Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Eclipse Cross - PHEV
Seamless electric propulsion, easy to drive, tall seating position, flexibility
Room for improvement
Slightly jiggly ride, wooden steering, efficiency drops the longer the petrol engine runs
Mitsubishi’s second stab at an electrified SUV is the right car at the right time
27 Sep 2021
By TONY O'KANE
MITSUBISHI Australia has the enviable position of ‘first mover status’ in terms of the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) SUV space in this country, and were it not for something called the Holden Volt, the Three-Diamond brand would have been the first to sell a PHEV in Australia, period.
But while the company’s first plug-in, the 2013 Outlander PHEV, would go on to only account for roughly two per cent of all Outlander sales, Mitsubishi’s second effort at a mass-market PHEV promises to make a bigger splash.
With a price of entry $1500 below the Outlander PHEV but with close to a $13K premium over the petrol Eclipse Cross and the cheapest PHEV being $5700 more than the most expensive combustion-only model, Mitsubishi prefers to see electrified variants existing at a level above the regular Eclipse Cross family. Even so, it’s by no means cheap.
However, while the Outlander PHEV had the electrified SUV market pretty much all to itself for much of the last eight years, the Eclipse Cross PHEV must do battle with rivals like the Kia Niro, MG HS and more conventional hybrids like the extraordinarily popular Toyota RAV4 hybrid.
Is the Eclipse Cross recipe right enough to see off such stiff competition?
Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV was arguably ahead of its time, but the new Eclipse Cross PHEV arrives poised to take advantage of a profound buyer shift towards hybrids in general, an increased awareness among drivers of their environmental impact, and the willingness to do something about it.
The spec lists of ES, Aspire and Exceed PHEVs align very closely with those of the petrol-engined Eclipse Cross range, with the main differentiators being the powertrain and their associated electronics.
For the PHEV, the regular Eclipse’s 1.5-litre turbo petrol inline four and CVT auto get turfed in favour of a 60kW front and 70kW rear electric motor, which are fed power by a 13.8kWh lithium-ion battery or a 2.4-litre Atkinson-cycle generator.
Able to be charged via a regular household power socket (which takes 6.5 hours from empty), public charger (3.5 hours) or a DC fast charger (25 minutes to 80 per cent charge), that battery supplies enough energy for 55km of emissions-free driving – according to Mitsubishi.
The intent is for owners to make the most of the battery storage during their day-to-day driving, leaving the petrol engine alone until longer trips necessitate a greater range – a compromise between a ‘regular’ parallel hybrid like a Toyota Prius and a fully electric car like a Nissan Leaf, but a compromise that is expected to resonate better with Australian buyers given the scale of our country and relative scarcity of charging infrastructure.
With so much of the equipment fit-out being nearly identical to the non-electrified Eclipse Cross range, which is already a known quantity, we’re going to focus primarily on what the PHEV is like to drive.
After all, with the plug-in hybrid hardware being almost entirely responsible for the PHEV’s considerable premium over its conventionally-powered stablemates, the question of whether it represents value for money is largely going to come down to two things – is the driving experience improved, and does it actually bring big savings in running costs?
The first question is easy to answer: yes, the PHEV is miles ahead of the standard 1.5-litre turbo Eclipse Cross as far as “the drive”. Unlike the slightly laggy combination of the conventional petrol engine and its CVT transmission, the dual electric drive motors of the Eclipse Cross PHEV respond immediately and strongly to requests for acceleration, and it smoothly and quietly whisks itself to highway speed with no complaint.
And with a full battery, most drivers will probably rarely find reason to wake up the 2.4-litre Atkinson-cycle petrol engine. With average daily commute distances in Australia being somewhere between 30-40km, the Eclipse Cross PHEV’s 55km battery-only range seems more than sufficient.
It should be noted however that when we picked up our fully-charged tester, it gave an estimated battery range of just 43km – 12km shy of what Mitsubishi claim, a margin that likely wouldn’t be closed up even if you deactivated the climate control and engaged other hypermiling tricks. Even so, that’s still enough to get a day’s driving done without burning any hydrocarbons.
Left to its own devices in Normal mode, the Eclipse Cross PHEV preferences battery-only power in almost all circumstances, even cruising at highway speed. It’s only when the battery voltage runs low or you give the accelerator a swift push that the petrol engine fires up, but when it does so it only emits a distant and well-muffled thrum. If you’ve got the radio turned up, you’ll probably not notice that the engine is running at all.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t like most hybrids on the market. While Toyota hybrids are reticent to operate in their electric-only mode, the Eclipse Cross PHEV is the opposite. Provided the battery pack is more than 25 per cent charged the default method of propulsion is electric, and if you press the ‘EV’ button near the space-age gear selector it’ll resolutely stay in electric mode unless you push the pedal beyond its kickdown switch, or the battery runs out.
Technically speaking, the ONLY method of propulsion is electric. While the engine can be mechanically linked to the front wheels under certain conditions (speed above 70km/h; power demands in excess of what the motors alone can provide), it’s the dual electric motors – one up front, one at the rear – that do the bulk of the work.
If you feel like getting clever, there’s a variety of drive modes to choose from as well as four battery management strategies (pure EV, hybrid, battery save and battery charge).
The drive modes aren’t really worth playing with – how often will the average suburbanite select ‘gravel’ mode, we wonder – and the ‘Tarmac’ mode that preferences performance is largely unnecessary in an eco-focused grocery-getting SUV.
However, using the battery management options can help you eke out a bit more mileage – or even charge up the battery without visiting a power point. ‘Battery Save’ maintains the battery level until you deactivate it, with the petrol generator starting whenever more volts are needed to return the battery to its set level.
‘Battery Charge’ has the generator running almost constantly, which according to Mitsubishi can charge up the battery from depleted to 80 per cent after 40 minutes of running.
Using the charge mode does come at a fuel consumption penalty though, especially during highway driving where the combined load of maintaining a high speed AND putting charge into the 13.8kW battery sees instant fuel consumption hover around the 10.0L/100km mark. Most conventionally powered SUVs would consume several litres per 100km less than that.
But it’s nevertheless a useful feature if you’re anticipating some stop-start traffic jams. Get the battery charged up ahead of time so that you can endure the traffic in EV mode, where going electron-only makes the greatest sense.
The same applies to the battery save mode, which uses less fuel than the charge mode yet preserves battery capacity for when you can truly make the most of it. It’s flexible, and it gives drivers options that simply don’t exist in pure EVs or regular hybrids.
Happily, none of this impacts on the general liveability of the Eclipse Cross PHEV. The air-conditioning and heating runs independently of the petrol engine, the interior is almost exactly the same (barring that gear selector and a boot floor that’s slightly higher) and it’s spacious, comfortable and fairly well equipped in mid-spec Aspire form – though the absence of built-in satnav on a $49k car stings a little, as does the lack of air vents or USB ports for the back seat.
But after a few hours in the (electrically adjusted) front seat, we had no big complaints from a driver’s point of view. Support for both your back and under your legs is quite good, and the Eclipse Cross gives quite a commanding view of the road ahead for what is ostensibly a ‘small’ SUV.
The ergonomics are good, and the provision of physical buttons for audio volume and ventilation controls makes it easy to navigate the dash by feel.
Big bumps are handled well, but the Eclipse Cross is still quite sensitive to smaller road surface imperfections. It’s far from a deal-breaker, but considering SUVs are favoured for their perceived ride comfort, the slightly jiggly nature and ‘head toss’ of the Eclipse Cross’ suspension is a demerit nevertheless.
That might be down to the fact that the PHEV carries a lot more mass than its non-hybrid siblings – around 400kg more than 2WD variants, and roughly 300kg more than AWD variants. Try to hustle it around a corner, and the combo of a 1.9-tonne kerb weight and low rolling resistance Bridgestone Ecopias gets in the way of good handling.
Another thing that’s unusually heavy is the steering. At higher speeds the steering effort required to make subtle corrections to your line is a little higher than ideal. On the plus side, it certainly feels stable at triple-digit speeds.
But back to the remaining question about the value equation: is the PHEV option going to justify its expense by putting money back in your pocket? Our first drive only lasted a day, but after a little over 100km of highway and urban driving – and about 30km of congested inner-city stop-start – the Eclipse Cross PHEV had burned an average of 3.5L/100km, with the engine only running for 23 per cent of the time.
That means the car drove in EV mode for 83km, despite the battery only capable of containing a maximum of 55km worth of electricity. That’s the power of regenerative braking.
So, a handful of dollars in petrol per hundred kilometres. Not bad, but not too dissimilar to a Prius’ claimed economy.
It also consumed an average of 17.7kWh of electricity but given that figure is mixed in with regenerated energy and power that was generated by the petrol engine, a more accurate way of estimating electricity costs would be to just tally it at 13.8kWh – the total capacity of the battery, which was fully depleted during our drive.
Considering Australian energy costs average around 25c/kWh, that’s around $3.45. That puts it just a few dollars ahead of a petrol Eclipse Cross AWD (which consumes 7.7L/100km on average) at today’s fuel prices, but you should note that our consumption numbers came from a test drive that took the PHEV well outside of how most owners are expected to use them.
Australians live around 17km from their place of work, on average, and assuming their commute is mostly a direct route from home base to workplace, the Eclipse Cross PHEV should get them there and back without using a drop of petrol. If you fall within those paramaters, then the PHEV is something that could save you significant money on your daily drive.
And on top of that, you have the flexibility to venture further afield whenever you want. Leaning on the petrol engine isn’t what the PHEV is all about – and it’s objectively fairly inefficient when you do – but it certainly is a nice thing to have when electrons just aren’t enough to get you where you need to go.
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