JAPANESE manufacturer Mitsubishi knows the time of day when it comes to producing off-road vehicles – they’ve been at it since 1936 when a model called the PX33 set the wheels rolling.
But if the emphasis, and the public’s perception for that matter, has been more on practical, heavy duty workhorses, then things are about to change big time.
Enter the brand’s latest offering the Eclipse Cross, a vehicle oozing what its maker calls ‘sculptured dynamism’ and which heralds a new breed of SUV for the company.
It brings Mitsubishi’s line-up of SUVs to seven, sitting between the ASX and larger Outlander models in size, and will be followed in the spring by a new Shogun Sport variant.
Last year was a landmark one for Mitsubishi in that the company not only celebrated its centenary but it also became part of the powerful Renault-Nissan Alliance, now responsible for one in every 10 cars produced worldwide.
And the fact the there has been zero interference from their heavyweight partners in either the design or powertrain – the engines are produced entirely by Mitsubishi – is testament to the quality, vision and dynamics of the Eclipse Cross.
Featuring the trademark Dynamic Shield face, the newcomer takes the brand into the mid-size SUV arena for the first time and boasts a distinctive SUV/coupe style with lots of eye-catching brightwork, sharply flowing lines and LED lighting all round.
Much emphasis has been placed on making the interior of each trim grade upmarket and inviting, and to that end the piano black and carbon elements around the dash, steering wheel and door panels, add a lustre to the cabin.
The layout is also logical and uses an imaginary line across the cabin – everything above it is information and everything below the axis concerns operation.
Passenger space is ample all-round and the boot can cope with three golf backs, even with the rear seats slid fully back
And those going for either the top spec Eclipse Cross 4 trim grade or the First Edition model that’s limited to 250 vehicles get soft leather seating and upholstery that’s up there with the best.
As Mitsubishi doesn’t do basic these days the range starts at Eclipse Cross 2 costing from £21,275 for a six-speed manual front wheel drive model and featuring the 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine used throughout the line-up.
It tops out at £29,750 for a First Edition 4WD variant with a new CVT automatic gearbox that includes a Sport Mode controlled via steering wheel paddle shifters.
Every version is well kitted out though and Mitsubishi has identified ‘cool technologies’ as a key aspect of the sales strategy.
Among the goodies are a new Smartphone Link Display Audio set-up using a seven-inch touchscreen and which supports Apple CarPlay, Android Auto plus Google Maps and Google Play.
There’s also a head-up display from ‘3’ grade upwards, an around vehicle monitor with bird-view image, cruise control and safety gear like forward collision mitigation, lane departure warning, blind spot alert and adaptive cruise control.
The First Edition models, which come in a striking and exclusive Red Diamond Metallic paint finish, also get a powered panoramic roof and a Rockford Fosgate 9 sound system – which includes a speaker the side of a dinner plate stuck on the boot wall.
It was the First Edition automatic that we drove for the lion’s share of a launch exercise centred around the Peak District National Park with its dramatic moorland, steep valleys and gridstone ridges.
The 1.5-litre petrol unit produces 163bhp and is adequate for the size of vehicle, giving the Eclipse Cross plenty of punch – unless you press the ECO button which instantly makes the Mitsubishi feel weighed down.
Nonetheless the car is nimble for an SUV, has light steering, feels well damped and is certainly a match for rivals that include the likes of the Kia Sportage, Nissan Qashqai, Peugeot 3008 and SEAT Ateca.
Fuel economy could be better though – our return from the automatic averaging 30.5 miles per gallon with an extra 3mpg from the 2WD manual, as compared to Mitsubishi’s official figures of 40.4 and 42.8.