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Does this striking, high-value entrant leave the compact crossover set in its shade?

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Mitsubishi Motors must feel like an entirely different company today than it did just six years ago. When the plug-in hybrid version of its Outlander SUV arrived in 2014, the vehicle almost doubled the firm’s UK sales volume in its first full calendar year on sale.

Although that car has had a less transformative effect on Mitsubishi’s business in a global sense, increasing success for other models – notably in Asian markets – has pushed the company’s worldwide sales through the million-unit threshold. And that growing success was no doubt one of Nissan’s key motivators when it took a controlling interest in Mitsubishi Motors Corporation in 2016, and subsequently made the firm the third partner in its manufacturing alliance with Renault one year later.

The split tailgate is said to reduce drag, and also gives the opportunity for a ‘full width light bar’ – although said bar doesn’t quite light up seamlessly across its full width

The protracted pace at which the car industry develops new products means we’ve yet to see any new Mitsubishi models to be wholly designed and engineered under the auspices of alliance ownership. It won’t happen for another couple of years yet, but that fact doesn’t make the subject of this week’s road test any less important for the people behind it. With the wind well and truly in its sails, Mitsubishi is entering the medium-sized crossover segment – home to the likes of the Seat Ateca, Nissan Qashqai, Toyota C-HR and Volkswagen T-Roc – and is standing up to be counted in one of the fastest-growing automotive model niches.

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Mitsubishi has long-standing four-wheel-drive brand equity to wield here and so, as you’d hope it might and unlike certain rivals you might compare it with, the Eclipse Cross will be available with four driven wheels, irrespective of engine type. But there’s more to this car than that. As you’re about to read, it is designed to be bolder-looking, better-handling, better-performing and more upmarket than any compact Mitsubishi yet made.

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Mitsibushi Eclipse Cross 2018 review on the road rear

Based on a platform modified and updated from that of the larger Outlander SUV, the Eclipse Cross is slightly longer and taller than both a Nissan Qashqai and a Seat Ateca. Its design takes cues from the XR PHEV II concept of 2015. That Geneva show car’s grille was even bigger, tailgate styling even more angular and surfacing even more dramatic than this production model’s.

Even so, the Eclipse Cross comes into the class as one of its more eye-catching constituents – particularly so for the presence of that wedge-shaped rear end – and might have made an even bigger splash were it not for the visual attitude added of late by the likes of the Volkswagen T-Roc and Toyota C-HR.

It’s worth trying a 4WD variant; it seemed to ride and handle with a little more composure than our test subject. I also like the hint of ‘Dakar escapee’ about the exterior design

The Eclipse Cross’s underbody is all steel and is braced between the front suspension turrets for a significant improvement on the Outlander’s torsional rigidity; something which, Mitsubishi claims, is also improved by structural adhesive bonding used around the car’s door and tailgate apertures and its rear wheel housings.

Suspension is by struts at the front and independent multi-links at the rear, with various tactics employed (damper check valves, rebound springs, slanted front strut spring pads and special bushings in the rear suspension) to take ride and handling sophistication a significant step beyond the Outlander’s dynamic standard. The car’s electromechanical power steering set-up is derived from that of the Outlander but has a more direct gear ratio and new motor components.

At launch, all cars will come with a new 1.5-litre direct-injection turbocharged petrol engine that is being blooded by the Eclipse Cross, goes by the codename ‘4B40’ and develops a peak 161bhp and a healthy 184lb ft between 1800 and 4500rpm. If you don’t want turbocharged petrol power, a 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel engine will be along at a later date.

The choice of transmissions is made up of a six-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels (as fitted to our test car); a stepped CVT, which can be partnered with the 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine and either front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive or an eight-speed torque converter automatic, which will be available only with the diesel engine and four-wheel drive.

Interestingly, Mitsubishi expects most Eclipse Cross customers in the UK to have a four-wheel-drive ‘automatic’ (either CVT or torque converter), which isn’t typical for the medium-sized crossover class but does say a lot about the added capability that Mitsubishi customers expect. And from this car in particular where 4x4 capability is concerned, they’ll get 183mm of ground clearance, 400mm of wading depth and an intelligent four-wheel-drive system that can shunt as much as 45% of torque to the rear wheels, and then juggle it side-to-side via brake-based torque vectoring.


Mitsibushi Eclipse Cross 2018 review cabin

Despite its rather radical-looking exterior, the Eclipse Cross’s cabin isn’t one to surprise or delight. Overall, the design language here errs on the side of conservatism, but the car’s interior is functional for the most part, with the majority of controls sensibly located.

Despite our test car coming in range-topping First Edition specification, material quality isn’t particularly distinguished. Plain plastic mouldings are abundant throughout, and although leather upholstery, contrast stitching and a panoramic sunroof (the latter being standard on upper-spec 4 and First Edition versions) go some way to lifting the ambient richness, they don’t lift it to anything like the level of a Toyota C-HR or a T-Roc. Nevertheless, next to its larger Outlander sibling, the Eclipse Cross definitely feels like a more polished product inside.

Why can’t Mitsubishi make a decent infotainment system? Even with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, the system in the Eclipse Cross is still well below par

The 7.0in touchscreen system (or ‘Smartphone Link Display Audio’, as Mitsubishi would have it) that sits atop the dashboard looks the part and fits in well with the styling of the interior around it, but to use it’s slow, graphically poor and fiddly to navigate.

There’s a new trackpad controller on the centre console aft of the gearstick, but it’s over-sensitive and unintuitive, and you’ll likely find you ignore it in favour of operating the functions via the touchscreen itself. Features are a bit sparse too. Even this top-spec First Edition model doesn’t get satellite navigation – a notable omission when you’re paying upwards of £26,825. Still, it does get Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard, which goes some way to making up for this. We’ll wager you’ll likely use these as the default operating systems when you’re on the move.

Interior space is a mixed bag. The driver and front passenger won’t have much to complain about, but those in the back seats will find head room to be particularly tight, at least partly a product of having that panoramic sunroof fitted. Even adults of average height will find they need to slouch in order to avoid having their heads brushing the roof-lining. Better news is that rear leg and knee room is abundant, even if the person sitting in the seat in front of you is particularly tall. The rear bench has a ‘slide and recline’ function to free up an additional 200mm of leg room.

Seats-up boot space comes in at 448 litres, which is better than some rivals claim, although the class-leading Seat Ateca trumps it by 62 litres. The shape of the Eclipse Cross’s boot opening is odd, in that it’s shaped a bit like an hourglass, but the floor sits quite high and there’s a useful cubby hidden beneath it.


Mitsibushi Eclipse Cross 2018 review engine

Even in a post-Dieselgate world, launching a crossover hatchback with petrol power only seems a courageous move. It’s a temporary situation for the Eclipse Cross, of course, but fuel efficiency ranks highly for people buying vehicles of this type. Although our test car’s touring economy of 45.5mpg is by no means an embarrassing figure, it falls a little short of what either a diesel rival or a hybrid such as Toyota’s Toyota C-HR (59.5mpg in like-for-like conditions) might return.

Happily, this 4B40 unit has much going for it elsewhere, with the usefully wide band of turbocharged torque stated on the car’s spec sheet being borne out on the road by the fact the Eclipse Cross never feels short of breath. On a cold day at Millbrook Proving Ground, our car struggled to get off the line in a hurry without excessive wheelspin, a characteristic indicative of a wider shortage of easy drivability when getting the car away from a standstill. Still, the car recorded a 0-62mph time of 9.0sec against the manufacturer’s claim of 10.3sec.

The sweeping right-handers of our Millbrook test track highlight the unpredictable movement of weight around the chassis

It’s a peppy powerplant, and while the last 500rpm climb to the 6000rpm redline is best left unexplored, there’s decent satisfaction to be had from holding on until that point. We’re bound to point out, though, that the ratios of the six-speed gearbox – swapped by a lever that feels slightly protracted of throw but adequately precise – are a touch long, so progress through this engine’s mid-range can at times feel needlessly lacklustre.

However, it’s this engine’s ability to fade into the background at a cruise that’s so fundamental to the appeal of this vehicle. In sixth gear at 70mph the crankshaft is turning at little over 2000rpm, and because they’re petrol-fed, the four cylinders generate a noise that is not only lower in volume than diesel rivals but softer in timbre too. Our microphone revealed the Eclipse Cross to be a couple of decibels quieter (the scale is logarithmic, remember, so this is a palpable improvement in refinement) than the 1.6-litre TDI Seat Ateca at motorway speeds, although it was a fraction less isolating than the C-HR.


Mitsibushi Eclipse Cross 2018 review cornering

For Mitsubishi – historically a purveyor of rally-winning hardware and cars designed for the harshest climes on the planet – the tables have turned somewhat with this car. In short, the Eclipse Cross can ride well enough but, in terms of handling, it falls quite a long way short of the standard set by the best crossover hatchbacks in the class.

Let’s start with the ride because, at a cruise, when the engine sounds so laudably distant and there’s a discreet waft to the nature of the suspension’s travel, the Eclipse Cross is decently cultured given its dimensions and what it costs. Poor road surfaces taken at lower speeds introduce no small amount of interference, however, and there’s little doubt that this car’s secondary ride is in need of further improvement if it is to match class leaders.

Tight downhill hairpins found the front tyres wanting - they commence battle with the traction control system early on

Perhaps a four-wheel-drive version of the car might have negotiated the severe cambers of this tortuous course with greater poise but, allowing for the car’s highly questionable body control, you’d say it’d be unlikely. Our wider test experience has revealed that four-wheel-drive versions of the car are less affected in this respect, but still demonstrate a slightly brittle quality to their damping. Going for smaller wheels than our test car’s 18in options would help too, though at the risk of the Eclipse Cross appearing distinctly under-wheeled.

The 1.5-litre turbocharged engine was at all times a willing accomplice, generating good forward momentum even on the steep climbs that show up many cars in this class as a touch stagnant. However, the excessive body roll gave tyres that are traction-limited at the best of times scant chance to excel, and so the chassis crashed heavily into its electronic safety net with dismaying regularity.

The car’s handling tribulations don’t reveal themselves immediately, and at everyday speeds there’s reasonable composure in the way this Mitsubishi negotiates corners. That said, attempt to drive with much in the way of briskness and you’re met with the perfect storm of unmanaged body roll and over-zealous electronic stability software. We suspect the ESP has been aggressively calibrated to disguise the fact that the front-driven Eclipse Cross has inherent traction issues. Exacerbating matters is the fact that beyond a certain fairly basic level of body control, the suspension plainly begins to lose control of the car’s mass, which in turn shifts the body this way and that through corners in a wholly unpredictable manner.

Obviously, this problem makes the Eclipse Cross disappointing as the value choice for keener drivers that its specification suggests it could be, but moreover it also makes the car’s driving experience more difficult, discouraging and, at times, frustrating than it ought to be.


Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross 2018 review on the road

Our fully loaded First Edition test car doesn’t make the Eclipse Cross’s value-for-money positioning as plain as it might have, but in mid-spec front-wheel-drive form this is certainly a well-priced car.

Getting 18in alloys, a head-up display, heated front seats, parking sensors all round, smartphone mirroring, DAB radio and a full suite of active safety systems as standard, the Eclipse Cross 3 is priced from £22,575 – a sum that’ll only buy you a 1.0-litre turbo Seat Ateca or a 1.2-litre turbo Renault Kadjar.

The Eclipse Cross is expected to do well in terms of depreciation, and in ‘3’ trim better rivals from Nissan and Toyota

The firm’s main dealer finance packages, meanwhile, make the car available through both hire purchase and PCP starting from under £200 a month. The Eclipse Cross’s pecuniary appeal is backed up by a perfectly sound expectation for residual value (our test car’s 51% CAP forecast over three years and 36,000 miles beats that of a like-for-like Nissan Qashqai and is neck-and-neck with a Skoda Karoq).

If you want an on-trend crossover hatchback and don’t want to pay too much for it, in other words, this Mitsubishi ought to be right up there on your shopping list.

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Mitsibushi Eclipse Cross 2018 review side profile

The Eclipse Cross hits some notable highs. It is very much its own car in terms of design. There’s also its petrol powertrain, which demonstrates a likeable blend of frugality and firepower. Useful improvements are to be found within the cabin – material quality, in particular, is better than we’re using to seeing from the brand.

Reasonable residuals and an aggressive pricing strategy mean that, for a certain sort of buyer – likely those valuing its capability as much as anything – four-wheel-drive variants of the Eclipse Cross will prove tempting. But for all its alternative appeal, in front-wheel-drive form it falls too far wide of the mark on handling and drivability to be considered a top contender.

The Eclipse Cross is punchy, bold-looking and capable, but dynamically unsophisticated

We don’t expect driver appeal from a car like this, but we certainly expect a car that’s as wieldy, composed and easy to place as any other compact family car. Allowing for the capability of the Eclipse Cross, some crossover buyers may be minded to forgive the car its dynamic foibles, but we suspect that’ll be a relatively unpopular indulgence.

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Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross First drives