Tag: Compact SUV

Is bigger better? The new Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

Automotive brands are no strangers to pulling at the heartstrings of buyers. One such method is to revive a revered nameplate as a more commercially viable vehicle. The Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross does exactly this. While it may have been reincarnated as a coupe SUV in 2017 to entice younger buyers who were familiar with the Eclipse of the 90’s, three years on and it has already received a facelift. The extra length and updated looks are intended to make it a more approachable option for buyers with an itch to explore. We spent a few days with it in the Lowveld to find out if the updates have allowed it to grow into what it was intended to be. 

Most of the buying demographic of a compact SUV like the Eclipse Cross are young, adventure-orientated individuals that prioritize versatility when shopping for a car. Options which do away with low profile tyres and focus more on ground clearance plays into the hand of automakers with a broad portfolio of SUVs. It is no secret that affordable sports cars and coupes are a dying breed with SUVs being at the forefront of the culling, so combining traits of both into one should be the solution to appease those who want both, right?

The Eclipse Cross could be categorized simply as a Compact Crossover SUV but Mitsubishi insist that their derivative is a coupe SUV, which is claimed to combine the best of both worlds. The intention is to morph an athletic and sporty aesthetic into a practical and usable vehicle that is not restricted by any road surface it may encounter.

The aesthetics are intended to be sporty, so both the front and rear have been significantly redesigned to encompass this methodology. The rear-end is the most significant change, it has gone under the scalpel and comes out 140mm longer than before. This not only affords bonus boot capacity but the rake of the reshaped bootlid creates a much sleeker looking design from the side profile which alludes to its supposed coupe DNA.

The Pontiak Aztek inspired split rear-screen has also been ditched for a minimal and neat LED rear tailight design that runs vertically adjacent to the rear screen. While it may not be something that Walter White would spend his money on, it does create a pleasant looking rear end that has greatly improved on its predecessor.

At first glance, the front end may seem similar from before but it has undergone a few aesthetic changes which create a much more cohesive and futuristic appeal. The imperative was to fully embrace Mitsubishi’s dynamic shield concept which is their internal design language that is intended to express powerful and dynamic design.

The split headlight configuration that is becoming more common on newer cars has been well executed on the Eclipse Cross while chrome accents frame the large plastic grille which feed into the sleek DRL’s. 

While it will always remain subjective, this is one of the more attractive offerings in comparison to its competition. The angular dynamic shield inspired front end from Mitsubishi, which is becoming a more prominent feature on their new offerings, also distinguishes the Eclipse Cross from the general monotony of the segment.

In terms of driving appeal, an SUV will always struggle to recreate the dynamics of a coupe or sportscar. While it is internally categorized by Mitsubishi as a coupe SUV, it simply lacks any true sportiness to set the world on fire. Marketing strategy and classification aside, it drives and corners very well for an SUV of its size despite its height and ground clearance of 180mm.

The front wheels are powered by one of two options, one of them being the latest turbocharged powerplant on offer by Mitsubishi; the MIVEC 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine which delivers peak performance of 110kW with 250Nm. Alternatively, the less desirable but slightly cheaper 2.0L GLS CVT 4×2 naturally aspirated derivative is equipped with 110kW of power and 198Nm of peak torque. In the solitary driving mode, both are claimed to achieve just below 8.0l/100km but our turbocharged derivative averaged 9.1/100km in extra-urban conditions while stretching its legs on the open road achieved a lower average of 7.2l/100km.

Our test car was equipped with the 1.5-litre drivetrain which is more than sufficient and undoubtedly the option you would want to drive. The power is readily available in all driving conditions and occasional but mild torque steer from full throttle pull aways can result in some unwarranted tyre shriek.

It comfortably managed with low speed, sedate urban commutes as well as comfortable open road cruising and this is credit to its transmission. As far as CVT’s go, the 8-step variation in the Eclipse Cross is the best one I have experienced so far. It is comfortable, refined and well suited to the turbocharged motor which is relaxingly quiet throughout most of the rev range. 

The chassis and suspension is more suited to the SUV side of things than anything coupe or sports car-like and that is ok since the rest of the experience inspires as much tranquility as the drivetrain does. Traversing on a multitude of surfaces including highways, rough countryside tarmac and even dirt trails exceeded comfort expectations.

The suspension confidently soaks up rough surfaces and potholed roads with very little disturbance to the cabin. Roadway noise is generally unnoticeable until speeds of 100kmh are exceeded, which even then remains ambient. 

Speaking of the cabin, it is a well laid out and comfortable place to be in – particularly from the driver’s seat. There is ample spaciousness in both rows with the driver and passenger receiving fully electric seat adjustment. The second row has angle adjustment only while isofix anchorage is concealed within the crevices of the seats. With these seats in their most upright position, the boot has a capacity of 437l while folding the 60/40 seats down allows for an impressive 1074l of cargo space. This is all without compromising on the spare wheel size but it does present a high loading lip and boot floor which is awkwardly shaped. While most new cars include many unnecessary gimmicks that add to the weight figure and price tag, the Eclipse Cross is a car that would have been well suited with an electrically operated tailgate since the redesign and sweeping profile make it heavy and difficult to interact with.

Other updates to the interior include a new 8” infotainment screen which has most of the functionality that you would expect in a new car. The overall user experience is let down by bootup latency and laggy operation but screen mirroring via USB cable is its saving grace. Once your music device is connected, the audio is projected through an impressive 8 speaker sound system which has enough bass to get the rear view mirror vibrating at full blast. The screen also projects a mediocre resolution reverse camera while park distance control is displayed on the drivers dials.

Other creature comforts for the front row include dual zone climate control with heated seats while a retractable Mitsubishi Motors Intuitive Technology (MiTEC) HUD is positioned just above the dashboard.

There are some gripes that the interior instills such as the hard to reach trip-meter buttons and a clumsy to interact with phone slot in front of the gear shifter but the worst offender of them all is the excessive use of piano black plastic and faux brushed aluminium which after a few thousand kilometers has already been tattered to the point where the car looks a decade old. That being said, there is still a premium feel within the interior, with soft touch points in every direction and a plush look dashboard.

While cheap, bottom of the barrel SUVs will continue to dominate sales charts, the more premium, value for money derivatives like the Eclipse Cross offer a more unique and high quality option that come loaded with standard features. The range starts at R459 995 for the 2.0L GLS while our top of the range test car, the 1.5L GLS comes in just shy of half a million at R499 995. Both models include 3-year/100 000km manufacturer warranty with a 5-year/90 000km service plan.

In comparison to some of its chief competitors which includes the likes of the Mazda CX-30 or Kia Seltos, the Eclipse Cross may be slightly down on tech but provides a superb ride with a high quality interior and an equally unique option in the generally monotonous looking market.

Is the Volkswagen T-Cross a better version of the Polo?

We got to spend a few days with Volkswagen’s popular small SUV – using it to run our errands and see how it stacks up to its smaller sibling – the Polo.

The local automotive market has mostly recovered from the dismal sales caused by Covid-19 disruptions in 2020. New car sales numbers are more or less where they used to be and the popular automakers namely Toyota, Ford and Volkswagen are back to duelling for the top spot in the passenger vehicle segment. While the top two titles are always occupied by South Africa’s preferred vehicle of choice; the bakkie, the third and fourth spot are taken up by Volkswagens Polo Vivo and Polo models which sell in droves. 

These cars are successful for a variety of reasons but chiefly because they are compact, affordable, have an abundance of spare parts and are from a well loved automotive brand locally. Volkswagen have transferred all of this ideology into the T-Cross and while it is not a brand new vehicle to enter their lineup, it is their best-selling SUV according to the June 2021 sales report with 465 units being sold. Which is about a third of the total number for the Polo. 

The popular compact crossover SUV from the German brand can be had in three different levels of trim starting at R352 300 for the basic Comfortline and ranging all the way up to the R-Line priced from R464 900. Our test car was a base Comfortline with the R-Line package. This expectedly costs a little bit more but comes better equipped with features such as a reverse parking camera, roof rails, park distance sensors and an 8” integrated infotainment screen. 

In some respects, you do get a very familiar looking car to the Polo, on both the inside and the outside. This makes sense since both models share the same platform and engines making the T-Cross a pumped up version of the Polo. While it shares some styling similarities to its bigger SUV siblings in Volkswagen’s lineup, the side profile, window-line and shoulder-line are almost identical to the Polo, albeit slightly stretched out on a vertical axis with a bit more rugged plastic.

Overall, its aesthetics consist of a well-proportioned design and restrained styling meaning it’s unlikely to snap pedestrians necks as you drive by, especially in Limestone Grey Metallic. Its purpose is far more focused on function by being a proponent of a more adventure-capable lifestyle.

At 180mm of ground clearance, 12mm more than the Polo, it can easily navigate onto pavements and tackle uneven off-road surfaces. The plush suspension is one of its most notable features as it can traverse speed bumps and loose gravel roads effortlessly. Since it is still only a front-wheel driven powertrain, we can’t advise taking this on a hardcore off-roading course but it wouldn’t look out of place on a dirt road or gravel track. 

Like the Polo, the T-Cross Comfortline is powered by a 70kW 1.0 TSI motor mated to a 5-speed manual transmission. The pokey 3 cylinder puts out an impressive 175Nm of torque that can often inspire a momentary spin of the front wheels before the traction control gets them back in line. As impressive as this torque figure is coupled to the 1154 kilogram body, the turbo only comes into boost above 2000rpm making stationery pull aways on inclines or fully laden stop-start journeys stall-inducing. In these scenarios, efforts to mitigate this can result in the front wheels screeching and very bemused looking pedestrians or passengers.

Despite this, after the turbo has come alive the torque delivery is smooth and linear all the way up to its redline – very impressive for a 1.0 litre motor! We achieved around 7.5l/100km during our time with the car which isn’t the most frugal but tranquil driving is stated to reward just below 5.0l/100km. 

The 5-speed manual gearbox on our test car was easy to use and comfortable in sedate urban driving scenarios. Where it fell short was on the highway where an additional 6th gear would have been ideal in lowering engine rpm and subsequently improving efficiency and engine noise. That being said, if you are looking for a nippy Volkswagen SUV runabout that is going to be predominantly doing open road/highway journeys then the full T-Cross range can also be specced with a 7 speed DSG which would be the better bet overall. 

The interior provides great forward visibility with a large expanse of glass around the drivers periphery. The front position seems much higher than a Polo yet the fully adjustable steering column and seat provide a platform to get completely comfortable in. The overall head, elbow and legroom in all seats is commendable while the rear door-wells are not awkwardly shaped to get in and out of either, making it more practical than the Polo. It scores well in the comfort and spaciousness department but does unfortunately fall short with interior fit and finish. 

There are a few cheap materials and crude plastic textures, more so than its hatchback sibling. Fortunately, the steering wheel and the main tactile points are soft and comfortable to use. It also comes with an integrated 8” infotainment screen which at times can be a bit sluggish with a reverse camera that isn’t the highest resolution.

If you prefer screen mirroring to the standard display then the T-Cross has you covered with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay accessible via one of two USB-C slots. Easily accessible Isofix anchorage is found on all passenger seats, including the one up front which should appeal to young parents. 

The T-Cross also trumps the Polo in terms of boot capacity with an impressive 385 litres as opposed to equally impressive, but inferior, 351 litres of the latter. The compact crossover SUV from Volkswagen emerges as the victor in most categories except for pricing where the Polo comes out on top starting from R293 800 for the base spec Trendline.

For comparative sake, other competing models in the segment such as the beautifully finished Peugeot 2008 comes in at R364 000 while more affordable options can be had with the seasoned Ford EcoSport at R303 900 or the new Hyundai Venue at R311 000. Included in the R352 300 base price of the T-Cross is a 3-year/120 000 km warranty and 3-year/45 000 km service plan.

The subcompact crossover SUV market is a hotly contested piece of real estate with new entrants from different automakers entering the market almost monthly. Volkswagen fortunately have a customer base that is steadfast in their loyalty and thus the T-Cross can be expected to remain their best selling vehicle in the lineup behind the two Polo models. Like the ageing Ford EcoSport, we can expect this shape to remain in circulation for many years to come but for the price, the Peugeot 2008 in this segment would be a strong alternative with its more refined and pleasant interior design.

Adding to Renault’s arsenal of SUVs – the new Kiger

Renault South Africa is looking at increasing their range of SUVs with the new Kiger. This recently unveiled addition will complete Renault’s offering, joining the ranks with the likes of the Kwid, Duster and Triber. Although the Kiger is intended for the Indian market, we should see it arrive on our shores as early as Q3 of this year.

So what does the new Indian designed and produced B-SUV have to offer? For one, it has an almost identical, familiar face to the unique looking Kwid, making use of a divide in the front lighting setup, with the LED DRL’s in their own compartment above the pure vision LED headlamps. The symbolic Renault logo remains a large, bold statement intersecting the grille and the bonnet line. Rugged black plastic trim lines the bottom extremities of the car and it boasts 205 mm ground clearance. Which should give it fair capabilities over uneven terrain. An angular rear wing is seamlessly integrated above the rear windscreen while C -shaped LED tail lamps create a friendly looking aesthetic superimposed onto the available 6 base colour coats with dual tone customisability as well. 

A sensibly laid out interior surrounds the driver with creature comforts including a configurable 7” TFT driver display cluster and an 8” touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. Boot space on this sub-4-meter car is impressive at a claimed 405 litres capacity, while optional extras can include a front parking sensor, rear parking camera and a wireless charging bay.

Powering the Kiger is either a 1.0 liter three cylinder turbo-petrol engine with ratings at 74 kW and 160 Nm or a more affordable 53 kW, 96 Nm naturally aspirated (N/A) 1,0-litre petrol engine variation. The turbo is available in either a five-speed manual gearbox or a CVT while the N/A motor is paired to a five-speed manual or a five-speed automated manual transmission. 

The local market is yet to receive an official spec list and price sheet and while it is on sale in India, the country of its origin, for between 545 000 and 972 000 Rupee’s (R109 000 and R195 000 respectively), South Africa can be expected to pay a fair amount more. It should be locally priced to compete with Suzuki Vitara Brezza, Hyundai Venue and the Nissan Magnite, which it shares many similarities with.