SINCE 2017, the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross has suffered from an identity crisis. Using a recycled name, and living in the shadow of the slightly smaller, more popular ASX, it was the compact SUV lost in the woods.
Back with some adjustments, the 2021 Eclipse Cross Exceed seems to be finding its feet, rather than trying to fill the shoes of the ASX (which it was once poised to replace).
The new Eclipse Cross presents as a more mature car, best described as a small-medium SUV. With speculation the ASX will not only continue production but also shrink in size, it’s likely a growth spurt was the only option for it to find a spot in the busy SUV market.
The first giveaway of the Eclipse Cross growing up is the price. Our top-trim Exceed AWD test vehicle is priced at $44,340 drive away, nearly an $8000 jump on the now sold-out 2021 ASX Exceed. This pricing is also smack bang in the middle of mid-size SUV territory.
Next is the size increase of the body itself. Staying on the enduring GS platform, the new Eclipse Cross is lengthened over the same 2760mm wheelbase as the ASX (and Outlander). The rear of the car overhangs a further 140mm than the outgoing car it replaced too.
On top of the 110mm it already had on the ASX, it’s now quite a bit larger. But the maturation of the Eclipse Cross Exceed comes less from the dimensions and more from its facelift.
Mitsubishi have been extremely level headed when performing this procedure. At the front is a nip and tuck, not for the sake of youthfulness, but for sophistication.
Sporting a lot less chrome than the 2020 model, and new fog light housings to tighten up the lower half of the nose, the new face looks sharp. The Exceed variant gets additional elegance – the headlights are LED, and the little bumper skid plates are colour coded.
End long bodywork styling has stayed relatively untouched, but the new 18-inch alloys take on a sportier but also understated design. Again, the Exceed gets colour coded side skirts instead of dreary black plastic.
On top of that, the Exceed has a dual sunroof, which as well as being a fun novelty, created a welcome two-tone to break up to the White Diamond colour of our test vehicle.
As if trying to forget about an embarrassing teenage haircut, all evidence of the rebellious but frankly hideous split back windscreen arrangement on the old Eclipse Cross has been destroyed.
Instead, the back end has adopted a more classic SUV design. The straightforward tailgate is modernised by the spiked taillights. But despite efforts to refine and mature the exterior, the interior still has some growing up to do.
The overbite of the central dash, cramped layout, and seats that crimp your lats all feel hatchbacky in a space which could have easily been more accommodating.
The glossy plastic mixed with imitation carbon fibre and 2009-style orange button illumination aren’t really fair given the Exceed’s price tag.
Nonetheless, all the staples are there. There’s an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment display, sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, 360-degree monitor with reverse camera, USB outlets and an attractive digital instrument cluster.
The ‘Power’ sound system is fantastic, providing you remove all the oomph – and turn bass and treble all the way down. And yet, rewards for choosing the Exceed model aren’t overly generous.
Most obvious is the head-up display perched above the cluster; more party trick than practical. A few nice comfort additions include leather trimming, and a heated steering wheel, and it’s a family affair in the back, with a fold down arm rest with cup holders.
There’s child proof rear door locks, two ISO-FIX child seat anchor points, and three top tether child restraint points. Functional yields from the 140mm body extension are apparent in the back, with more leg room and a bigger boot – 405-litres in total.
The extravagance-free interior does make more sense the longer you drive this car. It’s about essentials and about driving where you want to go, not obsessing over features.
Once you’re underway, there’s a refreshing feeling of being left to your devices rather than being nannied about how you should drive or entertain yourself. Free to focus on your long weekend zip up the coast, you’ll discover good things about how the Exceed actually goes.
Mitsubishi’s turbocharged 1.5-litre 4-cylinder engine is a wise pairing to the Eclipse Cross Exceed. Being a longer vehicle and AWD, you jump to conclusions thinking it’ll need a 2.0-litre and a bit more than 110kW.
In reality, there is sufficient perk for all the situations an Eclipse Cross will likely find itself in, and a fairly solid 250Nm of torque means the car still digs in even if you brim the 504kg payload.
The ‘punchy’ sensation Mitsubishi claim doesn’t exist from a standing start is still there, between roughly 1200-4000rpm, but from 60km/h up to 90km/h there’s a cheerful squirt that’s enough to hit a gap or whizz you off an on-ramp.
If you don’t get too trigger-happy, you’ll achieve an acceptable 7.7-litres/100km. Mitsubishi have stuck with an 8-speed continuously variable transmission for the new Eclipse Cross range too, and it provides reasonable performance as far as CVT’s go.
Although it seems to trip over itself at the initial press of the throttle, it’s undoubtedly smoother than a regular automatic once you get going. Above any satisfaction derived from the engine though, is that which can be gained from the steering.
Again, you mistakenly expect it to be gluggy, and end up causing yourself some oversteer. But for a car of its type, the steering is light and precise. Realise and accept the responsiveness, and you’ll have a pretty fun drive, and an extraordinarily easy one too.
Crucial handling work is done by the AWD system. Mitsubishi’s S-AWD is constantly fiddling with the ABS, AYC and stability control according to road conditions, and provides superb traction.
More specific tweaking can be arranged by selecting either snow or gravel drive modes. A reliable front suspension setup and a strut brace keep the nose rigid and easy to aim.
Riding on Toyo Proxes R44 225/55 tyres, grip in wet conditions was impressive in our test vehicle. You can pretty much fling through a roundabout the same as you would in the dry. We did however notice excessive levels of road noise wearing this particular set of shoes.
If grip isn’t a sufficient measure of safety, rest assured a 5-star ANCAP rating has been retained. MiTEC safety package features include forward collision mitigation (with pedestrian detection), emergency brake assist, and rear-cross traffic alert.
There’s also lane departure and blind spot warning, and front and side, curtain and driver knee airbags.
Evidently the Eclipse Cross Exceed hasn’t lost what was good before either. And now, it’s dropped many of the traits that were dragging it down, received a makeover, and got a bigger bum. It’s a more settled, rounded, assured version of itself.
While it does lack character, and an interior fit for the price, it’s safe, unbelievably easy to drive, and versatile enough to avoid being reduced to a boring compact SUV city whip. The Exceed is a serious choice for a nifty little weekender SUV.
You can build and price a new Eclipse Cross Exceed AWD on the Mitsubishi Australia website, but it’s also worth shopping around to see if you can get a better offer. Alternatively, you can take a look at a platform like PriceMyCar to get the best deal.
Our test vehicle was provided by Mitsubishi Australia. To find out more about the 2021 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross Exceed AWD, contact your local Mitsubishi dealer.