GOOD-looking vehicles are usually somewhat costlier than the also-rans, but Mitsubishi’s Eclipse Cross PHEV is not only one of the visual stunners of small SUV country — but also one of the most affordable of its kind.
“Pee aitch ee vee”, say it out loud, because it’s going to become a much-used phrase in motoring until fully electric vehicles finally take over — which, depending on government reaction, might not be in my lifetime.
The letters stand for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle and it’s the latest of the many variants in the Eclipse range.
There are badges so you can tell them apart, but the main thing is that unlike any of the others, the PHEV lets you zip about cleanly and silently until you just about run out of electricity, then seamlessly lets you continue on your way powered by the well-proven 2.4-litre petrol engine — which simultaneously lets you regenerate some electric juice back into the battery.
What’s it cost?
Size-wise, Eclipse Cross sits between the ASX and the Outlander, and the range starts at $31,490 for the 1.5 litre petrol 2WD ES, then goes up a few grand for the LS, then for a bit more, you get all-wheel drive versions — six of them in all — before you get to a trio of PHEVs which have the non-turbo 2.4 motor and a Li-ion 13.8kWh battery.
The PHEV ES version starts at $46,490, followed by the higher spec Aspire at $49,990 and then the $53,990 Exceed.
Ours was the mid-range Aspire, which came with a long list of standard gear, such as LED headlights, a vast active safety package, power-adjustable driver’s seat, suede leather seat trim, an eight-speaker audio system and attractive 18-inch alloys.
The safety pack comprised adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, surround-view cameras, autonomous emergency braking and lane-departure warning and lane-changing assist.
But there’s no heads-up speed display.
You have to glance at the analog speedo to check your velocity.
I thought that a nice ‘back to the future’ touch.
Nor is there satellite navigation. You need to link your smartphone if you need that.
Other items that might appeal include the 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen which is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, there’s dual-zone climate control and a reversing camera — which on our test car showed a dull picture.
I’m sure there was a glitch in it, since previous Eclipses I’d driven had excellent cameras – and Mitsubishi owns Nikon.
What’s it go like?
The interior is neat and functional, with supportive high seating that make getting in and out easy, fit and finish are fine and there’s good comfort and adequate space for up to five.
Visibility is very good and anyone who can drive a regular car will have no problem slotting into this PHEV.
The dash has some unusual dials: there’s the speedo but the other main one has a very active needle that shows a variety of data relating to the state and source of charge.
There’s also a display on the touchscreen that shows what’s happening between the engine and the battery.
Because of the battery, the boot is a bit smaller than the petrol models by nearly 100 litres. Still, 359 litres is pretty spacious, and the rear seats can be folded to liberate more room.
Now, when did you last have to change a wheel?
It’s a rare occasion these days, but if you do have the misfortune of blowing a tyre, don’t go looking for a spare wheel in the Eclipse PHEV. There isn’t one.
However, the reasons for buying a PHEV are mainly to save on petrol costs, minimise emissions and enjoy the sounds of silence.
The Eclipse does not have a great driving range on electric power alone: only about 50km.
So if you live within 25km of your business or place of work, great.
You won’t ever have to buy petrol, provided you plug your vehicle into one of your home’s power sockets for about six hours every day (or night).
The official fuel-consumption rating is 1.9L/100km on the combined cycle.
Should you cover longer distances, the depleted battery is no problem.
The powertrain simply adds the petrol engine, which employs regenerative braking, so it keeps feeding the battery pack, allowing you to drive around Australia — in either electric, petrol, or both, for as long as you want.
Drivers also get a considerable variety of drive modes to choose from: Eco, Normal, Snow, Gravel and Tarmac, plus B or D (battery or drive) which you pick via the gear selector.
Sounds complicated, but it’s not.
B is for regenerative braking function, which you can adjust via paddles on the steering wheel.
It has steps from 0 to 5, with 5 the best for sending energy back into the battery.
But unlike Nissan’s Leaf or the Hyundai/Kia EVs, which can be driven without using the brake pedal, the Eclipse system is not all that powerful and you still have to touch the anchors to stop.
Normal or Eco are what most urban motorists will use, but for extra fun, select Tarmac, and the car becomes tauter, sportier and more responsive.
What we like?
Variety of drive modes
What we don’t like?
Dull camera in test car
No spare wheel
The bottom line?
What you get for your $50,000 is a neat five-seat package that can save you a tonne of money in the (very) long run, provide you with a menu of drive combinations — and let you go to bed knowing you’ve done your bit to save the planet.