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First drive: Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross diesel a non-starter

Cross dressed: GoAuto got behind the wheel of a camouflaged prototype Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross outside of Darwin.

Declining diesel sales means 1.5-litre petrol only for Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross


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4 Oct 2017

MITSUBISHI will launch the hotly-anticipated Eclipse Cross in Australia in petrol-only guise, taking a rain-check on the diesel alternative offered in other markets due to the delining interest in oil burners.

Set to hit dealerships from the third week of December, ahead of the national media launch in January, the Japanese-built mid-sized SUV will also join the Pajero and Pajero Sport in ditching manual gearboxes across the range.

This means the Eclipse Cross will be a 1.5-litre turbo-petrol and continuously variable transmission (CVT)-only proposition, with a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.

While pricing and specification details will not be announced until early December, the base 1.5 Turbo CVT 2WD is expected to kick off from under $30,000 plus on-road costs, placing the Mitsubishi squarely against equivalent mid-sized SUVs such as the Mazda CX-5 and Hyundai Tucson.

Speaking to GoAuto at the preview drive of the Eclipse Cross in Kakadu last week, Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited (MMAL) president and CEO, John Signoriello, said that a diesel was carefully considered but eventually rejected for Australia.

“We’re focusing on the petrol at launch due to the softening of diesel sales in small and medium SUVs,” he said. “The diesel SUV market is starting to taper off and it’s been doing this for a while.”

Whether this means that a plug-in hybrid version of the Eclipse Cross might be in the pipeline is unknown. While a PHEV was previewed at various motor shows in 2013 and again two years later as the XR-PHEV and XR-PHEV II concepts respectively, a MMAL spokesperson denied that such a vehicle was mooted for production.

“The PHEV plug-in hybrid will be solely offered on the Outlander,” he said. “We are awaiting details from Mitsubishi Motors Corporation on its mid-term plans around product development, which we will publicly announce on October 18.”

Based on an evolution of Mitsubishi’s long-lived GS platform that also underpins the Lancer, ASX and Outlander, the new mid-sizer squeezes in between the latter two SUVs size-wise, and shares their 2670mm wheelbase. Length, width and height measurements are 4405mm, 1805mm and 1685mm respectively. The latest CX-5’s equivalents are 4550mm, 1842mm and 1680mm, while the Mazda’s wheelbase is 28mm longer.

Like its SUV brethren, the newcomer’s steering is via an electrically activated rack and pinion set-up, with a MacPherson strut-style front and multi-link rear suspension system.

To accompany the completely fresh design inside and out is an all-new powertrain. Dubbed 4B40, the 1.5-litre direct-injection MIVEC variable-valve timing four-cylinder petrol engine delivers 120kW of power and 250Nm of torque, the latter coming in between 1800rpm and 4500rpm.

The European-market version has a 0-100km/h sprint time of 9.3 seconds in 2WD and 9.8s in AWD guise.

Weighing between 1490kg and 1550kg, the EU spec versions average between 6.7 and 7.0 litres per 100km, for a 154-159 grams per kilometre carbon dioxide emissions rating.

These are all based on European-market vehicle information. Australian-specific specifications will be released in early December.

So much for the facts. One more piece of data – a ground clearance of 183mm (EU spec) – was important for us to know on our all-too-brief preview of a pre-production Eclipse Cross in Kakadu, Northern Territory, in late September.

Set on a grassy, rock-infested airstrip near a crocodile-starring billabong about an hour south of Darwin, our one hour ‘drive’ consisted of several runs along the bumpy runway surface, then circling back on a private gravel road to the starting point. And repeat.

We had been driving the revised ASX, Outlander PHEV, Pajero and Pajero Sport over the preceding two days, to give us a taste of what these Mitsubishi SUVs can (or cannot) do over a 4WD track, which all managed with varying degrees of ease (the short overhangs of the ASX providing surprising clearance compared to most of its urban focused rivals, it must be said). Obviously the Pajeros walked it.

The point of that is that, although it is a prototype based on the same basic GS architecture as the ASX and Outlander, the Eclipse Cross feels like it’s a generation ahead of any of its siblings from a performance, dynamic response, interior presentation and noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) point of view, despite having the handicap of not being driven on bitumen at all. Something about registration issues.

Cabin first. Nissan Qashqai in size and aspect, the interior does feel a tad smaller than a CX-5’s, though only really in terms of width and cargo capacity (rated between 341 litres and 448L depending on where the sliding rear seat is set our car also had the optional full-sized 18-inch alloy spare, which resulted in a shallow and high floor area a space-saver spare is likely to be standard).

More impressive is the design and layout of the dash, which takes a giant leap forward for the brand. Stylish, integrated, functional and very contemporary, the influences in here are clear – Lexus and BMW. Our prototype was clearly a high series example, with a head-up display and a fiddly Lexus-like finger touchpad, but at last, a Mitsubishi dash that doesn’t look like it was created for rental-car use and abuse. Hallelujah!Back-seat space seems competitive, but a lack of face-level air vents is disappointing. As well as sliding, the rear bench reclines a few degrees, so most people ought to find a comfy position. We could and did.

Also noteworthy is the insulation from the ‘road’ (we’ll await final verdict when on bitumen) and powertrain – the latter vying with the interior as the Eclipse Cross’ biggest achievement for the diamond brand.

Yes, we were supposed to stay under 60km/h, but a hard squirt revealed torquey yet smooth responses, backed up by less CVT lag and flair than in any previous Mitsubishi. Hooking into a fast right-hander also showed how much more linear and communicative the handling is compared to the ASX we had just driven, while the suspension’s suppleness on such uneven surfaces also peaked our interest.

Again, all this experience served to do was whet our appetite for an actual on-road test. Bring it on.

What our hour doing laps on gravel and grass airstrips in 37-degree desert heat did demonstrate was that the Eclipse Cross appears to possess a greater-than-anticipated degree of strength, ability, agility, comfort, refinement and desirability for something based on the GS architecture. Far more polish than an ASX and Outlander. It’s a promising introduction.

Roll on January and we’ll know for sure.

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