually, despite claims to the contrary from both VW Group and Toyota, the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi combination, just over a year old, provides world leading volume for the alliance. In real terms, having sold 26,500 cars in the UK last year, our market, despite upwards growth for the importer, continues to make a small but important impression for the Mitsubishi division.

Slotting conveniently between ASX and Outlander, at 4.4m in length, the all-new Eclipse Cross offers an uncomplicated line-up of front-wheel-drive, with six-speed manual gearbox, or 4WD, with a technologically interesting CVT (constantly variable transmission), in 2, 3, or 4, plus ‘First Edition’ trim models (the latter limited to just 250 examples). While base variants don 16-inch diameter alloys, 18-inch alternatives are fitted to the rest of the range. All versions are powered by Mitsubishi’s new, 1.5-litre petrol engine, although the chassis architecture can accommodate the firm’s plug-in hybrid technology (PHEV), which will lead to eco-friendly alternatives in the very near future.

However, do not read ‘base’ (2), which starts at an affordable £21,275 list price as anything less than a starter for an otherwise generously specified line that tops out at £29,750 for the bells-and-whistles, comprehensively equipped, ‘First Edition’ in auto-4×4 form that includes the exquisite Red Diamond paint finish, which possesses a depth and refractive lustre that is no less than captivating. Mitsubishi has thought out its presence to perfection and pricing is a critical component.

While there is no denying the fragmentation that has taken place in the family car sector, the Eclipse Cross has a most attractive, coupe-like profile that is further enhanced with a lower than expected seating position that aids its sportier stance. Yet, despite sculpted flanks and bold front and rear design graphics, the company has managed to retain a spacious cabin for up to five occupants and their luggage in tactile comfort.

The new design language has been carried into the cockpit that features a full-width, soft-touch dashboard divided into upper (information) and lower (operational) functionality. Carbon-effect fillets, blend seductively with piano-black inserts and silvered trim that frames the stylish interior. Driving the top model means high-quality hide coverings for seats, steering wheel rim and door cards and a logical array of wheel-located switchgear, some of which gives command control over the in-built information touch-screen that sprouts from the top centre of the dashboard.

As is fast becoming practice, connectivity means that sat-nav is not even an option, as the majority of mobile-phones now offer a driver-friendly medium that links-up instantly via Bluetooth, so do not expect it. However, a high-end Rockford stereo system provides a decent sound experience and the screen also provides a platform for both heating and ventilation, as well as a 360-degree camera for added visual safety. Naturally, the customary plethora of safety systems, including blind-spot, lane discipline and crash mitigation systems is incorporated and all can be switched off their default ‘on’ settings.

A double glazed-roof section ensures that natural light floods the cabin, when the electric blinds are retracted, the front section of which rides above the roof to ensure that cabin headroom is uncompromised. The auto-4WD models also feature adaptive cruise control that, using a blend of camera and radar technology, enable the car to creep in traffic, while also cruising at higher speeds in complete safety, with minimal driver intervention. It will stop, should the traffic ahead change its mind. Keyless entry and pushbutton start:stop are combined with engine start:stop that aids emissions and fuel economy.

Powering the Eclipse Cross is a brand new 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine that delivers a healthy 160bhp. It is a small-capacity but ingeniously engineered unit that ensures a constant flow of pulling power from around 1,400rpm to over 5,000rpm that will be appreciated by caravan owners for its low-rev gutsiness. With a kerbweight of 1.4-tonnes, its 151g/km (159g/km auto) CO2 rating and 42.8mpg (Official Combined manual; 40.3mpg CVT) are respectable and honest figures that can be replicated by most owners. You can rest assured that it will be rolled out into other Mitsubishi models in future.

Although the manual versions will manage a respectable top speed of around 127mph (124mph auto), it is the CVT that out-accelerates them from 0-60mph, covered in a zesty 9.5s (against 10.0s). In this latest and most advanced form of the gearless transmission, there are seven step-off points that provide the impression of eight forward speeds that can be selected manually, either using the transmission lever, or the up and down alloy paddles behind the steering wheel cross-spokes. Rather than the often confusing and run-away revving of the engine normally associated with this type of transmission, the control imparted to the driver is total and goes a long way to offsetting concerns about frugality.

A natural evolution of the chassis used by the Outlander model, its rigidity has been improved dramatically. The result is more effective suspension and outstanding steering accuracy and response rates. Both body control and extraneous noise are improved to new peaks, while a less heavy-handed approach to chassis components translates into superior on-road feel and enhanced mechanical grip. The 4×4 system fitted to CVT models features active ‘yaw’ control that aids vehicle stability but allows torque distribution to flex between a front-dominated bias to 45% rearward trim, as conditions dictate, whether towing, or tackling adverse environmental and geographical conditions. The driver can leave the car to its own devices in complete safety, while snow and gravel settings can be selected manually, should they be required.

Additional protection is provided to owners by the standard five years warranty and 12,500 miles annual service requirements. Naturally, Mitsubishi’s indefatigable reputation for reliability remains uncompromised. Although a diesel option was unavailable at launch, the company’s 2.2-litre turbocharged engine will be introduced at some point in the future. Incidentally, all models feature a standard touch-pad control panel alongside the transmission selector for easier access to the touch-screen.

Conclusion:   It would be fair to suggest that Mitsubishi needs a strong midfielder in its batting order, a position that Eclipse Cross can handle with consummate ease. It is a handsome and stylish family car, possessing a well-proportioned boot and innumerable driver and occupant pleasing features, including practical storage slots dotted around the interior. I am in no doubt that it will perpetuate the brand’s success for some years to come.